Friday, June 20, 2014

A quick trip to Thrissur on Kerala RTC's Ernakulam Volvo Multiaxle

This was not exactly an unplanned trip - but can still be called one. I had this in mind that I'd head home on 19th June from Bangalore. I had already applied for leave. As the date came closer, I remained undecided on which bus to take? I had this soft-corner for Kerala RTC, but wanted to try a particular private operator as well. As I remained confused, I decided to wait till the D-Day and then take the call. A day before the trip, a particular afternoon departing service of Kerala RTC was restored - I wanted to try that service. But the risk of heavy rains and night, and the prospect of having to travel from Thrissur to my hometown in an autorickshaw in heavy rains did not look inviting. I junked that plan. 

June 19, 2014:
My initial plan was to head to Satellite Bus Station in the afternoon, and get into one of the four Volvo departing from Bangalore towards Thrissur. But the plan changed in the morning and I had a reason to return back home after work. I was at home by around 1300hrs - I still hadn't decided which bus to take. By the time I finished by work, it was already 1730hrs. Now it was impossible for me to reach Satellite Bus station comfortably and still have some choice. I quickly logged on to Kerala RTC's Saarathy portal, and booked a ticket for the 20.00hrs Bangalore-Ernakulam AC Multi-Axle service. I selected Seat #9 this time for a change. The last time I booked online for the same bus, but in the opposite direction. I selected Bommanahalli as my pick-up point and saved the PDF on my phone. 

Like everytime, this time too I left home a bit late. I was 2015hrs already as I stepped out of home. My brother was dropping me at Bommanahalli, thankfully - since autos are unpredictable at that hour. I was dropped at Bommanahalli junction at 2035hrs. Kerala RTC's unique reservation portal does not mention pick-up times in its tickets! The bus leaves Satellite BS at 2000hrs - so I expected it to reach Bommanahalli after 2045hrs. In the meantime, the Bangalore-Thrissur deluxe, which leaves at 1930hrs rolled in to the bus stop. I called up a known person in KSRTC who confirmed at the bus left on time, and he informed that he has told the conductor about the Bommanahalli pick-up (He did not know that I was travelling, but based on the chart, just asked the conductor not to take BETL). The bus rolled into Bommanahalli bus stop at 2100hrs - he slowly crawled in blowing the horn in short bursts. I was  the only person getting in from there - the conductor just confirmed my seat number and let me in. He came to my seat a bit later and checked the PDF and verified the ID proof. There were about 9 passengers in the bus including me - too bad for a Thursday! Poor marketing, and lack of initiatives from the staff to attract some passengers!
The bus: RS782, KL-15-A-280, of Ernakulam depot. (Image from archives)
The driver continued crawling - he was sticking to the middle lane (of the three lanes) and maintaining about 60~65kmph. The bus pulled into Electronic City bus stop, although there were no scheduled pick-ups.  A passenger came running and asked for a Thrissur ticket - he was taken in, and we left at 2112hrs. After Electronic City, the driver picked pace quite well. I moved from my booked seat to a seat at the back - #29. No movie was played - the conductor said there was some problem with the player/disc and the movie got switched off abruptly and refuses to start. Well! No problems! I switched on a movie on my phone and remained glued to that. 

Although I had dinner from home, I was feeling a bit hungry as the bus proceeded towards Salem. The particular service has a dinner break - and I was eagerly waiting for that. We passed by the normal places where the bus could stop - like Kamat, Dhaba, A2B @ Shoolagiri. We even passed Saravana Bhavan near Krishnagiri. The bus finally pulled into the worst place on the route - the even infamous Hotel Uthaiya (now renamed as Nandha Palace or Nandini Place - or something like that), at 2223hrs. I got off the bus - the place where we stopped killed all my hunger. I just got a packet of peanuts and roamed around for some time. I struck a conversation with the person who walked in at Electronic City - he did not have great remarks about the service. Major complaints being crew attitude, lack of blankets, etc. We started off after break at 2248hrs. 

The driving was quite stable - he was interested in maintaining stable speeds than the regular spiky style of Kerala RTC crew. Except Trucks and TNSTC/SETC buses, all the other vehicles on the road seemed faster than us. A couple of private Volvo sidelined us, while some Karnataka RTC buses kept pace with us. The driver had a tendency to choose the longest and slowest queues at toll gates. His lane changes were well signalled. I slept intermittently - but kept waking up very often. I woke up suddenly when the bus crashed into a bad patch - this signalled that we were past Chengampally. There were some diversions due to an accident on the road - and the diverted lane (service lane) was not in the best shape. Lots of potholes, and rough patches - the driver banged the brakes quite a few times. I slept off after sometime, and woke up just as the bus stopped outside Gandhipuram SETC Bus station (0315hrs) - I am not sure if anyone got off, but nobody got in for sure. I liked this attitude of trying to get in some seats by entering the town. We stopped again outside Ukkadam Bus station (0324hrs). 

I slept off soon after we left Ukkadam. This time it was quite continuous. I woke up hearing the sound of rain - it was lashing the windows. We were in Kerala already by then - infact, we were running through Walayar at that time. I dozed off again, and woke in just as the bus was entering Palakkad bus station (0432hrs). I guess the rain delayed us a bit. The timing till Coimbatore seemed good - we took about 6h15m including 25 minutes for dinner. The bus parked in Palakkad BS for some time - I guess they tried getting some passengers. We left the bus station at 0439hrs. The diversions from Palakkad Bus Station to get back into the highway continues to be confusing - the driver lost way somewhere, and the bus had to turn around on a very narrow road. All this caused quite some delay. I slept off again after the bus entered the highway. It was raining even then. I had another nice sleep - waking up just as we turn off the highway from Mannuthy. I was finally dropped outside Sakthan Bus Station, at 0610hrs. The stretch from Palakkad to Thrissur ended up taking 1h31m - quite high for a Volvo - We had actually entered the highway from Palakkad town at 0505 or so. I was quite drowsy as I walked down to the platform from where KSRTC buses to Kodungallur leave, and I found RNC170 waiting for me - this is the bus that ferries me from Thrissur to my home almost every time I come home. 

End Notes: The bus, KL-15-A-280 (RS782) of Ernakulam depot, had some 27K kms on the odo. The speed governor in the bus seems to have been set to speeds higher than 80kmph now. The driving was good - except the brake show near Perundurai (due to diversions, abrupt road joints), the ride was very smooth. He maintained constant speeds wherever possible. The AC was set to comfortable settings - Blanket is still not provided. The crew were not very eager to get more passengers - this is where a major change in attitude is required. The running time was quite high - 9h10m for 454kms is certainly on the higher side - even discounting 25 minutes for Dinner, I feel its high. Probably I'll give the driver benefit of doubt because it rained quite hard. But interestingly, the scheduled arrival time at Thrissur is 0630, and we were about 20 minutes before time!

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Charging Point: Yes (Left "ON" throughout)
Entertainment: Available, but not used.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 4.5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Sure. Even with the delay, I'll surely love to take this service again.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Movie Review: Bangalore Days!

A fresh engineering passout reciting a reason he studied by rote in typical Manglish accent in front of an interview panel. A girl passing out of college trembling in front of the mic and vowing to start a company for women empowerment. And a gypsy caught painting graffiti being chased by the cops. The crisp scenes establish the characters as the story unfolds.

Bangalore Days is a free flowing story of three close cousins who land up in Bangalore - just the way they wanted to in their childhood. Nivin Pauly as Krishnan PP aka Kuttan, Dulquer Salmaan as Arjun aka Aju and Nazriya Nazim as Divya Prakash aka Kunju set the screen on fire with their fantabulous as cousins who've set forth to explore the happening city of Bengaluru. Kuttan sets the tone right as he says to himself - Which malayali wouldn't want to come to Bangalore and then just wants to get back home once he is here. How true is that??

Kuttan is a typical mallu techie one would find in Bangalore - He goes home every weekend, and comes back reluctantly two days later. Arjun is a gypsy in his own right. He gets irritated the moment someone asks of his parents - a high school drop out, Arjun, is into racing and bikes. Kunju finds her heart broken when her parents find an alliance for he soon after she is out of college. But Kunju is excited when she finds that she is off to Bengaluru after he marriage to Das aka Shiva aka Shivadas (Fahadh Faasil).

Kunju gets shocked the moment Das sets out to attend a Con-Call on their first night. The carefree girl in Kunju finds herself imprisoned in the four walls of Das' house. She freaks out the moment Das goes out on an official tour. 

As the story unwinds, a lot of mystery unfurls - Aju and Das have a lot to say as the movie goes. Kuttan takes all the credit for keeping the moments light - Nivin surely has amazing timings to crack jokes even when maintaining a serious look! Anjali Menon has ensured she doesn't fall back on double meaning phrases or vulgarity to hit the funny bone - the innocent jokes go a long way in making this movie a real family entertainer.


A bit long at close to three hours, the movie has its own drags, but is overall packaged into a high energy entertainer. I did feel the first half dragged a bit, but the second half is action packed. It is not an edge of the seat thriller or a masterpiece of intelligent film making, but is surely the popular movie of the year. Anjali Menon and Sameer Thahir presents us some crisp and unseen visuals to Bangalore - this movie is surely attract more keralites to the bustling and happening city of Bengaluru.

Go for it!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thrissur to Bangalore in Kerala RTC Volvo Multi-Axle

May 14, 2014:
The heat, lack of sleep and humidity was taking a bad toll on me. I had just finished my work in Ernakulam, and was preparing to head home. I had to return to Bangalore the same day, and I hadn't booked any return ticket. I was initially planning to take a super deluxe bus back, but the experience the previous night left me confused. I drove straight to the KSRTC bus station in Ernakulam and in the meantime called up home for an opinion. As I disconnected the call, I just confirmed my thoughts - Comfort is more important. Without a second thought, I headed straight to the ticket reservation counter and asked for a ticket in the Kottayam-Bangalore Volvo Multi-axle with a boarding at Thrissur. The guy at the counter was bit confused with my request - he searched on the portal to confirm that such a service existed and then printed out a ticket. The fare was Rs. 1161 plus reservation charges (the antiquated reservation system of Kerala RTC makes you pay end-to-end irrespective of where you board from).

The ticket issued did not have the boarding time - another problem with the reservation website. The good Samaritan sitting at the booking counter informed that the boarding time at 6pm as he gave me the ticket. Now, I was sure this timing was wrong. The bus leaves Kottayam only at 4pm, and there is no way this bus could reach Thrissur in 2 hours. Anyways, I thanked him and left the counter. I felt too sick to drive home - but had no choice. I reached home and had a power nap (woke up multiple times hearing my own snore). Although I was sure the bus wouldn't reach Thrissur at 6pm - in fact, a friend of mine was in Kottayam when the bus left and he got me the drivers' number as well - I did not want to take chances. I left home at around 5pm - my brother dropped me at the nearest bus stop (too tired to walk 500 metres!).

I got a bus to Thrissur soon after reaching there. Sometime past 6pm, I made a call to the driver - the co-driver picked up the call. When asked where they were, he said, "Just passed Muvattupuzha. Will take another 1.5hrs to Thrissur". Oh! So that meant I had lots of time to spend at Thrissur. I reached Thrissur at around 1815hrs. After roaming around the bus station for some time, I headed out to a restaurant outside to have an early dinner. I returned to the bus station after about 1900hrs. It was getting dark now - it was still hot, and I could feel hot waves emanating from the ground. I was too tired to walk around now - so headed straight to the old fuel station and decided to stay around there. As the clock ticked past 1935hrs, I was getting too impatient and tired. I badly wanted to call the Control room and give them a piece of my mind for putting up such impossible timings - but then I was too tired even to do that.
The bus - RS788, KL-15-A-286 of Kottayam Depot.
As the clocked ticked 1941, RS788 of Kottayam Depot (KL-15-A-286) slowly pulled into the bus station - It was Jerish of Thrissur depot at the wheels - he was all smiles as he saw me. He briefly stopped near me, and then headed to an empty bay at the terminal. I was the only guy reserved from Thrissur - since the bus hardly had about 12 passengers, the conductor went to the announcement office and got the arrival of this bus announced. About 2-3 people came enquiring about seats, but they disappeared hearing the fare. After some futile attempts to get some people to get into the bus, the conductor signalled the drivers to start - we backed out at 2002hrs. No movie was played, but songs were being played. Jerish was at home as we hit Mannuthy bypass - he was quick in overtaking other vehicles and got his overtakes perfect.

The bus pulled into a newly opened restaurant near Mangalam palam for dinner (2059hrs). I used this time to walk around a bit and inspect the bus. This bus had sustained some serious injuries during its first run through the pothole ridden Mananthavady-Kutta-Gonikoppa route. The engine was left on during the break. Some passengers were in the bus itself. After some stretching, I returned to the bus and got set to sleep. The bus started off at 2127hrs. I slowly slipped into some serious sleep as Jerish continued his run. I woke up just as the bus stopped somewhere - we were inside Palakkad town then. Some traffic rearrangements meant that we were taking a longer route to the bus station - and our drivers did not know the way. So, they had stopped to ask for directions. After some confusions, we finally pulled into the fuel station near the bus station at 2219hrs. We left at 2224hrs after taking in 97 litres of diesel. By now the Thiruvalla-Bangalore Super Deluxe too came in.

We reached Palakkad bus station at 2227hrs. We were successful in getting two passengers from here, and we started off at 2233 hrs. I slept soon after we started off from Palakkad. The driver had changed now, and the second guy was a bit too slow. I had a nice continuous sleep. I am not sure if the bus stopped anywhere on the way. I woke up just as we were passing Hosur - it was 0455hrs then. I had another short nap - only to wake up as we reached Electronic City. The bus did not take the flyover this time as well. I headed to the cabin as we neared Singasanda - the driver was too slow - he was sticking to 60kmph on the middle lane - he was probably trying to adjust the timings, instead of going to Satellite BS too early. I finally got off at Bommanahalli signal, at 0537hrs.

End notes: The bus was quite new - so I wouldn't comment on its maintenance. It was clean - both inside and outside. Both the drivers were quite stable on the road - no rash driving and they did not give that feeling of speed inside. The running time was surely high - 9h35m is too, too, too high for 454 kms. Even if I discount the time spent for dinner, its still high. They do not provide Blankets (I am not particular about water bottles), still. The crew need more fine-tuning to meet the needs of a premium service - they still carry on the "I don't care" 'legacy', which isn't good for a premium service. The conductor never bothered closing the curtains - so all the light from the on-coming traffic was inside. But I'll give the benefit of doubt, and surely give them another chance.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Charging Point: Yes (Left "ON" throughout)
Entertainment: Yes (Songs played)

Ratings:
Maintenance: Irrelevant
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 4.5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Will surely give another chance. They need to better their timings still though.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Bangalore to Kodungallur in a Kerala RTC Super Deluxe

Just a few hours after I landed in Bangalore on the Kerala RTC Volvo Multi-axle bus, I was staring at another need to head home urgently. I hadn't decided what bus to take even as I drove to office that morning. Later in the evening, I was sure that I'd have to go. Although I'd be traveling on a weekday, I did not want to risk traveling unreserved. I booked a ticket through the counter - my first ever reservation ticket to my own home town - Kodungallur. Yes! I was traveling by the only Bangalore-Kodungallur connection by Kerala RTC - the 1500 hrs Bangalore-Piravam Super Deluxe.

May 13, 2014:
I left office around 1300hrs. I somehow got a bus to Shivajinagar from there. I was at Shivajinagar by around 1345hrs - I was a bit worried as I stood at Shivajinagar - I had this feeling that I should've taken a bus to Majestic instead. Although one bus headed to KR Market was parked there, I wasn't sure when it would leave. I finally decided to hire an autorickshaw instead. Initially a couple of guys refused to come, while another guy asked for an astronomical figure to get there. Later an auto guy agreed, and put on the meter. He took about 30 minutes to wade through the traffic and drop me at Satellite bus station. I had a very light lunch from a restaurant there, and then stocked some light snacks and water for the journey up ahead.

I generally do not prefer non-ac buses for long trips and, hence, was a bit worried of how things would shape up ahead. This was to me my first trip in a TATA Super Deluxe of Kerala RTC as well. I walked around and checked my bus which was parked at the bus station. The driver was from Sulthan Bathery, while the conductor was from the operating depot, Piravom. The bus was parked at the platform by 1430hrs. In the meantime, I saw some known crew in a Kerala RTC Volvo parked nearby - spent sometime talking to them. I got into my bus only by 1455hrs. The conductor was no where to be seen. He turned up a couple of minutes later and quickly checked the reservation tickets. I did a blunder by choosing seat #7, which is a window seat on the right. I realised my goof-up as the bus got moving - the sun was on my side! This was my first trip in the TATA Super Deluxes. The first thing that impressed me was the humongous leg space - this bus was built on a 11.1M chassis, and has the same number of seats as that on a 10.8M Leyland. So the extra 30 cms meant the bus gave better leg room. The build quality of this bus was far better than the Leylands - probably because these took more time for building, and were built under less delivery pressures. The bus started off from Satellite BS, at 1458hrs - two minutes before time.
The bus: RSC774, KL-15-A-270, of Piravom depot. Piravom is a town in Ernakulam district.
The driver was a bit heavy on the accelerator. He wanted to maintain as high as speed as he could - because we had to cross the forest before 9pm (the vehicle ban on the forest road is from 9pm to 6am). I need to mention that he wasn't rash though. I kept the curtains closed - but the open windows wouldn't let it remain so. I had felt uneasy on the Super Deluxe' seat last time, and it was the same this time as well. But this time I realised that the hand rests were too low, and that was probably what made me uneasy. This bus too had refurbished Harita seats loaned from an older bus. I somehow did sleep a bit. I woke up everytime the bus stopped - because the heat wouldn't let me sleep. The bus reached Mysore bus station at 1739hrs - that was about 2hours and 40 minutes for the distance. There were some reserved passengers from here - but the bus filled up with a lot of unreserved passengers, mainly those headed to Sulthan Bathery and Kozhikode.

We started from Mysore at 1742hrs. The driver was quick on the road. There was a traffic block near JSS Hospital. After clearing the block, the driver maintained good pace again. We stopped at Nanjangud (1821hrs) to pick-up a passenger, and then continued. I tried sleeping a bit, but was a bit too uneasy. I was expecting the bus to stop for a break near Gundlupet, but we continued past the regular place. The bus stopped outside Gundlupet bus station (1904hrs) - although there were no empty seats, and lone lady passenger was take in. The conductor gave his seat and shifted to the cabin. Traffic was quite heavy on the road - almost all the vehicles on the road were rushing to make it past the forest before it closes.

The driver slowed down as we entered the forest. The road is lined with a lot of speed breakers, and hence he did not drive too fast. We passed the state border at 1954hrs. It is always delightful when the border checkposts open up on seeing the bus - benefit of riding a government bus. Our bus was allowed to pass through all the checkposts without any checks. The driver pick up pace soon after exiting the forest. The road was quite winding now. The driver was quite fast now - probably the excitement of his duty ending. The bus pulled into a fuel station a bit before Sulthan Bathery for fuel (2017hrs). A couple of other KSRTC buses were also around. We took in 60 litres of diesel and set off again at 2020hrs. We finally pulled into the KSRTC bus station at Sulthan Bathery, at 2025hrs. The driver announced a dinner break as he got off the bus.

I was a bit surprised about the bus taking a dinner break at the bus station - atleast Super Deluxe buses (and above) should preferably stop at better restaurants. The canteen did not have much items on the menu, and the service was quite lousy. The food was average, but the rates were not too expensive. The overall ambiance was awful though. After about 20 minutes, the new driver took over, and the bus was moved to the terminal area. We started off from Sulthan Bathery at 2053hrs. The new driver was a bit slow in the beginning. As we started off from Bathery, all the seats were filled again - this time, almost all the new passengers were to Ernakulam. The crowd proved that there is ample scope for more intra-state premium services.

A while into the run, the bus was flagged down by a ticket checking squad - they came around and checked tickets of all the passengers. We reached Kalpetta at 2125hrs - the ticket checking squad got off here. A couple of passengers got off as well. It was a bit cold outside, and hence most of the people had closed their windows. I was already sweating off, and kept my window open. I wanted to see the ghats, and the way the bus handles it. I was taking a KSRTC bus through the ghats after a good 5 years (my last trip was in February 2009). As we started descending the ghats, I understood that the driver was using the exhaust brakes efficiently - this meant the brakes were softer and more efficient. We were spared the characteristic screeching sound as well. The first few hair-pin bends of the total 9 were handled easily. Soon as the hair-pin bends started, the front door was kept open, and the conductor was called to the cabin. In three of the 9 hairpin bends, the bus had to back and turn. Once the ghats finished, the conductor was back on his seat, and was fast asleep again. The driver seemed to be a regular on the route, and he handled the bus really well.

As we finished the ghats, it because hotter and sultry. I was quite uneasy now. The art leather finish seats only added to the misery. The heat made me tired, and I fell asleep somewhere in between. I woke up only as the bus was approaching Kozhikode bus station. We pulled into Kozhikode at 2312hrs - a good 18 minutes before time. As soon as the bus pulled in, a lot of passengers came and mobbed the front door. I somehow sneaked through outside and got a bottle of cold water - something to help me overcome the heat. The conductor gave priority to passengers heading to Ernakulam - this did create a small scene. A passenger heading to Tirur was not permitted in - and this is the only bus that goes that way. This passenger shouted and did not let the bus move - the police came in and pacified the passenger and let us leave. We started off from Kozhikode at 2322hrs - 8 minutes early.

I reattempted sleeping now - the heat was still the deterrent. In the meantime, the driver thought he must stop for tea - he pulled into a tea stall at Kakkenchery (2349hrs) for a quick break - but almost all the passenger got down for tea and short stroll. I kept walking around the bus for some time. We started off again at 2359hrs. Somehow, I fell asleep. I woke up just as the passenger seated next to me got up - we were in Tirur (0043hrs) now. Two passengers got off - since we did not go to the bus station, nobody got in. I slept off again. I woke up again, as the bus was starting off from Ponnani (0111hrs). I wanted to see which route we would take, but sleep overpowered me again. I woke up only as the bus was entering Guruvayur bus station - 0138hrs. The funniest thing here was that the conductor was fast asleep when the bus entered the bus station - the driver had to wake him up and send him to the station master.

A few passengers got off, and a similar number got in from Guruvayur - some of them were to Kodungallur. We started from Guruvayur at 0141hrs - I was determined not to sleep anymore, but couldn't really control. I slept off again - a point to note is that I was falling asleep more due to exhaustion due to the heat. I vaguely remember seeing Mathilakam - but continued sleeping. Sometime later, I woke up with a shock. I strained to understand where we were - and I was shocked that we had just crossed the private bus station in Kodungallur. I somehow regained my senses and jumped up from my seat. Hurriedly collected by bag from the overhead rack. By now the driver had stopped outside the temple, and he woke up the conductor - who literally jumped up from his seat shouting "Kodungallur". I got off the bus at 0234hrs - 34 minutes late. I was a bit surprised to see passengers waiting for this bus even at that time!

End Notes: The bus, KL-15-A-270, Fleet number RSC774, of Piravom depot was commissioned sometime in March 2014. The bus was kept in fairly good shape, and did not have the characteristic rattles seen with buses built by Central Workshop. But I guess one flooring panel was loose, and it made a rattling sound throughout the trip - the sound worsens when the bus idles. The leg space is the only thing that I loved the most in the bus - its huge. One can move his legs comfortably even when the seat ahead is pushed back to the maximum. The bus is value for money for people who don't mind traveling non-AC. I was exhausted by the time I reached Kodungallur though - I could feel sweat dripping off my shirt as I got off the bus. I was happy with the fact that I reached home in less than 12 hours even after going through the ghat route. The end-to-end run time was about 11hours and 36 minutes.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Charging Point: Yes (There are two plug points in the bus - but its at the front, right above the first row seats)
Entertainment: No

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.5/5
Cleanliness: 4.5/5
Driving: 4.5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Oops! Not my cup-of-tea. I might consider it during the winter though.

Ernakulam to Bangalore by Kerala RTC Garuda Multi-Axle Inaugural Trip

This was perhaps the first time I embarked on a journey without a return ticket. I was a bit worried as I began my journey from Bangalore - somehow made myself calm looking at two late afternoon buses which had tickets, and assigned them as my backup option. The first thing I did not reaching my destination was to see if Kerala RTC had some surprises for me - on opening the online reservation portal 'Saarathy', I did find a surprise - "18.30 ERNAKULAM -BANGALORE (ACM562)". I quickly opened the chart and found plenty of seats available. I was a bit worried about booking through the phone - the network was very patchy. The booking was finally done through a broadband connection. The ticket output in PDF was saved on my phone, and I decided to try out the "m-ticket" option for the first time.

May 11, 2014:
I decided to leave home very early - it was a Sunday, and buses to Ernakulam are hard to find during evening hours on Holidays. I reached Kodungallur around 1530hrs - I left a couple of private buses, and waited for that elusive Kerala RTC bus. Some minutes short of 1600hrs, RAM281 of Irinjalakkuda rolled in. The bus was fairly crowded, but I managed to find a seat in the three-seater at the back of the bus. The driver was quite fast, and being a Sunday, crowd on the road was light. He managed to reach Ernakulam Jetty bus station at 1715hrs. I initially thought of doing some bus hopping to reach the KSRTC bus station, but then decided to take an Auto. I was dropped at the bus station in about 5 minutes. 
The buses lined up for inauguration. The garlanded one will work the first trip.
As I entered the bus station, I noticed a Multi-axle bus of Kerala RTC getting decorated - so that was my bus. I roamed around for a while taking some snaps. In the meantime, its pairing bus was also brought to the bus station. The crew were known, and we spent some time talking. One of them was driving the inaugural trip - he surely was excited to be part of such a trip. In the meantime some of bus mates joined in, as the crowd of onlookers built up. A lot of Kerala RTC officials were present as the buses were being prepped up. 

Ernakulam MLA, Shri Hibi Eden, was the chief guest. The inaugural trip was symbolically flagged off at 1822hrs. The MLA then took a look at the bus, and finally passengers got on board. The bus was running a fully reserved trip - being a Sunday, especially after a Second-Saturday - majority of the passengers were to Bangalore. I had to struggle a bit to get on board - media crew and the crowd of onlookers were making things very difficult. The conductor checked my ticket after I got to my seat (it was so crowded that he couldn't check my ticket as I got in). The bus started moving at 1835hrs - late by 5 minutes. 
The service getting flagged off by Shri Hibi Eden at Ernakulam.
They started playing a movie (a very recent Malayalam movie) as soon as the bus exited the bus station. With the recent traffic arrangements, buses now take the AL Jacob Flyover to reach Kadavanthra and then proceed via Vyttila. Things were good till we reached the Co-operative Hospital in Kadavanthra - a 90* left turn was the first shock for the drivers - they struggled a lot, did a lot of trials and finally managed to complete the turn - we lost about 10 minutes here itself. As we neared Vyttila, the next confusion began - Is the pick-up on the highway or in the hub. It seems some passengers were asked to wait at the bus stop on the highway, and some were told to wait in Vyttila Mobility Hub. The driver did not stop at the highway bus stop, but headed straight towards the traffic signal to turn a right turn - a couple of passengers came running behind the bus - they were the passengers who were told to get in at the highway bus stop. 

After picking them, we proceeded to the mobility hub. We reached VMH at 1857 -  about 23 minutes late now. Another two passengers got in at the Hub, and we got moving at 1902hrs. As the bus got moving, the drivers felt something amiss with the front door. The were seen trying to adjust it at every stop. The bus took another stop at Palarivattom - where the drivers kept trying to reset the door. The main door opening knob wasn't working, it seems. All that, plus the traffic mean we lost time. In the meantime, the conductor finished issuing tickets to a lot of passengers - majority of them (not less than 20) were to Thrissur. We passed Aluva at 1958hrs. There was no pick-up here as well. We pulled into Ankamaly bus station at 2016hrs - Initially I thought it was a pick-up. But that was not the case - we directly headed to the garage. Mechanics came in to repair the front door. Now they isolated the door opening valve, and instructed the crew to use the cut-off valve instead. When using the cut-off valve, they need to open the door manually after cutting off the air supply. After closing, they need to recharge the air-supply again to keep it locked. 
The bus: RS782 a while before flag off.
We started off from Ankamaly at 2038hrs. By now the short distance passengers were cribbing - it was over 2 hours since we started from Ernakulam, and we were just at Ankamaly. I was now expecting the bus to pull in to a hotel for dinner - but we simply rushed past the regular dinner stops. We rushed through, and turned left at Thalore to head to Thrissur. We reached Thrissur bus station at 2125 - about 1 hour and 35 minutes later than the scheduled time. For some reason, Kerala RTC always puts unreal pick-up times for its wayside points. The bus filled up here and we started off at 2138hrs. The bus was the cynosure of all eyes - people around were curious to find what this bus was, and a lot of people went shutter happy as well. The driver took the route through Sakthan Round and entered Palakkad road. 

I had brought my dinner from home, and by now had my food in the meantime. The driver showed his expertise as he hit the two lane road. With a speed lock at 80kmph, the driver once again proved that it was the style of driving that makes a difference and not speed. His overtakes were well calculated and well timed. I was expecting him to stop at Vadakkenchery for dinner - but that did not happen as well! After running for some more time, we stopped at an absolutely awful place in Alathur for dinner (2231hrs). The bus was parked on the right side of the road, on an under-construction lane. The break took much longer than expected. We started moving only at 2306hrs. 

The bus entered Palakkad town and stopped for refueling near the bus station - at 2343hrs. The fuel station had a dispenser reserved for KSRTC - this one had a longer fuel pipe. The bus took in 157 liters of diesel, and we got moving at 2350hrs. Our next halt was at Palakkad bus station (2355hrs). Palakkad bus station is actually a small place - with all the buses parked around, maneuvering the bus through the bus station itself was interesting. Our driver showed his skill as he handled the whale through the bus station, and parked it near the old fuel station. Both the drivers were originally from Palakkad - they used this time to meet their old colleagues, and get their belongings. Two passengers got in from here, as well. We started off at 0000hrs.

By now most passengers were asleep. I too joined the crowd. I was half asleep by the time the bus got on to the highway. The driver had changed at Palakkad (there were two drivers on board when we left from Ernakulam). The second guy too was good at the wheels - he was quite stable on the road. No harsh brakes or lane-changes. I had a nice sleep - a good undisturbed sleep. I did not notice the bus stopping anywhere for a break afterwards. I got up just as the bus was passing Attibele. We stopped at Narayana Hrudayala at 0625 to drop a passenger and then continued. We passed Electronic City at 0630hrs. I was a bit confused if the bus would take BETL or go below the flyover. The bus did not take BETL - they went below the flyover. I always felt its unwarranted to take BETL at that hour - traffic below is light and one can also help a lot of passengers who need to get off at the places below the flyover. I was dropped at Bommanahalli at 0643hrs. 

End notes: The bus, KL-15-A-280, Fleet number RS782, of Ernakulam had about 5k kms on the odo. The bus was earlier with Trivandrum depot, and later transferred to Ernakulam depot for this service. The bus was in good shape inside and outside. The crew were well behaved - they were a bit nervous since they were on the first trip. The conductor made an announcement asking for apologies for any goof-up since they were all on the first trip. I appreciate that gesture. Both the drivers drove really well - They gave me no room for complaints, except the excessive honking between Ernakulam and Thrissur. Once passengers started sleeping, they stopped honking. KSRTC needs to have driver-cum-conductors on such services - it is a waste to have a conductor on board such services. Overall, the running time was on the higher side - but then it is understandable for an inaugural trip. The bus has a scheduled arrival time of 0445hrs, but it was already 0643 when it dropped me at Bommanahalli. But over the coming days, the timings will surely get adjusted.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Charging Point: Yes (ON throughout the journey)
Entertainment: Available, a movie played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 3.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Absolutely!