MSRTC Asiad: Pune to Shirdi
I was very confused when I sat down to book tickets from Pune to Shirdi. I first checked on RedBus and found that only one operator had buses on the Pune-Shirdi route - that was an operator I did not want to travel with. I turned to the MSRTC website, and found no premium buses on the route, but plenty of non-ac buses. I decided to select a bus leaving over an hour after my flight lands - I wanted to be in Shirdi before midnight, since I had opted for an early darshan at the samadhi. I selected a hotel that was right opposite the bus station - so that I'd not have to hunt around for the hotel at night. I finally selected an MSRTC Asiad (now called Hirkani) bus that leaves Pune (Shivajinagar) at 1830hrs, and was scheduled to reach Shirdi sometime before midnight.
I went to a shop nearby and stocked up a bottle of water and some snacks. The bus finally appeared at 1850hrs. It was a TATA bus, with an ACGL built body. The bus looked very tired, and had a lot of scars on its body. As soon as the bus came, people just mobbed around it - they shoved in their baggage through the windows in an attempt to reserve their seats. I confirmed with the driver that this was the 1830hrs bus, and then calmly got in - someone had already occupied my seat, and look at me in disbelief when I told I had a reservation for the seat. Thankfully, the person seated behind that seat quickly supported me and asked the person occupying my seat to vacate the seat for me. It seems the conductor had announced the seat number soon after the door was opened.
Asiad buses are 2x2 non-airconditioned buses operated by MSRTC across the state. These buses were technically called "Semi-Deluxe", they were popularly called Asiad buses since they were introduced around the time Asian Games were held in India in the mid 1980s. The buses were initially operated on the Mumbai-Pune route and then expanded across the state. Sometime in the last couple of years, the buses officially got a name - Hirkani. Along with the new brand, they also introduced air suspension (rear axle), and very recently introduced push-back seats as well. These buses are mostly built at MSRTC's own workshops.
October 03, 2015:
After landing at Pune almost an hour behind my original schedule, I had to rush in order to catch my 1830hrs Pune-Shirdi bus. The first thing I did on getting into the cab was to inform the driver of my situation, and requested him to go as soon as possible. He understood my predicament, and stepped on the pedal. He took a lot of short cuts around the airport to get on to the main road. I was locked on to GMaps throughout the period, while he kept asking me which route is relatively free according to the map. Finally after wading through traffic, and some smart driving by the driver, he dropped me near the exit of Shivajinagar bus station at 1826hrs. As we neared the bus station, I got the confidence that I would be successful in visiting Sai Baba's samadhi after 10 long years. I rushed out of the cab, thanking him profusely for driving smart - he returned a nice wide smile, and told me to rush.
As I walked into the bus station, a bus with a board reading "Pune - Shirdi" was pulling out - I waved at the driver - he stopped. I enquired if it was the 1830hrs bus - the conductor said its the 1730hrs bus! What? I look in disbelief. MSRTC was known for its punctuality - what happened now? I couldn't still believe what I heard, as I walked to the bus station building. I had a tough time finding where the enquiry office is - although it is located centrally, it did not have proper signages. The lady at the counter was disinterested in answering queries. She did not bother answering me at the first attempt - the second time, I shoved in my eticket print out through the counter, and she had to take a look at it. She checked the schedule, and enquired with another person sitting there whether the bus had left. He said, its yet to arrive, and is expected soon. I was relieved on hearing this. The lady quickly told me that the bus would arrive right opposite the counter, and will have a board "Pune - Shirdi", and asked me to wait.
|Inside Shivajinagar BS - its too small for the crowd it handles.|
Just before 1900hrs, the conductor came in, and called out my seat number and enquired if I had come. Finally, at 1900hrs, the bus backed out of the platform and started off. The bus was packed when we started. Soon after we started, the conductor came around to issue tickets - he just glaced at my ticket. Traffic in the city was probably at its worst, and to add to the misery, it started raining as well. The driver picked pace where ever he could. We stopped at Kasarvadi at 1931hrs - every possible inch of space was occupied when we left Kasarvadi. My bus was running via Sangamner to Pune - I took this route because it seemed shorter, and I expected this to be faster. We stopped at Bhosari next, then at Chakan. The bus was crowded for most of the time - and between stops the interior lights were also switched off. I felt that was an unsafe method - people crowded all around, and there were not even night lamps inside. The bus emptied only at Manchar - at 2058hrs, almost 2 hours after started. Until then, the bus remained crowded.
|The bus has a full size partition - helps keeping the cabin dark at night|
|The seating - its 2x2, well cushioned seats. There was no pushback, however.|
It was raining all through the time, and we ran through fairly heavy ghat sections, with awful roads. To add to my misery, the bus rattled all the time as well. The next stop was at Narayangaon - at 2117hrs. The crew got off the bus here, took a walk around and then started off at 2120hrs. At this point, the bus fully emptied out, and we had only seating passengers around. I had two seats all to myself as well. I dozed off for some time - but the awful roads did not let me sleep properly. We pulled into a hotel somewhere near Alephata for dinner, sometime around 2150hrs. The crew announced a 15 minutes break and walked out. There were two other buses for company here. I was not very hungry, but wanted to have something - I had some light dinner, and got back to the bus. We started off from there at 2121hrs - exactly 30 minutes of break.
I slept soon after we started from here - the bus shook violently as it went over rough patches at fairly good speed - but I was too tired to remain awake. I woke up only when the bus stopped at some bus station, and the lights were turned on - the time was 2323hrs, and it was Sangamner. We had to be in Shirdi by this time, according to the schedule. The bus emptied out here, and only three passengers (including me) remained when the bus left Sangamner at 2325hrs. I slept soon after the bus left the bus station - I vaguely remember the bus stopping two times on the way - everytime, I person got off. Finally, I was the sole passenger for the last 18kms or so. I was finally dropped at Shirdi Bus station, at 0025hrs - about 55 minutes late. I just got off the bus, and lugged myself to the hotel, which was located on the other side of the road. The guy at the reception was quite shocked seeing someone with a reservation walking in past midnight. I got a nice room, and all I remember was crashing on to the bed.
I still thank my stars - a delayed flight, a smart cabbie, a delayed bus - I could make it to Shirdi, to have a darshan at Sai Baba's samadhi after 10 long years!
I am not rating the bus - its too irrelevant to rate it. The bus was from Shivajinagar depot of Pune division - it was not in a great condition. It wasn't clean inside, and it leaked - rather poured inside during the rain. The windows rattled throughout, ensuring that I didn't sleep continuously. Poor roads only worsened my situation. The driver was sane - no harsh overtakes, and no sudden brakes. The route had heavy truck traffic and hence our progress was slow. The hotel where the bus stopped was surprisingly very clean, and the rates weren't too high (compared to the rates at the hotels in Shirdi or Pune). I liked the trip - I'd have enjoyed it had it been during the day. The end-to-end running time was 5:25hrs, and a fare of Rs. 299 (including reservation fee). Its a nice option for the thrifty traveller.