First ride on Airavat Diamond Class: Bangalore to Thrissur

Scania was launched in India about two years back. The initial product as only the 14.5M variant, followed by the 12M and the 13.7M variants. The first institutional buyer to purchase the 13.7m variant was the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. KSRTC went in for a new brand name for the Scanias, and called them the Airavat Diamond Class. The basic question, like everyone asked, was - what is the difference between the Diamond Class and the Club Class. One primary difference was that Club Class used Volvo B9Rs and Mercedes Benz Multi-Axle buses, while Diamond Class used newer Scania Metrolink HD 13.7m multi-axle buses. Club Class buses have a seating capacity of 49 (44 semi-sleeper seats and 5 regular 'executive' seats), while Diamond Class buses have only 46 seats - all semi-sleeper. The fares are the same in both the classes.

Airavat Diamond Class was first inducted into the KSRTC fleet sometime during the end of June 2015. They initially replaced the first set of Mercedes Benz Multi-axle buses, while the second set of Diamond Class buses replaced a few Volvo B9R buses. With a decreasing frequency of travels, more specifically bus travels, I did not get an opportunity to try the ADCs (Airavat Diamond Class) for a very long time. The first opportunity came when I got a short vacation last week. My leave request was approved quite late in the evening, meaning I couldn't travel that day. I decided to have a very nice sleep that night and travel the next night. I booked the ticket at the Shantinagar bus station ticket counter - only the last three rows were available, and I had to settle with seat #37.

November 08, 2015:
Since this was a trip planned at a very short notice, I had very little time to pack. After a quick dinner, I left home at around 2015hrs, with my brother. He dropped me at Shantinagar bus station sometime around 2045hrs. My bus, KA-57-F-1620, was already parked at the platform (#1). Boarding hadn't started since they hadn't received the reservation chart yet. I went around the bus station for sometime - all the platforms were already choked with buses. With Deepavali round the corner, there was heavy rush on most of the routes out of Bangalore - especially ones to Tamil Nadu. I returned to the platform by around 2105hrs - by now, boarding had already commenced. Since mine was a regular counter issued ticket, the conductor did not ask for identity proof, and he stuck off my number on the reservation chart and let me into the bus.
KA-57-F-1620, taken after I got off at Thrissur
My seat (#37) was located in the third last row of the bus - and, as I had feared, the baby was sleeping on my window! This meant, I'd not be able to see anything outside, and it would be a blind journey for me! Well, thats good in a way - I'd sleep instead of looking outside. Since buses queue one behind the other, buses do not depart on time from Shantinagar, but depart on the first in first out style. My bus kept moving ahead every time a bus ahead in the queue departed. We finally started off from Shantinagar bus station, at 2128hrs (11 minutes behind schedule). My first impressions were - the engine was silent (compared to the competition), but the ride was very very stiff - the bus threw up its passengers at speed breakers and potholes. The horizontal sways were also on the higher side. The steerable rear axle made things very comfortable for the driver - tight turns were handled with ease.
The emergency exit row - XL sized leg room is available here.
Interiors - seen from my seat. Notice the narrower gangway.
The bus was mostly empty when we started from Shantinagar - more passengers joined us at Dairy Circle (2136hrs) and Madiwala (2144hrs). Traffic came to a standstill as we reached Madiwala Market. We crawled till Silkboard flyover - where we had to stay still for some time. Traffic eased after Bommanahalli. The driver was very calm. One thing I really liked was that the bus wouldn't give an opportunity to the driver to lug the bus - its an automated manual transmission (Scania calls it the OptiCruise) and the gear would shift down the moment the rpm drops. We reached Electronic City at 2214hrs and left at 2216hrs - that is almost an hour from Shantinagar to Electronic City (its actually less, thanks to it being a Sunday).
The last row has only 4 seats, and is also a semi-sleeper.
I was expecting heavy traffic snarls at Attibele border region - Bangaloreans have a fetish of buying crackers from Hosur, and it was Diwali season. For some reason, traffic seemed very light this time - we passed Attibele at 2231hrs, and reached the Hosur pick-up point by 2239hrs! As we finished the last pick-up, the bus had all of 7 vacant seats! That is 39 seats occupied out of 46 seats on a Sunday night! Absolutely great loads for a Sunday. I decided to sleep. Interestingly, no movie/music was played - setting the atmosphere for a nice sleep. The only irritant was the bright night lamp - the night lamps were so bright that you really don't need other lighting in the bus.
This is how it looks with the night lamps on - its too bright!
The bus pulled into Hotel Saravana Bhavan Classic just before Krishnagiri for a dinner break (2314hrs). The Bangalore-Thrissur Airavat Club Class, which left about 5 minutes before us, was just preparing to depart after dinner. The ac was switched off as we stopped for dinner - it was getting sultry inside, and I got off the bus. I walked around outside taking some pics - very few passengers got off the bus, and hardly anyone went into the hotel. I always felt they need to skip this dinner break, and instead offer a washroom break later in the trip. We started off after the break at 2335hrs (a 21 minute break). I had a nice long sleep after the break - I had two seats at my disposal, and used most of it.
The bus when we stopped for dinner. Notice the lighting on the steps.
The AC vents of Scania buses have a unique problem - they have a very shallow range of directions - they move hardly 10 degrees. The problem is complex if you push back the seat backrest to the maximum - the air flows only until your waist. The most user friendly ac vents are in Volvo B9Rs - no doubt. It took me sometime to find a comfortable sleeping position. I slept in no time after I found the comfortable position. I had a very nice, undisturbed sleep - bad patches of road did wake me briefly. The suspension was too hard, and it transferred the roughness of the road to the passengers. Body roll was on the higher side, especially when the driver took turns at higher speeds. The sleep was so comfortable that I woke up when the bus was actually starting off from Sakthan Nagar bus station in Thrissur! I jumped off the seat, collected my belongings as headed towards the cabin. By now, the bus entered the KSRTC bus station. The actual driver was fast asleep and the driver-cum-conductor was at the wheels - he stopped the bus, switched on the lights and then started calling for passengers alighting at Thrissur. The time now was 0604hrs - a good 6 minutes before time!

The 480-odd kms journey took 8h36m, including a 21 minute break - so that brings the actual running time down to 8h15 minutes. Thats a great running time - considering the fact that the Bangalore-Thrissur Airavat Club Class, which left atleast 20 minutes before us from the dinner break point, arrived a good 10 minutes after I reached Thrissur! Airavat crew are known for their attempts to extract the maximum mileage out of buses - and the most commonly used trick is to shift to the highest gear and maintain rpms closer to the idle rpm. While this is not a great thing to do, the drivers extract the maximum mileage. This happens at the cost of timing - the bus never sticks to the schedule. The new automated transmission system (OptiCruise) makes this impossible - the bus would downshift if the driver attempted this. The only solution here was to ensure the bus picked pace, and maintained decent speeds and thus keep rpm under control and extract mileage. This is what happened with my bus - this meant the bus actually travelled faster than a Volvo and hence reached before time. I'd suggest people to book in an Airavat Diamond Class, solely for the fact that the driver has to drive faster and hence you, theoretically, have the possibility of reaching on time!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, and kept ON throughout
Entertainment: Available, not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 (Left 11 minutes late, reached 6 minutes early)

Overall: 5/5

Will I take this service again? Sure! And Why wouldn't I ? Definitely recommended.

Comments

Krishnaprasad said…
Very interesting and informative.

Scania should indeed be the answer to the lug-happy specialists of Bangalore Depots. The reason why Thrissur Club Class reached late might be due to the fact that they enter Palakkad, wasting at least 20 minutes. In such case, Volvo too kept pace. Even the KeSRTC Volvo doesn't disappoint-entering all CBE,PLKD & TSR still manages to reach EKM under 10 hrs mostly.

Anyway having moved out of Garden City, I miss my old Bangalore Days!

And, still after making St.Johns to Police Station one way, traffic blocks remain unchanged?
C.A.Raghu Ram said…
Reading a scania review for the first time. If there is no difference in amenities or fare why rename as diamond �� class? Club ♣ class seems a better brand name

And yes the night lamps seem bit too bright

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