Sunday, August 21, 2016

Muvattupuzha to Bangalore on Kerala Lines!

The office function was scheduled for afternoon. I was not sure where would the program end. I did not want to risk returning home and taking a bus. Flights were priced out. A quick look at RedBus, and I narrowed down on options. The sole KSRTC (Kerala) bus on the route was timed a little early for me. After a lot of searching around, I messaged my friend - and he replied back with the confirmation. I and two of my colleagues were travelling together. So, Kerala Lines it was. This was an Adoor-Bengaluru service, that operates via Kottayam, Muvattupuzha, Angamaly. Since the function was near Muvattupuzha, I opted for a pick-up at Muvattupuzha. This trip had another unique and interesting fact - this was my 100th ride in a Multi-axle bus as a revenue passenger!

August 19, 2016:
My friend messaged me the number of Kerala Lines' office in Thrissur and confirmed the location of my pick-up sometime in the afternoon. We got to Muvattupuzha sometime around 7pm, after successfully completing the event. We had some miscellaneous work around the town, and after finishing all the work, we reached at the pick-up point by 8pm. Since all of us were terribly tired and badly wanted to rest, we decided to have our dinner before boarding the bus. I called up the Kerala Lines office in Thrissur and picked up the driver's number and called him - I was told the bus was still over half-an-hour away. 

We headed to a restaurant nearby to have a light dinner. We remained in the hotel until around 2030hrs before moving back to the pick-up point. We remained on the road side itself and did not go to the travel agency which was the scheduled pick-up point. The bus turned up around 2049hrs - about 49 minutes late. We got into the bus soon - another 2-3 passengers more got in. We finally started off at 2055hrs. The loads seemed quite healthy for a weekday - that too towards Bangalore. The first impression - the bus was fairly well maintained. I did not hear any rattles or unusual noises. The driving style was not great though. 
The bus: KA-01-AC-0377 (Photo from archives)
A malayalam movie was being played in the bus - and most passengers seemed to be glued to the movie. We stopped at Perumbavoor for pick-up - at two different agencies, and finally left from there at 2128hrs. The bus was more or less full now. We picked up one more passenger at Kalady, a little later at 2139hrs. The driver seemed to be braking a little too hard every time. We passed Angamaly at 2148hrs - there were no pickups here. I was expecting the bus to pull up for dinner anytime soon. We just passed Hotel Richu's - the driver slammed the brake quite hard to end the service road and then backed to the hotel's parking (2154hrs). 

Since we had our dinner earlier, we thought to remaining inside the bus - but the AC was switched off, but the engine was left running. I had a look at the cabin a while later - the bus had clocked a little over 6.4 lakh kilometres. The engine sounded a little different outside. The driver finished his dinner quite fast and was back in the bus finishing accounts. He tallied all the cash that he received from different agencies and was cross-checking with the statement given to him. Soon later, Kerala Lines' Scania 13.7m from Pathanamthitta joined us at the hotel. That bus also seemed to have good loads. We started from the hotel at 2222hrs. The driver now had a lot of work to do to get us to Bangalore at the scheduled time. 

His driving seemed quite unstable - picks up pace very fast, brakes hard very often, makes rash cuts and lane changes. I was too tired to analyse the driving, and slipped asleep by the time we reached Paliekara toll (I remember seeing the toll due to the severe lights entering the cabin at the toll gate). I had a long sleep - I woke up a few times when the bus stopped or the driver braked hard. I vaguely remember seeing us pass Krishnagiri toll. We passed Hosur at 0602hrs. We stopped at the border at 0607hrs to drop a passenger. The driving got a little stable once we passed into Karnataka. There was slow moving traffic around Attibele checkpost due to an accident on the opposite lane. 

We reached Electronic City at around 0630 - only one toll booth was functional, leading to a slow moving queue. Two FASTag gates were open - which was manually being used to allow vehicles with "day passes" to go through. We dropped passengers after the toll gate and headed towards the city by around 0632.  In line with my usual practices, I booked a cab soon after we passed Singasandra. I was finally dropped at Silk board by 0640hrs. Baggage left in the luggage hold were all mixed up - the attendant helped out passengers with their baggage. I bid bye to my colleagues who were travel towards the city and headed out in search of my cab. I was quite shocked to see auto drivers offering passengers to a meter-fare ride! Until a year-or-so ago, one had to bargain with these pirates who would do pull out every trick under their hat to skim you. Short rides costed no less than a couple of hundred rupees. The cab ride home cost me only Rs. 99 - it used to cost no less than Rs. 250 when hiring autos until last year. 

Remarks: The bus, KA-01-AC-0377 was quite well maintained. It had clocked about 6.4 lakh kms and still looked quite young. The bus was clean inside out - and it smelled fresh. The AC vents were misaligned (the bus was converted from a 53 seater to a 49 seater) - ending up pumping cold air on my head, from the back, than on my face. This is was an iShift Volvo B9R - I was traveling in one after a long time. The gear shifts felt better than what I experienced in the KPN Scania on the inbound trip. The bus downshifted less often as well. The driving was quite uncomfortable - hard brakes, rash cuts and unstable lane changes punctuated the ride - I have been informed that the driver is no meore on their rolls, as I type this. We were late at both ends - I felt the delay at Bangalore could've been reduced if not for too may breaks during the night. Overall a no-nonsense service, that has a lot of regular passengers. 

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, On throughout night
Entertainment: Available, a movie played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 2.5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Delayed at both ends)

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Although I don't travel in that route often, I'll surely give them a chance again! Recommended! 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Another journey by KPN: Bangalore to Coimbatore

My office decided to pull out a last minute clean sweep by declaring a long weekend off. This short notice declaration came on a Wednesday afternoon that the office (college) would remain closed on Friday and Saturday, in addition to Monday, which is a holiday for Independence day. As soon as the mail arrived, I began hunting for tickets. Since it was very long weekend, majority of the folks in Bangalore seemed to be travelling home. Government buses to Kerala were sold out, and private operators were making the most of the opportunity. I did not want spend a big sum on travel and decided to take a bus to Coimbatore instead. My colleague was also traveling, and we both booked on the last KPN bus to Coimbatore. So 11PM Coimbatore Scania, it was. After bagging our seats in the last row (only 4 seats remained), we started looking for options to travel after Coimbatore. We, later, decided to go bus hopping from Coimbatore.

August 11, 2016:
For some reason, I did not encounter much traffic and reached home quite fast from office. My colleague wasn't so lucky - he encountered traffic for most part of his drive. Since we both had opted to board from Madiwala (he stays in the opposite side of Bangalore), and since the bus had a scheduled pick-up time of 2315hrs from Madiwala, I decided to leave home past 2200. After a relaxed dinner, I was casually reading messages on WhatsApp, when a friend alerted about heavy traffic around Madiwala, and the fact that he missed his bus!

The time was around 2130hrs then. I quickly fire up the Ola App, and hunted for cabs. I finally found one, with an ETA of 6 minutes. Quickly confirmed my booking and began the wait for my cab. For some reason, my mobile network decided not to work, and had zero network. I called the driver from another number and confirmed his intentions of picking me from home. He replied in affirmative and confirmed that he'd be around in 5 minutes. He took a little longer than 5 minutes, probably because he lost his way, and landed up at the wrong gate of my apartment complex. Not an issue, since I was already on the road waiting for the cab - so just walked to the place where the cab was parked.

We left from my place by around 2200hrs (exactly as I planned). The driver was dependent on gps for the route, and we ended up reaching a dead-end road near Madiwala. I was dropped at Madiwala sometime around 2230hrs - delayed thanks to the traffic cops deciding to check for drunken driving on narrow roads in peak hour traffic and the GPS taking us to a dead-end. Madiwala resembled a war-zone - buses fighting for every inch of space on the road side, and passengers jostling for every millimetre of space on the pavements. To add to the chaos were private vehicles being parked haphazardly. My colleague turned up around 2245 - all thanks to traffic.

KPN had shocked me with a message containing the tracking details of my bus - KA51C9919. I checked the status of the bus at 2300hrs, and was actually shocked to see the bus still travelling towards Kalasipalya. I was now sure that we'd have a delayed departure. We never went to the KPN office and were on the pavement all the time. We managed to find a place to sit outside a defunct tea shop and remained there until the tracker showed the bus nearby. The bus turned up at Madiwala sometime around 2330hrs (a little earlier than that). There was a long line of buses waiting for passengers and our bus had joined that queue. We walked along the pavement, to see our bus parked. The crew were waiting for passengers (the attendant had gone to the office to intimate that the bus had arrived). They checked our mTicket, and noted down the "PIN" number that is sent with the message.
Screenshots of the track. The first one (left) is when the bus was at their garage. On the right is when the bus turned up at Madiwala. 

On getting into the bus, I was quite surprised to see hardly 10 passengers on board. The interiors were clean and smelled very fresh. Our seats were in the last row - we booked windows on both sides of the bus. I took the left side window and my colleague took the right side. Boarding was very slow - since the passengers had to walk all the way from the office to the bus - but the driver kept moving forward as buses in the queue departed. The last pick-up was right outside the KPN office in Madiwala - where a final head count was taken, and the waybill was signed off, allowing the driver to depart. The time was 2351hrs - a good 36 minutes late. The bus had just 6 empty seats now! The bus took a left at the Madiwala temple underpass and headed towards Watertank, and thence towards Market. Soon after we started off, the attendant came around to distribute shawls - at this point, I requested him to switch on the mobile charger plug point - he did that soon after he reached back in the cabin after distributing the shawls.

I was very tired and badly wanted to sleep. Since KPN has only 48 seats, the leg space in these buses are very good. For some reason, the traffic on the road was not very high, and we made it to Bommanahalli by 0010hrs. Boarding was completed real quick, followed by quick head count and we started off at 0012hrs. Traffic below BETL had thinned out already and we progressed very fast from Bommanahalli. The toll gate at the end of BETL was jammed - we were lucky since we travelled below BETL. We reached our last pick-up point, Bommasandra, (Bommachandra, according to the KPN website) at 0024hrs. A couple of passengers got in here - and the final headcount was done. We had 47 passengers in the 48 seater bus - one passenger did not turn up. We started off from there at 0026hrs.

I dozed off for a while - but woke up as we joined the long queue at Attibele toll gate. It took over 15 minutes to clear the toll gate - but it was fun watching a long line of Scania buses at the nearby lane. There was another traffic snarl at Zuzuwadi (TN State incoming checkpost). We picked pace after Zuzuwadi and rushed towards Salem. I slept for some time, and woke up just as we entered KPN's check point at Chinnar - another headcount was performed and the bus was signed off. I slept even before we left from there - the sleep wasn't continuous and I kept waking up time and again. I was woken up as my alarm rang - I had forgotten to switch off the alarm, which is set to ring on all working days at 0515hrs. We were at the toll gate before Coimbatore. The driver was putting all the 410 horses to work and he was picking pace quickly. I was enjoying the engine notes - Scania sounds bland compared to the clattery Volvo, but nevertheless was music to my ears.
The bus: KA-51-C-9919. Pic from archives.
I slept for some more time and woke up just as the bus was turning off the highway towards Coimbatore town (~0610hrs). I slept on-and-off for some more time. We kept stopping again and again to drop passengers across the town. We reached Hope college by 0616hrs. We turned right from Avinashi road and proceeded towards Gandhipuram. Unlike like time, the lights inside the cabin weren't turned on till this point. We finally reached Gandhipuram at 0624hrs - the attendant shouted out only after the bus stopped. This was another comfortable journey with KPN - absolutely no-nonsense. The AC was at perfect temperature - it didn't bite me cold or make me sweat. The bus had clocked about 2 lakh kms (I had traveled in the same bus in December 2015 - it had about 32K at that time). KPN kept giving me surprises even after the trip - I received an SMS from them asking for feedback and later a call from them as well! Way to go KPN!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes (Shawl)
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, On throughout night
Entertainment: Available, Not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Delayed at both ends)

Overall: 4.75/5

Will I take this service again?  I liked the experience this time as well - surely recommended.