Monday, October 31, 2016

Back to Bengaluru on Garib Rath!

September 23, 2016

This was perhaps the most hit-or-miss journeys I've ever had. I and my colleague left the venue of the meeting sometime around 1530hrs - we wanted to get the Garib Rath Express to Bengaluru - that was the last train of the day, and should we miss that, we'd end up stuck in Trivandrum for a day. We had to hurry. We hadn't reserved any tickets - but we decided to try the current reservation counter at Trivandrum central. We made it there by around 1545hrs - there was no staff at the counter. The board outside the counter said tickets would be issued upto 30 minutes before departure of train from the origin - our train leaves at 1700hrs. Once the guy at the counter turned up, we put in our application form. We got the seats we asked for - in G15.
The ticket- "Journey cum reservation ticket after charting"
We rushed out of the railway station towards the lodge where we had taken a room - we had to vacate the room and rush to Kochuveli to catch our train. In the meantime, I was preoccupied with apps of various cab aggregators - one of them confirmed availability and I booked a cab. The cab arrived as soon as we checked out of the hotel - the driver was appraised of the situation. He sounded a little worried since it was peak hours and we were heading in the direction of the crowd. He accepted the challenge and took to some narrow roads. Battling traffic and bottlenecks, he dropped us near the footover bridge of Kochuveli station at 1645hrs - 15 minutes to spare for our train!

Lady luck favoured us throughout this trip - everytime, our coaches were located right near exits or foot overbridges. This time as well, our coach was located right next to the landing of the foot over bridge. The generator car was growling at the top of its voice. The 18 coach consist - 16 AC Sleepers and 2 Generator cars - was to be pulled by a WDM3A (#14025) of Krishnarajapuram diesel loco shed. Our coach was of 2008 vintage (WACCNH1 08123). Unlike regular Third-AC coaches of Indian Railways, this coach carries more passengers (64 vs 78) by having slightly narrower berths and fixing an additional "middle berth" on the side rows. Garib Rath (loosely translated as the Poor Man's chariot) was a concept introduced in 2005 to make AC rides affordable to the common public. These coaches charge lesser fares than regular train and offer absolutely no frills - bed rolls are chargeable in these trains.
WDM3A#14025 at the helm of our rake..
We started off from Kochuveli right on time - crawled out slowly and joined the main line. I was quite happy hearing the typical Alco chugs and the amount of smoke it threw out. Diesel locomotives are always considered to have a character - it makes lovely noise, lets out smoke and appear quite macho. I remained inside the coach almost throughout the journey - hooked to my phone. I was quite tired from the long day - and of course the heat. Bedroll staff came around soon after we started - I had placed a request for the same along with my booking. Since we had booked through current reservation, our details didn't feature on the list the bedroll guy had - but he quickly verified our ticket and handed over our bedrolls.

The bedroll in this train was in stark contrast with what we got on the AC Express - the bedrolls in AC Express was white and crisp, and was handed out in neatly packed condition. The ones in Garib Rath, for which we had to pay extra, on the other hand, were soiled, torn and looked like it had far better days. I did not like the quality of the bed rolls. Tweets flew out - and some fake promises were received from the railways in return.




The two of us were hungry - we had literally run through to get into the train and we did not have time to buy anything - and there were no stalls at the station either. Soon after the train reached Kollam (around 1800hrs), a vendor got in with some good food - we got a plate of poori subzi each. While, like every vendor, he claimed its hot - it was cold, but was quite tasty. We were hungry anyways - and getting something to eat was more important. The run after Kollam was mundane and routine - nothing worth noting. I was quite tired, and actually just spent time watching a movie on my phone. The window was fogged, which is quite usual for me, and I could not see anything outside. It got dark, and even more boring as we progressed towards Kottayam.

The onboard catering guys came around with their dinner products - I took a plate of Parotta, while my colleague did not buy anything. He purchased his dinner at Kottayam station instead. As we passed each station, the crowd inside the coach just kept increasing - from the reservation chart, we did make out that the coach was actually full that day! We started digging into our dinner after Kottayam - the Kerala Parotta (layered flatbread made using refined flour, aka Maida - often sarcastically called the state meal of Kerala) was soft and the coconut milk based gravy given along was really tasty and spiced appropriately. I enjoyed a railway meal after a long time.
The train as we prepared to start from Kochuveli..
With tiredness taking over me, I badly wanted to hit the bed. My colleague shared the same sentiment. The berths were up in no time. I only remember lying down - slept in no time. The ride quality in this coach was really poor - there was a lot of sways and rocking movements - but no jerks ala LHB. The ride quality in the LHB rake was certainly superior than this one. I remember a commotion inside the coach as the co-passengers in the same cubicle as ours joined - a lady in the party was loud and brash - she threw around her baggage and attitude. I continued sleeping as her majesty headed to her berth. Although the sleep wasn't comfortable - it was still good. I woke up as the train was climbing up the ghats near Hosur. We pulled into Hosur station by around 0800hrs - I generally prefer getting down here, but the heightened tensions around the state border (due to the cauvery water sharing row) meant there were no bus services, and I certainly didn't want to risk getting stranded.

The train made a brief stop at Heelalige home signal. I was hoping that we stopped at Carmelram - which would help me get home faster - but we just sped through the station. As the train neared Banasawadi, the exits became crowded - people with heavy baggage blocked the exits. I managed to get off the train successfully here (0910hrs), while my colleague continued to Yeswantpur. It seemed like half the train got off there - the platform was crowded, the exit was chocked, the circulating area outside had a massive traffic jam. The cab I had booked was parked outside the station premises, and the driver co-ordinated well on the phone. It was hell getting out the place - but the cabbie did a good job at that.

I liked this journey as well. The berth was narrow - especially for a heavy built profile like mine. The bedrolls were terrible - really wonder why people should pay for these. The coach was quite cold at night - the ambience to sleep was perfect. The ride quality was terrible - or maybe I was just pampered by the smooth ride in the LHB coach that we had on the outbound. The food was tasty and was decently priced as well. On the whole, a good journey without burning a hole in my pocket. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The AC Express to Kochuveli!

Another trip to Trivandrum - this time at a very short notice. I was totally unprepared for this one, and actually caught me off guard. With tension brewing between Karnataka and Tamilnadu, bus services were in a complete mess - even otherwise, buses weren't fitting into my requirement. I had to be in Trivandrum early in the morning, so that I can reach the program that I had to attend, which starts at 10am. The focus turned to trains now - a colleague was to travel with me. We did a quick search on the Indian Railway website - and found that the Yeswantpur-Kochuvei AC Express was operating on that day. Tickets were booked in AC 3-Tier, through the IRCTC website.

Fast-forward to September 22, 2016:
We started off from office around 1345 in a fairly tired Tata Indica cab of a cab aggregator. The driver took a quick route, and dropped us at the railway station by around 1415hrs - with over an hour to go for our train. Yeswantpur is a very unique station that there are hardly any signages or information display systems. We were completely in the dark about which platform our train would arrive on. We decided to wait on the foot-over-bridge, so that we could head to which ever platform the train arrived on. The railway station was quite dead at that time - a couple of passenger trains arrived and an express to Machilipatnam left.

The information display screens did not seem to be aware of our train - the screens kept giving out information of trains that had already departed. The rake of our train was brought in by a WDG3A of Krishnarajapuram shed sometime around 1445hrs. The EOG was already running, but the coaches weren't opened yet. We headed towards the front - I wanted to see what loco would be hauling my train, and also stock up some snacks for the evening ahead. As we walked half the way to the front, the ever familiar jerk was seen - the locomotive had already arrived. It was Erode's WAP4 #22390 at the helm. After downing a cup a hot badam milk, and stocking up some snacks for the evening ahead, we headed to our coach.
WAP4 #22390 at the helm of our train..
We had our tickets in B6. The train had a total of 8 3A coaches, around 3 2A and 1 1A, along with 2 EOGs and a Hot buffet car. A short rake for the WAP4 to toy around with. Our coach (LWACCN 10114C) was built by RCF Kapurthala in 2011 and was intially given to Northern Railway. We started off from Yeswantpur at 1521hrs, with a nice heavy jerk. I was traveling by a CBC rake after a very long time - the jerk was really bad, and hard enough to kick down a person standing. I doorplated for a while - but the jerks everytime the LP accelerated was quite scary, and I headed back to my berth. We had to stop at Banasawadi to cross twin light WDG3As. I was traveling by the Banasawadi-Baiyyappanahalli line for the first time - I was quite awestruck to see the coaching yard there. I never knew that the yard was already ready. We pulled into Krishnarajapuram by 1609hrs - majority of the passengers go here. Since the stoppage was very short, people had to jostle for space to get into the train. We started off by 1612hrs.

The LPs let the beast loose once we were past Krishnarajapuram. The train remained at MPS for most of the time. Our coach had a flat wheel - the constant thud thud noise was irritating. I was enjoying the run though. Few vendors made their appearance in this section. A guy from the base canteen took orders for dinner - very few people ordered though. The food was quite pricey (at Rs. 170 for a Veg Biriyani and a plate of Chapati with veg curry) - although I had tweeted about this, I didn't receive a satisfactory reply from the railways. We pulled into Bangarpet by 1654 and started off again by 1655hrs - I think the food was loaded here. This was an unscheduled halt - but, in all probabilities - a regular technical halt.
The train was a melange of coaches - some in the awful duranto livery and some in the LHB livery
The fast run continued after Bangarpet as well - so did the jerks. We came to a complete halt at the Jolarpet "bypass" - I believe some train was crossing over on the mainline - so we had to wait. The wait was over 10 minutes long. I remained at the door till we started and entered the mainline - a first time experience for me, since all my previous runs in this sector were at night! Once on the mainline, the beast was let loose - this time with higher MPS, the train rocked and jerked for most of the time. The run got boring as darkness fell - there was nothing to see, or nothing to do. Watching a movie on the phone was the only way to pass time. We were looped at Karuppur to let some train overtake us, as well. Salem was reached at 1956hrs - we were late. I wanted to buy some water and headed towards the door - but just as I reached the door, the sharp jerk, and the train started moving! It was 1958hrs then - a two minute break at a divisional headquarters!

We had our dinner - the typical railway food - over on price and low on taste. I wanted to try the online food ordering service - but it appeared a bit too pricey and I had junked the idea - only to have this terrible food at the same high price! The long day at office was already bearing down on me, and I badly wanted to sleep. Since we were the only passengers in the entire cubicle, and the others were to join en-route, we pulled up the berths and I hit my lower berth. The bedrolls were really fresh - they were crisp and shining white. The rolls were in disposable paper covers  - two bedsheets and a blanket were provided. Hand towels seem to be omitted these days. I remember the train pulling in to Erode (sometime past 9pm) - but slept even before it started moving from there. I had a nice long sleep - didn't realise the commotion of people getting off at Tiruppur or getting in from there.

I woke up hearing a noisy snore from a berth nearby - we were stationary. I could hear announcements outside - and we were in Kerala already. The time was 0239hrs. And we were at Ernakulam Town Railway station. By now, there was a competition among snorers - this was the loudest I've heard - they were so loud that I felt a WDM2 in full notch would've been silent! I struggled to fall asleep again amidst the cacophony. But then, sleep was more powerful - I did not realise when we started moving. I slept again for quite sometime - only to be woken up by my colleague as we neared Kochuveli. The coach was empty again - just about 5 of us. I headed to the washroom to get fresh - the toilets were still clean and in good shape. We finally pulled into Kochuveli station at 0628hrs - more than 25 minutes before time!

I was fore-warned that getting a bus from there was a tough task - but lady luck accompanied us - our coach stopped right in front of the exit, and the bus was right in front of the exit! We just ran into the bus, took a seat towards the middle - some 25 minutes later, we were at Trivandrum Central Railway station, walking towards a nearby lodge.

I quite liked this journey - my longest journey by train in recent times. I was quite excited to be on board an LHB rake as well. The ride was really comfortable - the horizontal sways characteristic of the old generation ICF rakes were absent, making for a very comfortable ride. The jerks were very pronounced - it was surely dependent on the loco pilots - since the rake hardly jerked after Ernakulam. The food was the old railway style - tasteless and expensive. The coach was clean, so were the toilets. Sorry for the lack of pictures - I felt really uncomfortable standing at the door - maybe I am getting "old" :p

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thrissur to Bangalore: Garuda King Class!

The upcoming pooja holidays - three days off together. What more do I need to book a ticket to go home? Flights were ruled out since they were too expensive. Buses were expensive as well. I remembered that Kerala RTC opens reservations as early as 45 days in advance quite late - I casually checked the Kerala RTC website and found that most buses were already full! I did not have much time to waste - I made a reservation on the Ernakulam-Bangalore Garuda King Class - despite booking on September 9 for a journey on October 11, only seats towards the rear were available - and I selected seat #35. For some reason, the fares looked way off to me - it didn't take a lot of time to realise that KSRTC was charging end-to-end fares on all buses that day! Business sense dawns on KSRTC - began with flexi fares, now end-to-end fares during peak days! Way to go KSRTC!

October 11, 2016:
I left my home quite early - I had some shopping to do. I waited for some time to see if I could get a KSRTC bus - but none turned up. I finally took a private bus, that was flown not driven by a crazy F1 wannabe, who threw the bus through curves and narrow roads - I was really relieved and happy as I got off the bus near the KSRTC bus station at Thrissur - sometime around 2040hrs. I had about 15 minutes to go for the scheduled pick-up time. I had received an SMS with the details of the bus that would be taking me to Bangalore while I was waiting for a bus at my hometown itself - and I had been using this information to track the whereabouts of the bus using the KSRTC Bus Tracking website. The website showed that I had a lot of time to have my dinner.
Tracking information..
The bus station was packed to its gills - buses and passengers jostled for space. There were no less than 5 buses lined up for Bangalore - all of them were full, and seat seekers crowded around the crew. It was getting stuffy and hot in the bus terminal - and I had to walk towards the entry gate to get in some fresh air. The tracking website updated that the bus had reached Thrissur bus station by around 2125hrs - the bus wasn't inside the bus station yet, but had probably entered the geo-fence. The entrance was jammed - the buses that were inside weren't able to find a platform to park and they crowded around the circulating area. I remained near the entrance itself. My bus, RS787, entered the bus station at 2130hrs - but no platforms were free. Boarding did not commence till the crew found a vacant platform. They finally found an empty platform at 2139hrs. Boarding commenced immediately - it looked like no less than 50% of the bus was filling from Thrissur!

Some passengers were missing and the crew were busy hunting for them. We got all the reserved passengers by 2153hrs and started off from Thrissur - we were almost an hour late now. My seat was fairly comfortable - the seat cushion felt a little harder than usual. The engine sounded a little abnormal - a constant whistling sound, which worsened as the retarders kicked in. There were no squeals or squeaks otherwise. A malayalam movie was played on TV. The driver was quite efficient - he made some quick calculated overtakes as we entered the highway. The Mannuthy-Vadakkenchery stretch of the highway is under construction, and hence there are a lot of diversion. The conductor came around distributing blankets and water bottles soon after we entered the highway. Lights were turned off, and only the the night lamps remained on.

I was quite sleepy and hence prepared to sleep. I was quite surprised when the bus pulled in for dinner at Hotel Malabari, just past Mangalam palam, Vadakkenchery, at 2251hrs. Isn't this a little too late for dinner? I feel the bus should be stopping for dinner around Ankamaly or so. I had taken by dinner from Thrissur and just kept strolling around. I had a juice from there in the meantime. This hotel is a regular break point for a lot of Karnataka RTC buses as well. We started from there by 2324hrs. I slept off soon after the bus started, and wokeup only as the bus turned off the highway to go to Palakkad bus station. We reached the bus station at 2351hrs. The remaining seats were filled here, and we started off exactly at the stroke of midnight (0000hrs) with 49 passengers on board. I vaguely remember passing the toll gate at Attappallam - slept deep after that. I vaguely remember the bus stopped on the road side for some time - probably a tea break for the crew.
The bus, RS787, after dropping me at Electronic City
I woke up again as the bus stopped at Attibele toll gate - it was around 0620 or so, then. The toll gate was quite crowded - but our driver had selected the best lane. We had some drops near Narayana Hrudayalaya and Hebbagodi. I was constantly checking for cabs around Silk board - but the availability was quite poor. I got a quick idea as the bus neared Electronic city - I checked for cabs near the toll gate, and found they were easily available. I decided in the nick of time to get off at Electronic city itself - I got off there by around 0643hrs. This was perhaps the best decision - I could make it home by 0700hrs easily - which wouldn't have been possible if I continued to silk board.

Remarks: The bus, RS787 (KL-15-A-285) of Kottayam, had clocked about 4.86 Lakh kms. Although the bus was originally homed at Kottayam depot, the bus was being operated by Ernakulam depot that day. The mechanical maintenance was great - but the exteriors bore a lot of damages, and the interiors weren't in great condition. The floor mats were torn. The seats were clean - but the cushion felt a bit hard. I am not a fan of these faux-leather rexin seat covers - they are too hot and uncomfortable. Driving was great - the bus was stable at 80kmph for most of the time. The bus has a single driver, who is at the wheels for over 13 hours - which is terribly unsafe. I hope the driver-cum-conductor system is enforced sooner. (The system has been approved by the KSRTC management). The end-to-end travel time was 8h50m, including a 33 minute dinner break, Palakkad town entry and pickup, and atleast one tea break en route. Overall a great service.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Did not check if it worked.
Entertainment: Available - one movie played.

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

Overall: 4.95/5

Pros: Reliable, Punctual, Economic
Cons: Odd break times

Will I take this service again? Absolutely. They are a great option - economic, reliable.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bangalore to Thrissur: KSRTC Airavat

Ticket hunting is one thing where I spend a lot of time. The other thing I spend time on is our holiday list. During these process, I came across this long weekend in mid-October - the Dusshera weekend. The holiday calender showed three continuous days of holidays. Flights were already prohibitively expensive, and I booked tickets by bus - over a month in advance. I always have a jinx about early planning - I was scared this time as well. My jinx came true as my office decided to play around the holiday dates. I usually end up losing holidays, but this time, the office decided to give a day additionally off. I had to reschedule my tickets now - the announcement came a little late, and I had not many options now. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation had some special buses, priced at way beyond what they are worth - but the saviour was the 1501BNGTRC Airavat, via Mysore. Thankfully, seats at the front were available.

October 07, 2016:
I hurried out of office to have a quick lunch sometime around 1300hrs. My phones were busy hunting for cabs on different apps - one finally turned up around 1345hrs. Although I did not have a lot of distance to travel, I had to take precautions since I was heading to Mysore road on a pre-Dussehra weekend. I was a little wary of traffic - but things weren't as bad as I expected, and I could reach the Mysore Road Satellite bus station by 1415hrs. The bus station was packed with Mysore bound buses - all specials for Dussehra. I had to meet some people at the bus station before I got into my bus.

The bus that would work my schedule came in only around 1450hrs - this particular schedule is operated by Mysore division - so the bus arrives just before the departure time. I stayed away from the bus for some time - atleast till the AC was switched on. The bus was more than half occupied already. Most of the bookings on the day were from Bangalore itself - that is unusual for this bus. The bus pulled out of the platform by 1515hrs - about 15 minutes behind schedule. But the bus station was really crowded and we had a tough task getting out of the bus station. We finally left the bus station at 1525hrs - 25 minutes late now.

The driver was fast from the word go. The city traffic kept us a little slow as we progressed towards Mysore. Metro construction activities meant some rough roads. We passed Kengeri by 1541hrs. We had to pick-up passengers from Kumbalagodu, outside Christ University - this isn't an official pick-up point, but is provided on request. We picked up passengers from Christ university, and started off by 1556hrs. I was quite sleepy - and dozed off for sometime. I woke up just as the bus pulled in for a break - I though we were in Mysore already - but we were just short of Maddur then. We pulled into Kamat Upachar for a break at 1650. I really felt this break could've been avoided. We remained there till 1707 hours. Most passengers just used the washrooms and kept strolling around, while quite some passengers were fast asleep inside the bus.
The bus, KA-01-F-8541 during the tea break
Traffic was not as bad as expected, and the driver was fairly fast. I slept for some more time and woke up only as  the crew called out for passengers alighting at Mysore Ring Road - aka Columbia Asia. The time was 1819hrs. I guess the roads were crowded post Mandya - I remember the bus was stuck at a traffic block, I think, at Mandya. City roads in Mysore were all decorated for Dussehra- majority of the buildings were illuminated. We pulled into the heavily crowded Mysore Suburban bus station at 1832hrs - some 12 minutes behind time. The Bangalore-Mysore run took 3h07m including a 17 minute break - really not bad considering the time.

The bus station was terribly crowded - hardly any place for people or buses to move around. After some struggle, we got a platform - boarding was quick. We finally started at 1853hrs - whole 33 minutes late. After starting from the bus station, they wasted another 5 minutes to load parcels! The driver took the Narsipura road, then turned to the ring road and reached Gundlupet road. I kept dozing off time and again - since we were quite late, I thought we'd be passing the forest and then stopping somewhere for dinner. I was quite shocked when the bus pulled over for dinner break at Hotel Coffe Stoppe, outside Gundlupet - the time was already 2016hrs. The crew called for a 10 minute, repeat, 10 minute, dinner break and ran out of the bus. The hotel was hell crowded already - no less than 6 buses were parked for dinner there.

The hotel serves terrible food - and there was no veg item on the day.  The staff were rude, as usual. I had to make do with some bun and a puff pastry. I was back to the bus in less than 10 minutes - so were most passengers. All the buses that had stopped for dinner had left or were leaving by then. We started off at 2036hrs - we had exactly 24 minutes to cover some 18 kilometres to the forest gate. The gate closes at 2100hrs, and we had to pass before then, failing which we'd be detained till 0600hrs the next morning! The driver pushed the bus as he sped towards the gate. We had some hurdles on the way - like wrongly parked trucks, under-construction culverts, to name a few. We finally pass the forest gate at 2057hrs - three minutes before it closed!

The driver slowed down after entering the forest. He was very cautious inside the forest - no honking at all. There were lots of elephant herds on the way - most of them right next to the road. I didn't spot anything else. We passed the state border at 2121hrs - I slept off soon after that. I had a really nice sleep - the AC was comfortable, and quite unusually (compared to my previous experiences), Blankets were given as well. I woke up when the bus was stuck in some traffic block - which I later realised was near Vazhikadavu check-post. We stopped at Edakkara to drop some passengers - the crew also took a tea break (2326hrs). I had another round of sleep. Vaguely remember another tea break near Perumbilavu and passing Kunnamkulam. I woke up just as the bus passed the railway overbridge - we reached Thrissur bus station at 0220hrs - 02h21m late!

Remarks: The bus, KA-01-F-8541, of Mysore Rural Depot-2 was maintained in fairly great condition. The bus did not have too many damages outside, and the inside was very clean. Unlike most Airavats, this one did not squeal or squeak, and no rattles from the suspension, either. I was in for some real shock when I saw the odometer - it read 14.2 Lakh kms! Now, that was a lot of kilometres for the bus! The driver, Mr TV Balu, deserves appreciation - he was fast, had amazing control on the bus. He slowed down after the forest - I'd assume its fatigue, since they generally start their shift around 11 in the morning, then hunt for passengers in Mysore, drive down the maniac Mysore-Bangalore highway, spend time battling blocks in Bangalore, take their next trip at 1500 - he gets rest well past midnight - thats over 12 hours at the wheels. The roads after Vazhikadavu is winding and is quite tiring as well - but he was very controlled on the road, and let passengers sleep really well. Overall, the crew were great. The end-to-end running time of 10h55m seemed quite high - but acceptable for a majority two-laned sector.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available on alternative rows, Did not check if it worked.
Entertainment: Available - but not used.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Pros: Easy ticket availability, Reliable
Cons: Late night arrival, odd timings

Will I take this service again? Its a great back-up option. Amazing option if you are heading to Nilambur or Perinthalmanna or even Thrissur town. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

iFly 103: Pune to Bengaluru

I didn't have too many requirements. I had to attend the conference, make a quick visit to Shirdi, and fly back home at convenience. I selected the day for my Shirdi visit based on flight availability, and of course, the budget. After a lot of deliberations, considerations and contemplations, I finalised the visit to Shirdi on a Monday. Flights for Monday evening were fairly cheap, and Indigo's new series of late night flights were adding to the convenience. I booked the first of the two late night departure from Pune - this gave me ample time to travel from Shirdi and connect to my flight.

October 03, 2016:
It was 1952hrs when I got off the Volvo from Shirdi. The bus driver dropped me a little after Viman Nagar (GMaps says the place is called Shastri nagar chowk). It was a confusing signal - I failed to spot a pedestian crossing and ended up jaywalking across in typical Indian style. Just as I began my attempt to cross, the airport bus went past the other side of the road. I wanted to try them - but the next bus was only after an hour! I tried hunting for autos, but no empty autos turned up. I tried the app based taxis, but none were available - can't blame, it was a Monday evening! I slowly walked in the direction of the airport - while refreshing the apps and checking for cabs. A little in to the walk, and empty auto turned up, who dropped me at the airport by about 2005hrs.

The entry to the terminal was quite free - just a minor delay due to someone not having his identity card in original. I headed to the baggage scanners - but they asked me to wait for a while since the check-in for my flight wasn't open yet. I utilized this opportunity to rearrange my bags a bit, so that the check-in bag was a little lighter. I got my bag scanned by 2020hrs and walked towards Check-in. I met someone known at the airport and spent some time chatting. Check-in was quite deserted then. I checked in by 2034hrs and headed to security check. My phone was running low on battery, and I rather focused on getting to a charging point as quick as possible - and quite amusingly. security check was quick, and I got into the security hold by 2038hrs.
The boarding card..
We were boarding from the gate on the lower floor itself, and this saved passengers from the trouble of having to go up, and then walk down in case of non-jetway boarding. I was successful in finding a seat near a working power plug - so the next few minutes were spent charging the phone. In the meantime, I tuned in to FR24 to find where the inbound bird was - she was on her way from Bengaluru already then. I was quite hungry already and wanted to have something for my dinner - I had pre-ordered a meal on the flight and thought of taking something light. Pune is quite a dumb airport when it comes to eateries or shopping. And, like every AAI run airport, stuff are terribly overpriced as well. I had to take something, and just headed to the upper level to have something light. When I was having my snack, the IndiGirl started announcing the arrival of the aircraft from Bengaluru (2138hrs), and added that the same aircraft would operate back as 6E103 to Bengaluru - needless to say, a loonngg queue had already formed!
VT-INZ as she came down to PNQ for me..
Date of Journey: September 30, 2016
Flight No: 6E103 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-232 || Regn: VT-INZ
Sector: PNQ-BLR
STD: 2215hrs, ATD: 2210hrs
STA: 2340hrs, ATA: 2338hrs

The first boarding call was made at 2143hrs - a long queue snaked around the seating area already. I did not bother joining the queue until the line became short. I remained seated until about 2150hrs - I joined the tail end of the line as the length shortened. The agent at the gate kept requesting passengers to display their baggage tags to the security personnel - but Indian habits die hard, and nobody really bothered and the queue moved really slow. The apron was really busy at this time - no less than 4 aircrafts jostled for space, and two more were inbound! I got into the aircraft by 2155hrs - to a warm welcome by Nichole, who was at the aft entry. I was on board a 7.4 year old Airbus A320 delivered mint-fresh to IndiGo in 2009, and registered VT-INZ. She was still fresh inside - amazing maintenance, I must admit. Getting to my seat was easy, since my co-passengers were yet to be seated. Boarding was completed by 2201hrs - the pre-departure paper works took some more time. The doors were armed at 2210hrs and we were pushed back at 2211hrs.

In the deck were two senior captains - Capt Thomas and Capt Vikram, while the cabin crew were Vimala (chief), Della, Sharon and Nichole. While Vimala was quite hurried and she spoke as if the time she took to make announcements were payable, the rest of the cabin crew did their job with a nice smile and did have the warmth of service. We remained put on the apron for some more time - while the safety demonstration was completed. We taxied out at 2216hrs - it was a long taxi for us, as we headed towards Runway 28. It took us 6 minutes to get to the holding point of Rwy28. We didn't have to hold - directly turned on to the active. We were airborne at 2223hrs. We took off into low flying clouds, towards the west, before turning South East. The seatbelt signs were turned off by 2226hrs. Another round of rushed commentary by Vimala followed, and the meal carts were pulled out.
Thats the stub on my boarding card, that entitles me to select one food item and a beverage of my choice.. 
I was quite confused if I should try their hot meals - ready in 8 minutes stuff, or stick to the tried and tested sub. While checking the menu, I found some new additions - including a tortilla wrap, oats products, some cookies among others. Since I wasn't confident enough to try a hot in 8 minute product, I chose the tortilla wrap. I wanted to try a particular beverage listed on the menu - but it wasn't available, and I ended up taking an Aamras. The tortilla wrap was called - Paneer Khurchan in soft spinach tortilla wrap - it had a rich paneer (cottage cheese) and onion-bell pepper filling prepared in Mayonnaise in a spinach coloured wheat based tortilla wrap. The wrap was slightly soggy - could be due to the storage conditions - but tasted really awesome. Details of the manufacturer mentioned on the label made it all clear - this was produced by Taj-SATS, which is beyond doubt, the best air kitchens in India.
The "meal" combo..
The tortilla wrap..
I enjoyed the meal - the wrap had a whole lot of paneer - atleast one for every bite. This meal was perhaps quite value for money. The Aamras was from Paper Boat - the standard stuff. Went quite well with the slightly hot wrap. I enjoyed a meal on IndiGo the first time ever. The FAs did a great job by being low on their voices as they hawked their products on board. There were absolutely no announcements during the flight (except the seatbelt sign and landing announcements). We ran into a fairly severe turbulence as we were approaching Bengaluru - the seatbelt sign came on (2319hrs) a couple of minutes after we hit the turbulence. A quick thrash clearance run was made after that, and the cabin was secured for landing. The crew to stations call came in by 2325hrs - we were still about to align to the ILS path then. We landed at 2334hrs - I really couldn't recognise the moment we touched down - it was perhaps the smoothest landing I've had ever. The reversers were deployed even as the nose was yet to touch down followed by a very soft braking. We docked at a contact stand by 2338hrs.
We parked next to this "new" bird for AirAsia - VT-PNQ at BLR ;)
The aircraft was to continue to Trivandrum. Quite unusually, only the forward exit was used. I've often seen IndiGo using both exits even when they are at contact stands - probably, because we were before time, they didn't bother about the aft exits. People mobbed the aisle as if they were running for an olympic gold - I stayed on my seat for quite some more time. I got off the aircraft only by 2349hrs - among the last to get off the aircraft. I found a few passengers remaining in the aircraft, continuing to Trivandrum. IndiGo security staff checked boarding cards of passengers deplaning there to ensure that only people ticketed to Bangalore got off here. I got my bag by 2354hrs and was out of the airport in another minute on so. It was then a long walk to the Uber Zone to get my cab to go home.

Ratings:
Check-in: 5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Good counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome crew, by previous IndiGo experiences)
Catering: 4.85/5 (Great food, fairly good choices as well)
Overall: 4.95/5 (I really enjoyed this one)

Summary:
A great flight with IndiGo this time. I really appreciate the crew on iFly 103 for their great job that day. They put out some great service - not the usual mechanical IndiGo service. They had the smile and the warmth in service. The leading lady was a bit too hurried - she rushed through announcements, service and even thrash clearance. The best landing I've ever had - all thanks to the senior crew up at the front office. Great flight :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The return from Shirdi: Kadamba Volvo!

Kadamba?

What was that?

People staying in Bangalore would be quite aware of the word Kadamba - for a chain of hotels that operate at KSRTC/BMTC bus stations across Bangalore. For the bus enthusiasts, in the know, Kadamba is Goa's state run transport provider.

Whats that got to do with my trip?

A few days before my trip to Shirdi, a casual message on a WhatsApp group popped up with pics of a white swede with bold stickers reading Kadamba. Oh yeah! The swede I am talking about was a face-lifted Volvo B7R. Those pictures led me to search more about Kadamba's Volvo service to Shirdi. I understood they operate a Shirdi-Pune-Margao service, that departs from Shirdi around 1430hrs. They had online reservation for end-to-end passengers and for passengers ex-Pune to Goa. I was always aware of the existence of this service, but never thought I could use them to ex-Shirdi. The pics were too inviting that I decided to take a plunge.

October 03, 2016:
After a heart-filling darshan at Sai Baba's samadhi, I headed back to my hotel room to pick-up my camera. I headed straight to the MSRTC bus station to look at back-up options. I really did not fancy changing buses at Ahmednagar - but I kept that was a back-up option. I also took a note of timings of the non-stop Ordinary buses that MSRTC operates to Pune. After this, I head out in search of Kadamba's parking location. I had an idea where they park, but I couldn't find the bus there. A quick search on RedBus told me the bus was yet to arrive (based on the scheduled arrival time). As I roamed around the area, I saw a white swede approaching the parking yard at a fairly good pace - yes, that was Kadamba's swede! I had a word with their crew to confirm their pick-up timing and place.

I checked out of my room, headed to the restaurant for lunch and started my long walk to Kadamba's pick-up point, Hotel Holiday Park. On my way, I reconfirmed the availability of my Plan-B (the Pune non-stop bus). The bus was brought out of the parking lot exactly at 1400hrs. The bus, MH-07-C-9954, looked resplendent - the new face, the white colour, accentuated curves all add to the overall beauty of the beast. I am not sure if somebody noticed the irony. The bus is operated by the state transport undertaking of Goa, but bears a Maharashtra registration. The bus also operates on a Tourist permit. I was told the bus is owned by Konduskar, a prominent Maharashtra based travel operator, and operates on lease with Kadamba Transport Corporation Limited of Goa.
The bus - MH-07-C-9954, when it arrived from Goa.
I had to wait for sometime, because, curiously, the bus doesn't have an onboard conductor! The bus had two drivers, who were the staff of the operator, and one person in Kadamba uniform - who acted as the conductor, but does not sell tickets on board. The tickets are sold by the travel agent who handles the bus out of Shirdi. I waited outside the bus for sometime - seeing me stand under the sun, the crew called me in, and let me take a seat inside till the agent comes. The engine was running and the AC was left on. The agent appeared about 5 minutes before departure - he collected the money from me, He checked the other seats and finally signalled departure.

We started off from Shirdi at 1431hrs. The interior quality appeared a notch above the older variants. Unlike the B9Rs, there is no major improvement in the interiors (in appearance) - just the addition of the hazard hooter indicated this was a newer vehicle. The cabin had a lot of changes - the engine gear lever arrangement was changed, and the instrument panel was new. Roads were in terrible shape and we made quite slow progress for some time. The AC was in full flow. No movies were played - although there were stickers about a WiFi based entertainment system - but that didn't seem to work. The mobile charger points weren't switched on either. It began raining a little after we started from Shirdi. I dozed off for some time, en route. I woke up when we stopped at some place - we were at Tarakpur, and the time was 1619hrs. Less than two hours for this distance - despite bad roads.
The refreshed cabin..
The halt was just momentary - enough for the crew to check if there were any pick-ups. We passed by Maliwada Swastik Bus Station around 1629hrs. Rain had taken a break then - it just began pouring down as the bus left Ahmednagar. The driver broke loose after Ahmednagar - picked pace in no time. I was quite impressed by his driving skills - he picks pace a little slow but maintains constant speeds. Gear shifts were soft and at the right rpm bands. He wasn't in for drag races, but maintained good pace, overall. It was still raining. We pulled into to Smilestone Motel for a break, at around 1654hrs. It was still raining - pulling out the umbrella was unavoidable this time. I had a very quick break, and was back at the bus capturing the beauty of the facelift Volvo 9400.

I had a word with the driver - he claims the newer variants give better mileage and the gearing was more comfortable. He expressed some apprehensions about the body quality, though. We started off from there at 1720hrs. An MSRTC Shivneri was giving us company at the motel. The driver meant business soon after he was back on the highway. Speeds in the range of 90~95kmph was maintained most of the time. The bus seemed to have regular passengers - most of the passengers in the bus knew the crew. Speaking of passengers, we had hardly over 10 passengers on board the 45 seater bus. We reached Ranjangaon by around 1800hrs. Traffic build up began from here. The progress after Ranjangaon was painful - we spent most of the time standing still in traffic.
The Kadamba, with a battered and bruised Shivneri.. 
The driver had bursts of speed everytime he had an opportunity - but the opportunities were far and few, though. I had a little bit of tension building up, since I did not end up missing my flight. I had lots of time to spare though - the flight was only at 2215hrs. I kept myself glued to GMaps to identify the location where I should be getting off the bus. I decided to get off at Viman Nagar and hire a vehicle from there to the airport. The driver ended up missing the bus stop (there was heavy traffic, and there was no way he could pull to the left for me) and dropped me a little after Viman Nagar at 1952hrs - 5 hours and 21 minutes after we started from Shirdi. Had not for the traffic after Ranjangaon, I am sure the bus would've dropped me at Viman Nagar well before 1900hrs.

Remarks:
The bus, MH-07-C-9954, had clocked a little over 1.79lakh kms. The bus was clean inside out (outside only when departing - its impossible to keep them clean when it rains). The interiors were fresh. The crew were quite good - the drivers were not in uniform though. The driving was very good - keeping constant pace on the highway, no overspeeding or hard braking on the way. No waste of time either - they did not hawk for passengers, nor pick-up wayside passengers. I am still baffled why they do not sell tickets on board, though - this would increase the overall revenues. I am sure a lot of Shirdi-Pune passengers would prefer this bus if they picked up passengers at the bus station and sold tickets on board.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: None.

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

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Cheaper than other operators, Fairly good timings
Cons: No ticket issued, no amenities 

Will I take this service again? Its a great option to return from Shirdi. Absolutely Recommended!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Shivneri Scania & my trip to Shirdi!

I had to go to Shirdi.

But I didn't have a ticket!

I briefly romanced the idea of taking a train - but then the timings wouldn't work. Then some private operators, but that didn't fit either. I fell back on MSRTC - browsed their website looking at options. Finally, I decided to keep the options open. The conference that I was attending was to go on till about 2pm. I had to factor in the traveling time from the venue, near Chinchwad, to Shivaji nagar bus station as well. With all these in mind, I decided to head to the bus station and then decide.

October 02, 2016:
It was a Sunday afternoon - but the traffic on the road was high for a weekend. There were some gridlocks along the way. My cab driver dropped me at Shivajinagar bus station by around 1540hrs. My bag was quite heavy and I was a bit confused about having a break journey or heading straight to Shirdi. Just as I entered the bus station, I saw a banner announcing a non-stop service to Shirdi. I thought of trying this - but the service was an ordinary class service. The timings they put up seemed too ambitious to be true.

I stood at the bus station fully confused about what I should do. There was one bus of Madhya Pradesh Parivahan heading to Indore, via Shirdi. I thought for a couple of minutes if I should try that. While waiting their confused about what to do, came in the Swedish Griffin! The blue coloured beast parked herself at a Platform at the corner of the bus station, with her LED boards screaming "Pune to Aurangabad". My brain went into a convulsion - the direct Shirdi bus(es) on one side and this one on the other. If I took the griffin, I'd have to change buses at Ahmednagar - not really something I'd want to do with heavy baggage. But then, I was surely inclined to try the griffin.
The bus - MH06-S-9194
Taking a decision was tough - but then, When the going gets tough, the tough get going..

I shut off my thoughts about the further journey, and just headed to the Shivneri ticket counter. Shivneri buses generally do not have conductors - one should either reserve, or buy a ticket from the ground staff. I got a ticket from the counter next to the platform - the ticket charge was Rs. 350, and it mentioned my seat number as #12. A copy of Hindusthan Times newspaper and a 300ml water bottle was handed out along with the ticket. I got into the bus and was quite excited to see I had a window seat. I had to push my bag into the overhead luggage rack. The engine was already running, and the AC was on.
The ticket issued at the counter. It has the bus number, departure time, seat number and fare.
The seating was good. The gangway was narrow, very narrow. The high window line felt a little claustrophobic - its a good place to rest your hand, though. We started at 1605 - 5 minutes behind schedule. It was a tough job to reverse out of the platform - the place was all chocked with buses all around. A couple of conductors (of other buses) helped the sole crew in this bus - with all their help, we moved out of the bay by around 1612hrs. It was 1616hrs by the time we exited the bus station. At the time of final sign off by the counter guy, we had 35 pax on board - 7 to Ahmednagar and the rest to Aurangabad. The driver meant business as he picked pace on city roads. Even though it was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly on the higher side.

I am not conversant with the roads of Pune - so no comments on what route he took. We passed Yerwada at 1634hrs - I am not sure if there is a pick-up point there - but he did stop near a bus stop and then picked pace. The TV wasn't switched on - so no entertainment was available on board. The power plug was switched off as well. While sitting bored, I saw a sticker on the seat next to me - about a wifi based entertainment system. I tried this out on my phone. It did not force me to install any app - just connect to their wifi network, use the system browser to open their website, and watch whatever content you feel like watching. There were lots of Marathi shows, and a few Hindi movies. I selected a movie that I hadn't seen before - It was probably the best onboard entertainment I've ever experienced.
The entertainment system..
I was hooked on to the movie that I was watching and did not really look out - it was dark already and was pouring for most of the distance as well. The driver was cautious, and kept speeds in the range of 75~80kmph all the time. The ride wasn't very comfortable - the suspension was on the tighter side, and braking was scary at times. I did not feel the effect of a retarder anytime - looked like the driver mostly used only the service brakes. Since I was in the front portion, can't really talk about noise insulation, or body roll. The engine appeared a little noisy to me. The AC was really powerful - I kept switching off the vents very often. The fittings weren't great - there was a lot of leakage in cooled air - I was getting cold air even after closing both the vents above my head.

The bus pulled in for a break at Smile Stone Motel, at Palwe, between Shirur and Ahmednagar, sometime around 1834hrs. I was quite hungry and just ran into the hotel to have some food. I was quite eager to have some  Pav Bhaji and just did that. I had my food real quick and then came back to the bus. It was drizzling then - but wanted to talk to the driver before I got in. Soon after he came, I enquired about ways to get to Shirdi - he said getting a bus from Swastik bus station (in Ahmednagar) was easy and I need not be worried about crowd since it was quite late for crowd already. I was a bit relieved on hearing this. We started from there around 1859hrs - rain thickened now. It was lashing on the bus, and I was worried seeing this.

The rain strengthened as we proceeded towards Ahmednagar. Since I was going to the place at night, I had to keep the GPS on to tell me the whereabouts. We pulled into the Swastik Bus Station, in Ahmednagar Maliwada at 1925hrs. It was still raining hard, and I was looking confused at the prospect of getting out of the bus into rain, with all the baggage. But thankfully, there was an extended shelter at the place the bus stopped - I could get into that without getting wet. I moved a little to the side, and saw a bus to Shirdi parked beside!

Remarks: The bus, MH-06-S-9491, of Shivajinagar Pune depot had clocked a little over 1.07 lakh kms on the clock. The bus was dirty on the outside - can't blame since its been raining quite heavily, and the bus had just arrived from Aurangabad amidst heavy showers. The interiors were fairly clean - there were no carpets inside - the ensured the gangway was dusty. The overall maintenance seemed very good - no scratches or dents on the body. The driver seemed well-versed with the operations of the bus - except that he did not seem to like using the Retarder. The ride was on the stiffer side, and the braking was a bit nervous. I loved every bit of the WiFi based entertainment system - I only wished the power plugs were switched on as well.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: Yes (300ml bottle)
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: WiFi based entertainment available.

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

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Multi departures (Frequency), easy availability, good driving
Cons: Fares pretty high, braking was a bit nervous

Will I take this service again? Lovely service. Prefer them if you are headed to Aurangabad.

The Tailpiece: The ride to Shirdi from Nagar!
Ahmednagar to Shirdi for Rs. 96. 
I rushed to that bus - which was actually ahead of my bus for quite some time. It had a "Pune -> Pachora" board - I asked the driver if they go to Shirdi. I took a seat when he replied affirmative. I was seated in the rear half of the bus, beyond the rear axle. We started from Ahmednagar around 1930hrs. The bus was MH-20-BL-3376, from Pachora depot. The ordinary buses of MSRTC have a rather lavish 2+2 seating, with wide seats and good leg room. We went inside the Maliwada central bus station for the customary entry (entry on the log sheet) and headed out in no time. The driver was fast from the word go. He never bothered potholes - just went over them. It was pouring cats and dogs outside - and none of the windows would close fully. So cold air mixed with water kept lashing inside. There were hardly any stops on the way - all the small towns/villages were bypassed. The only bus station we entered was Rahuri - at 2039hrs. Just a momentary halt - giving just enough time for the conductor to run out, get the log sheet entry done and return. The high speed run continued. My GPS recorded speeds in the range of 85kmph most of the time during the run. I was dropped at Shirdi by 2135hrs. It was a 2h05m ride for just over 90kms - the ticket cost me Rs. 96. It was this 2 hours ride I enjoyed a lot - the typical MSRTC styled driving.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Konnect to Pune!

I had done this circuit last year - the Pune-Shirdi circuit. Even not being a religious person, I did feel I must go back to Shirdi once again. I had a great darshan last year - and gave me a lot of peace. Its about time, I repeated. I tried working out this trip multiple times - a lot of plans made and discarded. My turn to go back to baba came soon. I had to attend a conference in Pune - the program was over a weekend. I could make a head out to Shirdi from there as well. Since the conference was spread over the weekend - on a Saturday and a Sunday, I had the choice of visiting Shirdi either on Friday or Monday. A quick look at ticket availability made my decision making easier. I decided to do it on a Monday.

Hunting for tickets for the outbound was a bit tricky. I was inclined to take a bus at the beginning - kept looking at different options, but never made a decision. Then the search turned towards flights - OTAs gave out some awesome rates. I wasn't really sure of booking - since I wasn't really sure if I'd make it to the event. I kept procrastinating my booking - until I realised that the fares for the flight I was looking at remained stable over the two days that I took to make a decision. Being a staunch believer in omen, I felt this was an indication. The flight was 9W7051 - a Jet Airways flight, but operated by JetKonnect, aka the good ol' Air Sahara! I booked the ticketing using the Jet Airways mobile website - only to pocket a small discount that negated the convenience fee.

September 30, 2016:
Like everytime I travel, I had a sleepless night before the journey. I was drowsy through the day in my office. I was quite excited about the travel, and literally ran out of my office at the stroke of 4. I had some quick work at Shantinagar, and decided to take a cab to reach there. The cabbie dropped me at Shantinagar by around 1645 - I was done with my job and was back at the bus station by around 1710. I had spotted a KSRTC FlyBus to the airport at these times - and decided to wait for sometime to see if it operated. I left atleast three BMTC Volvos to the airport during this period. The FlyBus turned up around 1725. FlyBus is a brand of buses operated by KSRTC to Bangalore International Airport. These buses initially offered live TV, onboard pantry and restrooms - a premium offering that operated point-to-point from Bengaluru Airport to Mysore. The bus started off from Shantinagar around 1730, and the driver kept lugging (typical KSRTC style of driving) right from the beginning.
The "FlyBus" that took me to the airport
I was the sole passenger on board the bus - there were two off-duty crew as well, for some distance. The bus made it to the airport by around 1850hrs. I still had another 25 minutes to go for check-in to open. I headed to one of the many kerb side outlets to have some food - I was of the expectation that my flight being a dinner time flight, I'd get some good food. I still opted to have something semi-heavy. After the quick snack, I headed towards the terminal entry gates - which were crowded. It took about 5 minutes to get into the terminal, and it was a long walk to the Jet Airways check-in gates. Quite unusually, check-in was crowded, and the queue moved very slow. I realised later that out of the 12 counters Jet had, only 4 were opened for economy class passengers! That is not done Jet!
Slow moving, crowded, check-in @ BLR
Date of Journey: September 30, 2016
Flight No: 9W7051 (S24495) || Seat: 40A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-800 (WL) || Regn: VT-JLF
Sector: BLR-PNQ
STD: 2110hrs, ATD: 2102hrs
STA: 2235hrs, ATA: 2215hrs
The boarding pass - which still says JetKonnect
I got my boarding pass by 1926 and moved towards security check. I had web-checked in, but did not want to use the kiosk, and then queue-up for baggage drop. I opted for the routine check-in drama. Security check was an even bigger mess. It looked like the entire city was traveling out of town that weekend! The queues were long, and a lot of bags were pulled out for re-scanning, delaying the entire process. For some reason, all scanning machines weren't on either. I got past Security by 1941hrs. My flight was boarding from Gate #16, which is the last of the contact gates used for domestic operations. In fact, Gate 15 & 16 are located inside an enclosure which helps it being converted to international gates if needed. There were lots of empty seats around the gate - I found one near a set of charging points and settled down. But, Alas! The Charging points weren't working! Since I wanted to charge my phone, I pulled out my laptop and connected the phone to it - since the laptop was on and running, I had to do something - the best thing to do was type down this report! I just did that!

While at it, I thought it would be wise to find which bird would take me out, and where she was - I just opened Flightradar24 and searched for my flight number - it predicted VT-JLF to be doing the honours and showed the flight was already in Bengaluru! I raised my head a little, and peeped out of the glass facade on the right - A Boeing birdie with "LF" written above the cockpit windows had just docked and the jetways were being attached! I continued working on my laptop. The first boarding call was made at 2020hrs. Jet had enforced a zonewise boarding for domestic passengers. Since I was seated in Zone-4, I had to join the boarding queue soon. I passed the boarding gate by 2023hrs and was inside the aircraft by 2024hrs. Boarding was very slow - boarding had started really early for this flight, I guess passengers were still coming in. The wait inside was quite painful - I hate waiting once I am inside (which is why I am often the last to board), and two the aroma of food being heated in the oven was too strong to bear!
Our neighbours @ BLR
We were at the last contact gate used for domestic flights - next to us were international flights - Srilankan A320 and Etihad A320 were in sight - beyond them was an Emirates B777. Our boarding completed by 2058hrs and doors were armed by 2101hrs. By now the welcome announcements were being played - Captain SS Khosa was flying us to Pune. Cabin crew were mostly males, with just one female FA. We were pushed back at 2102hrs, about 8 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Taxi started a little late, at 2107hrs. Since we were at the end of the apron, we made quick progress towards the runway - we had to hold for sometime before entering the runway. We were at the holding point on Taxiway Bravo of Runway 27 until about 2113 - a SpiceJet Q400 landed and a Vistara A320 took off in the meanwhile. We entered the active runway through Bravo and took off at 2114hrs. We climbed towards West quite fast and turned right to head north-west towards Pune. Seatbelt signs were turn off at 2119hrs. The trolleys came out fast.
The meal..
I was quite hungry by now and actually looked forward to some good food - the aroma of the food being heated acted as an appetizer and added to my hunger. The trolley came closer - "Veg or Non-veg sir" went the question to the passenger ahead of me. My heart sank as I saw the small packets containing rolls were doled out! I got my roll right after - it was over-heated just like it was the last time. The service was very slow. I was quite disappointed seeing the tray containing a small roll, a chocolate (the cheapest version of Cadbury Perk), the beverage kit, imli candy and a small serving of water. No! No Jet! This is NOT just done! Unlike the last time, the roll tasted a little better - or may be that I was drop dead hungry. It was overheated and I almost ended up scalding by upper palate. The seatbelt signs were turned back on by 2147 due to bad weather - the crew suspended service for sometime. Beverage service was suspended midway, before being resumed again. The tea that I got tasted good when I took it without the dairy whitener - and tasted quite awkward after I added the whitener. The seat belt sign kept coming on again and again - before remaining stable, on, at 2158hrs.
The roll..
The ride was quite bumpy as well - lots of turbulence en route. It seemed Pune was getting a lot of rain - the approach to Pune was amidst a lot of clouds. The crew to stations call came by 2206hrs as we were lining up to land. We touched down on Rwy28 at 2212hrs, vacated the runway and docked at a remote stand by 2215hrs. This landing was perhaps the hardest landing I've experienced in recent times - braking was real hard, hard to the extent that I almost hit on the seat ahead of mine. Then began a very long wait. The stairs for the forward exit came a couple of minutes after the engine was shut down - the one for the aft exit took much longer. Stairs for the aft exit came by around 2222hrs - the aisle was really crowded by now. I got off the aircraft by around 2226hrs - it was a very long walk to get to the terminal. It took even more time for the baggage to arrive. While I waited for my bag, my cab driver called up and confirmed that he was at the parking lot, and requested that I call him as soon as I come out of the terminal. My bag came by 2240hrs - almost half an hour after we landed! The airport was very busy - no less than 5 aircrafts were on the apron then.

Ratings:
Check-in: 2.5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Terrible counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends - but poor ground handling at PNQ)
Crew: 5/5 (Great crew)
Catering: 2.5/5 (Wrong choice for a dinner flight)
Overall: 3.75/5 (Could've done much much better)
Tracking from FR24
Summary:
A big let down by Jet this time. Poor check-in experience (too less counters), bad choice of food for a flight flying around dinner time, overheated food, terrible ground handling, too long wait for baggage to appear. Less said the better. Jet seems to be shooting on its own foot - while it proudly keeps saying its a Full Service airline, the service is hardly "full". A 5 rupee chocolate being passed off as a dessert is not acceptable by any stretch of imagination. They've made large scale dilutions to their frequent flyer program as well. The Konnect ghost continues to linger - the ticket reads 9W7051, while the the FIDS at the airport says its S24495. The crew were good - appreciable good service from their end.