Bangalore to Thrissur: KSRTC Garuda Maharaja!

The Garuda Maharaja brand was born early in 2016 with the introduction of Scania Metrolink HD 13.7m intercity coaches in the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation fleet. A total of Eighteen buses were inducted in the fleet, all of which are presently homed at Trivandrum central depot. The buses were procured with the intention of expanding KSRTC services to more states - a misplaced intention, which seems to have been put on the back burner with the change of guard at the corporation. Out of the 18 buses, two were based at Alappuzha until a few days back. And, these buses operated the sole Garuda Maharaja service to Bangalore. Although the services have been operating since mid-April, I never had the chance to try them. I had booked a ticket once, but had to cancel it later.

The opportunity to try them came in the form of Christmas. I had no intention of going home for Christmas - solely due to the fact that I had just one day off. As the year drew to a close, a check at my leave balance showed that I could afford to have a Christmas vacation this year! Although I was not very sure of being able to make it home for Christmas, I decided to make a one way booking. I booked the first row window seat (#48) on the day the reservation opened, in November 2016. I had originally planned to book the ticket at the reservation counter - but the Prime Minister of India had other plans. On the fateful night of November 08, 2016 - the notes I had in my wallet were declared worthless. Since I did not want to spend the precious worthy notes I had with me, I booked the ticket online.

December 24, 2016:
It was a very busy day at work. I had to lug around a heavy bag between our campuses. I finally became free around 1710hrs, at the main campus. Getting a cab was very difficult - drivers refusing the ride the moment they hear the destination is getting very common off late. After bookings and rebookings, I finally got a Uber cab. The driver sounded a little hesitant, but took the booking. Since the cab was still a little away, I used the time to have some refreshments. The cab turned up sometime around 1736hrs. Traffic seemed to be light since it was a Saturday evening - it still took about 57 minutes to travel the 28.5kms from office to Mysore road satellite bus station. As I walked into the bus station, the bus that would take me home that night (RP652) was being prepared to the journey - the crew were getting ready as well.

I headed to the reservation counter to meet people I knew there and spent the rest of the time speaking to them. I received a message with the details of the bus at the crew 30 minutes before departure. I headed to the bus, left my luggage inside and headed out to buy some snacks. In the meantime, I confirmed with the crew that we'd be stopping for dinner on the way, and also confirmed the location of the break. The conductor was busy calling up passengers who were yet to report and confirming their location. There were a couple of No-Shows and the crew managed to find a few last minute passengers. We finally departed from Mysore Road Satellite Bus station at 2011hrs - eleven minutes behind schedule.

RP652 is one of two buses homed at Alappuzha (then). The bus had clocked a little over 1.47lakh kms. The driver was from Sulthan Bathery depot, and the conductor from Alappuzha depot. The driver seemed quite efficient about attracting more passengers - he slowed down near the Mysore platform and called out for more passengers - and he was successful at that. The driver maintained steady pace - absolutely no honking, and no rash cuts. Soon after we started, the conductor got busy issuing tickets to unreserved passengers, and collecting Service tax amount from reserved passengers. KSRTC had began realizing service tax from passengers only in the beginning of December, and all passengers who reserved before that hadn't paid the tax. The conductor had a tough time verifying when the tickets were booked and then recovering the tax amout. My tax amount came to Rs. 47, and I was issued manual tickets for the same. There was a little bit of traffic as we headed towards Kengeri - it took us 33 minutes to get to Kengeri, a little under 8 kms. We picked up a couple of passengers at Kengeri and started off at 2044hrs.
Tickets issued for Service tax - 9 tickets of Rs. 5 (printed as Rs 5.50) and one ticket of Rs. 2 (200ps). 
Soon after we started from Kengeri, a movie was played on the AV System. I was enjoying the driving style - he kept pace, overtook with care, and did not honk at all. The AC was set at a very comfortable temperature. Being in the first row, I did not have to worry about leg room at all. Blankets were folded and kept on the seats - they smelled fresh. Waterbottles were not given to passengers - but the arrogant egoistic conductor just pointed to a carton kept next to the driver seat when people asked for water bottles, with a "take it if you want" expression. Soft product is something KSRTC badly lacks in - and this conductor just strengthened my belief. The conductor was hell bent on refusing passengers from keeping their bags inside the bus, and ordered passengers to leave it in the baggage hold - but he never helped passengers with keeping the bag inside, or retrieving them.
My bus when we stopped for dinner..
We stopped for dinner at Hotel Dreams, a little past Channapatna - this is a regular break point for KSRTC buses that depart from Bangalore irrespective of time, at 2140hrs. There weren't much options for dinner - I opted for Kerala Porotta (layered flat bread made from Maida aka Refined flour) and a green peas masala. The food was quite good - unusual for places where buses stop, and it wasn't very expensive either. I quickly finished my food and had a short stroll outside the hotel. A special bus to Ernakulam had also stopped for dinner. A couple of KSRTC buses skipped this hotel and rushed ahead (I spotted them stopped at a different hotel a little ahead). We started after dinner at 2200hrs.

I was quite tired from the long day that I had. I slowly slipped asleep soon after we started from dinner break. We had stopped to drop a passenger at Srirangapatna (2250hrs) and then headed to Mysore. I woke up just as the bus was entering the bus station - the clock read 2309hrs. We had a party booking from there - some 9 passengers joining us there. Half of them hadn't come yet, and we had to wait for them to turn up. We finally departed from Mysore at 2320hrs. I slept off even before the bus entered the highway. I had a nice long sleep and woke up just as the bus stopped at the forest entry check-post. The conductor got off the bus to sign in their entry register. This is one of the two buses of KSRTC that has permit to enter the forest during the closure time (2100-0600hrs). We entered the forest at 0026hrs.

The roads were empty, and silent - there were lots of deers and stags on and along the highway. The driver did not honk, and drove really slow. There were a couple of elephant herds on the way, but they seemed calm and remained off the road. Fog descended as we neared the state border. We crossed over to Kerala at 0056hrs - the conductor had to go to the check post and sign in the register at Moolehole (the exit checkpost) as well. Fog got thicker as we entered Kerala - visibility dropped at some places, forcing the driver to crawl. At one point we had to brake hard as the driver spotted a herd of deer on the highway. As we neared the exit point of the forest, at Ponkuzhy, elephant spottings became more common. At one point, we spotted a single elephant standing a little beside the road. Since traffic restriction on the kerala side was less strict as compared to Karnataka, a lot of trucks were parked on the highway - one such truck made us stop on the road, in order to give way to another bus that came on the opposite direction. The bus driver went at a fairly good speed angering the elephant - as soon as the bus passed, the elephant turned around, and it looked quite angry - it charged at our bus - the driver had very good presence of mind and he stepped on the gas pedal - the 360horses we had the disposal helped us get out of the scene in no time.

We finally exited the forest at 0108hrs. The driver had to struggle a bit to take a U turn at Chungam to enter the road towards the KSRTC bus station - the main entry was too steep for the bus (the bus would scrape its rear portion) and the driver had no choice by to take a U turn. We finally entered the bus station at 0124hrs, and headed straight to the fuel station. The driver changed here - a driver from Alappuzha depot took charge from the guy who brought in the bus from Bengaluru. Fueling took a lot of time. A few passengers got down here, and the crew were able to get some walk-in passengers to replace them. We finally started from there at 0140hrs. The new driver was a bit rash - he threw the bus around corners, brakes were quite hard and honked quite a bit. I slept soon after we were back on the highway. I vaguely remember passing Kalpetta (0210hrs) - I wanted to see the bus pass the Wayanad Pass - but I slept off really well. I guess the bus handled the ghats effortlessly, given the fact I slept quite well.

I woke up hearing the conductor calling out for passengers alighting at Kozhikode bus station - the bus was entering the bus station then, and the time was 0401hrs. I dozed off even before the bus started from Kozhikode - a straight undisturbed sleep. I woke up just as the bus took the turn at Poonkunnam. An elderly gentleman, who was traveling with his family, requested the crew to stop at Poonkunnam - the conductor refused, saying the next stop is only at Thrissur. I seriously hate this kind of attitude from a premium service crew. I am sure stopping to help that gentleman will not cause a great delay for the bus - its the attitude and friendliness that really matters in a premium service. We finally pulled into Thrissur bus station at 0625hrs - the conductor just called out for Thrissur passengers and walked out of the bus - he neither helped passengers retrieve their baggage, nor monitor if anybody stole bags from the baggage hold.
The bus after dropping me at Thrissur.
Closing remarks: The bus, KL-15-A-1415 (RP652) of Alappuzha depot, had clocked about 1.47lakh kms. The bus appeared fairly well kept - there were some rattles here and there. The 482kms ride from Bangalore to Thrissur took 10 hours and 14 minutes to complete - good timing considering the fact that the bus runs on a two lane highway for over 75% of its distance, including a ghat section in between. The conductor was a terrible let down for a premium service - refusing to let any kind of bag inside is outright disgusting, and the fact that there was absolutely no monitoring of who takes bags from the baggage hold was even more disgusting. The conductor never bothered helping passengers with anything - not with handling bags, or even handing over water bottles. He stood there pointing his finger at the carton and asked people to take a bottle if they want. The drivers were a mixed bag - the first driver was very polite, drove really well and spoke low. The second guy was loud mouthed, driving style that bordered on being called rash, honked through the night and shared the refusals to help passengers. As I type this, this particular service ceased to exist - I reserve my points or suggestions on how to improve the service, but a general thought is that crew sent on such services should be trained on how to behave with passengers. I really doesn't hurt to be humble or to stop at places where there is no stop, to let passengers alight.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Worked.
Entertainment: Available - Movie played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 3.5/5 (5/5 for the first driver, 2.5/5 for the second)
Crew behaviour: 2.5/5 (0/5 for the conductor, 5/5 for the first driver, 3/5 for the second driver)
Punctuality: 5/5 (left 11 minutes late, arrived 5 minutes late - acceptable)

Overall: 4/5

Pros: Cheap, State bus
Cons: Terrible crew, attitude thrown around

Will I take this service again? Would love to - but the service doesn't exist anymore. Will surely try the Scania service again 

Comments

Krishnaprasad said…
Never heard of crew refusing stop requests for Bangalore Passengers. Just 2 weeks back, I took the SLJ from EKM to PLKD - and to my surprise, they accepted the stop request. But this case of yours, is sheer arrogance.

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