Mumbai Quickie! Bengaluru to Mumbai on VRL 'Multi-Axle'

Every journey is memorable! Every journey has a story! 

This journey is one I would keep close to my heart! I have been wanting to go to Mumbai since sometime now - the desire got stronger as my life took a turn recently. I badly wanted to meet my fiancée who works in Mumbai and I had to travel at a very short notice - the decision to travel was taken hardly 24 hours before the actual journey commenced. Flights were too expensive - the two way bus journey cost me less than half the one way flight fare. It had to be the bus, undoubtedly. This was a very short trip - departing Bengaluru on a Saturday evening, and I had to be back on Monday morning. I wanted a seater bus, not a sleeper - since I've felt quite uncomfortable in sleeper buses earlier. I finally picked VRL for my outbound and KSRTC for the return.

February 17, 2018:
I had left office a little past lunch break on an Ola cab towards the Vijayanand Travels bus station near Anand Rao Circle in the heart of the city. I had selected VRL for two reasons - one they were cheap (my ticket was a little less than Rs. 900, post discounts, including GST), two they offered a brand new Volvo B11R. While on my way, my phone beeped, indicating arrival of an SMS. The message was VRL:

Your Journey Bus No. is KA 25/C8021 Boarding From : ANAND RAO CIRCLE- 080 22971202 /03/04/05/06/07/ At : 17-02-2018 15:30:00, While Boarding Please Carry your Photo ID Proof, No Blanket for Non-AC Bus, Tracking URL :: 

What? Thats a very old bus! It was not a new Volvo B11R, but atleast a newer Volvo B9R! I was quite disappointed with the allotment - but then, this was not a reason to be let down. The trusty cabbie dropped me at the bus station a little before 1500hrs - the bus was yet to arrive there. The tracking URL showed that the bus was still near their garage on Mysore road - I was sure the departure would be delayed. I kept refreshing the status page, and the bus didn't move a lot from its location. I suspected something amiss, but I received another message by then:

Your Journey Bus No. is KA 25/C7748 Boarding From : ANAND RAO CIRCLE- 080 22971202 /03/04/05/06/07/ At : 17-02-2018 15:30:00, While Boarding Please Carry your Photo ID Proof, No Blanket for Non-AC Bus, Tracking URL :: 
The bus arriving at Anand Rao Circle..

So my hunch turned true - there was some issue with the originally allotted bus. This bus was half way towards the bus station by now. The bus finally appeared at the bus station by 1548hrs - turned around and parked near the exit gate before boarding commenced. A checker got in quickly and commenced boarding - he did not check tickets, but noted down the seat numbers and let in passengers. The bus appeared full - more than half the bus filled at Anand Rao Circle itself, and we commenced the journey at 1605hrs - 35 minutes behind schedule.

The initial progress was slow - really slow. The AC was struggling to cool the bus - which seemed to have been parked out in the sun for long. The bus was clean inside out - fairly well maintained as well. The bus crawled through Sampige road, then turned towards Navrang Circle and later pulled over for pickup past Navrang circle (1634hrs). A quick pick-up and we were off towards Yeshwantpur. The rest of the bus filled up here, and we got moving from Yeshwantpur at 1644hrs. We had another pickup at Goreguntepalya (1654hrs) and finally past Jalahalli cross (Dasarahalli) - an elaborate head count was performed here, and the checker signed off the bus - we were on our way to Mumbai at 1705hrs.

The driver let the beast loose after Parle toll gate - the bus slowly picked pace. We stabilized around 95kmph - the driver did a few rash overtakes as well. The journey progress quite well. A slapstick comedy Bollywood movie was played on board. I spent some time watching the movie, but was very hungry - I badly wanted to eat something. We finally pulled into the VRL Hotel, past Tumkur at 1842hrs - I was really hungry, and literally rushed to the hotel to grab something to eat. Settled for an overpriced Masala Dosa and finished it off in no time.

The break was a little long - we got moving by 1905hrs - a little over 20 minutes spent there. I liked the concept of VRL setting up its own refreshment hotels - they can ensure quality of food and amenities, but its a little overpriced in my opinion. The menu is extremely limited (makes sense, since buses need quicker service), but the food was tasty. I dozed off for a while past the break. We stopped at Chitradurga to pick a couple of passengers (2038hrs) and continued our journey. In the meantime, a passenger sitting diagonally ahead of my seat vomited inside the bus - the co-passenger moved over to my aisle seat post this issue. The crew did not agree to clean the bus or let the passenger (who vomitted) go out and wash himself. I did not like this part at all.

I dozed off after a while, and woke up just as the crew turned on the lights and announced a dinner break - the bus turned off the highway at this time, and entered Deol Punjabi Hotel, at Ranebennur (2153hrs) - this seems to be VRL's regular halt. We were joined by two more VRL buses quickly. I was half asleep - the crew insisted on all passengers alighting from the bus - they did this at all breaks, since they locked the bus before leaving. They got the bus cleaned as well during this break. I was in no mood to have dinner - but decided to have something light. I finished my dinner in no time, and returned to the bus - which was still locked. The bus was opened a little before 2225hrs - people rushed back into the bus. We got moving at 2232hrs - a 35 minute long break.

I slept in no time after we returned to the highway - the guy at the wheels (the same guy who started from Bengaluru) was a little too rash - a couple of unstable zig-zag maneuvers left me a little dazed. I managed to fall asleep amid the hurried driving. I vaguely remember the bus parked at the VRL fuel station in Hubli - was too tired to take note of the time though. I had a nice long sleep later, and woke up only when the lights were turned on again - this time again to announce a break - the time was 0247hrs, and we were at Kolhapur VRL Checkpoint. I used the restroom and returned to the bus - it was quite cold outside. There were a few agitated passengers outside - from their talk, I understood that the bus they were traveling on had broken down, and they were waiting for a replacement! They accommodated some passengers in our bus, and some took a sleeper bus - while the rest were standing outside agitated and restless - their driver reassured them saying there are more buses to come, and a spare bus was on its way from Pune!

I felt pity for the passengers who were stranded - and I was a little disappointed with the delay - we wouldn't make it to Vashi before 9am for sure. We got moving from there at 0305hrs - I did a rough calculation, and was convinced I'll make it by 0900hrs. I slept for some more time, and woke up just as the bus stopped at Katraj (Pune bypass) to drop passengers - it was a longish break, and we got moving by 0624hrs. We stopped again at Wakad to drop passengers (0646hrs). I slept for some more time, and woke up just as the bus pulled into a fuel station on the expressway - did not remain awake to see if they refueled, or what time we left.

I got up as the bus turned off the highway, and took a kutcha road (imperfect road) below a flyover - I wondered where were we headed to, but the suspense was quickly broken - that was another break! We were at Lonavla (0737hrs) - the crew requested all passengers to deboard (again!) - locked the bus and went away. All my hopes of reaching by 9am was dashed now. I roamed around for a while, didn't feel like eating anything - just picked up some chikkis and remained outside my bus. The bus that would take me back to Bangalore that afternoon was also at the place. We started off at 0758hrs - now, the driver could still get me to Vashi a little past 0900hrs if we wanted to - I hoped he did it.
While at Lonavla.. I took that bus on the left for my return journey..

The bus picked pace once back on the expressway. The driver maintained 97~98kmph most of the time. I got a little more confident as we made swift progress - we reached Kalamboli by 0850hrs, and got moving by 0852hrs. We dropped a passenger at Nerul (0910) and continued. I made a split second decision to get off at Sanpada, since my hotel was near APMC, and Sanpada made better sense. I was dropped at Sanpada signal, at 0915hrs - the driver did not utter a word, or mumble for having to come below the flyover - loved this attitude!

Summary: The bus, KA-25-C-7748, had clocked a little over 13.69 Lakh kilometres - the bus looked young, really well maintained. The bus was really well kept - must appreciate VRL for the maintenance. Even at the advanced age, the bus did have rattles, squeaks - and the ride quality was pristine. The drivers were fast - the first driver was a little rash, while the second guy was sleep friendly. They did lug a bit - they didn't downshift too often, but maintained pace in the 95~98 range most of the time. They wasted time at the breaks - we could've arrived earlier if they had cut down on the breaks. The crew weren't the best - they refused any kind of help when a passenger vomited, and the remaining had to travel with the stink for the next 2 hours till we got to the hotel - infact, the driver almost thrashed the passenger for vomiting without informing the crew. Overall an above average journey.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, and worked well.
Entertainment: Available, two movies played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 3.5/5
Crew behaviour: 3.5/5
Punctuality: 4/5 (a 2 hour delay)

Overall: 4/5

Pros: Value for Money, Timings, Well maintained buses, standardized break points
Cons: Too many halts

Will I take this service again? It is a good option, IMO. 

Note: The post is published late on purpose - wanted to hold this on till I married her! 

Comments

daksh gautam said…
Was this a diamond class service as KSRTC had advertised Scanias as being exclusive to Diamond class services??
Also its been a while since any Diamond class service has been spotted and neither is it to be found on their website.Has KSRTC discontinued Airavat Diamond Class trend?
C.A.Raghu Ram said…
The vomiting incident leaves a bad taste in the mouth (pun intended)... Pvt stage carriers(notoriously short tempered and perennially in a rush) in keralas munnar-kothaMangalam(a hill route that induces nausea in the uninitiated) route are better behaved with passengers

VRL (now a listed company) better take note of crew behaviour as it could easily dent image of the operator built over decades

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