14 Down & 14 Up: A TNSTC Ride from Kodaikanal to Ooty, with a break!

Traveling from Kodaikanal to Ooty was a big hurdle we had in our travel plan. Bus services did list, but their timings did not suit our requirements, rather we did not plan our travel properly that it did not suit our requirements. After a lot of searching on the internet, we got to know that there existed a bus service from Kodaikanal to Coimbatore. That was the only information I could get. We decided to take a call once we got to Kodaikanal. TW expressed excitement when she heard of traveling my local bus all the way from Kodaikanal to Ooty - an estimated 10 hours by road in slow moving TNSTC buses.

The first priority after getting to Kodai was to get information about buses to Ooty. The enquiry counter confirmed that there were no direct buses, but we could change buses at Palani, or take a bus all the way to Coimbatore. He updated that the bus to Coimbatore would depart at 0830hrs, and there was no reservation facility. There was a bus to Palani 45 minutes ahead of this one, as well.

May 31, 2018:
We had a very early start to the day. The hotel wouldn't provide hot water at that early hour, and had to make do with cold water. I had requested the reception to arrange a taxi by 0700hrs, but this vehicle was delayed and came in only by 0720hrs or so. The reception took a while to clear our bills and we could finally get to the bus station only by 0740hrs - the bus to Palani was about to depart them. Although we did consider taking this bus, but only the last row seats were available, and we dropped the idea. Instead, we headed to a hotel outside for a sumptuous breakfast.

While waiting for the bill, I noticed a bus with stickers reading "Kodaikanal - Coimbatore - Mettupalayam" sneaking into the bus station. We hurried with the bill and rushed to the bus station to find the bus already at the departure platform, and people were jostling to get into the bus. I didn't want to end up in the last row, and joined the crowd. We managed to get into the bus, and also find a fairly good seat on the left side of the bus. The bus was fairly crowded - most seats were taken, and there were a few long passengers as well. The bus started off from Kodaikanal at 0832 - two minutes behind schedule.

The bus: Kodaikanal to Mettupalayam

The conductor went about issuing tickets soon after we left the core Kodaikanal town limits. I checked with the crew if it was better idea to get off at Coimbatore and take a bus - he advised that carrying on to Mettupalayam would be better (was that a good suggestion - read ahead). He issued tickets for us till Palani - and he informed that we needed to buy tickets again after Palani since the crew would change at Palani. We were descending the ghats by now, and soon afterwards turned towards the Kodai-Palani ghat road. This road is very scenic, and has 14 hairpin bends. The driver was very careful, and took the curves slow - this ensured that people did not feel sick. There were stops at frequent intervals, and the crew even stopped for "shopping" at some places.

The bus pulled into a small tea shop in the ghat section for a break by about 0952hrs - Google Maps said we were at 'Melpallam'. It was a small shop, with a few toilets. The break was quite long - the hotel was located at a 'viewpoint' and most passengers used this break for a photo-op. We got moving again at 1019hrs. We continued to descent the hills after the break. A dam could be seen from a distance, and it was mostly farm lands below. It was still cold outside as the bus quickly came down the hills and got to the plains. It got a little warmer, but not very hot. We were soon running amidst the farm lands that we spotted from above.
Inside the bus..

I dozed off a while after we got to the plains. The crew had stopped near a Mango orchard to pick up packs of mango, and the continued towards Palani. The bus entered a TNSTC Depot at Palani at 1122hrs. The bus was refueled, and the crew changed here. New crew - both senior guys - took over. The driver was professionally dressed, and the conductor was exceptionally soft spoken. We took off from the depot at 1127hrs and rushed to the bus station, where we reached by 1131hrs. The bus was directly taken to a platform and parked there. Most of the passengers got off here, and very few were continuing further. Most of the passengers, including us, changed seats and picked up better seats. Our new seat had slightly better leg room (I realised that even seats in the same row weren't aligned equally - and the leg room varied between particular seats!).

The crew had left the bus and were standing quite far away - on enquiring with them, I understood that we would depart only at 1200hrs. We used this break to have some light food and use the restrooms, walk around and stretch a bit as well. The bus joined the departure queue at little before 1200hrs - there were buses to Coimbatore every 5 minutes, and hence the wait in the queue was very short. We left the bus station by 1204hrs. The driver was slow at the beginning - crawling at times, lugging the engine badly. We stopped by at Madathukulam bus station at 1237, and took off immediately. The driver started ripping past this place. Although he seldom exceeded 65kmph, he ensured that he did not lug the engine, and maintained the pace for as long as he could. Proper gearshifts were performed and he put in display what experience means!

We made it to Udumalpet by 1254hrs, picked a few passengers and left by 1255hrs. By now I hoped he stopped for lunch somewhere, but the crew seemed to have no intention to take a break. The driver continued his performance on the road. The bus was full - all seats occupied and a few standing passengers. We got into Pollachi bus station at 1332hrs - the conductor informed we'll have a 10 minute break and went off the bus. I took a stroll - sitting in the tight space was a challenge for a person with a large frame like me. The driver kept inching the bus forward in the queue, and we finall left Pollachi at 1345hrs. The driver continued driving fast - there was no inkling of taking a lunch break at all.

We stopped at Kinathukadavu at 1410hrs and continued our journey. There were quite a lot of diversions owing to the four laning works between Pollachi and Coimbatore. It was quite dusty as well. The driver showed a sense of urgency and tried his best to maintain pace. We stopped outside Ukkadam bus station, at 1446hrs, and continued after pax alighted. There was quite a bit of traffic on Oppanakara street. We were soon on Mettupalayam road - we ran through Coimbatore north, then areas where I grew up! The bus stopped outside the New bus station in Mettupalayam road, dropped passengers, picked up a few and continued its journey (1509hrs). The driver kept pushing the bus on Mettupalayam road. We lost some time at a railway crossing on the road. The crew had promised a 4pm arrival at Mettupalayam, and the driver was trying to achieve that. We finally pulled into Mettupalayam bus station at 1611hrs - 11 minutes behind the promised time. But full marks to the second driver for his sense of time keeping.

We were quite tired and hungry by now. Our first target was Hotel Aaryaas outside the bus station (we had spotted this as the bus entered the bus station). We were weary and tired - and just wanted to gobble whatever we got (Was that a right decision?). We had meals from the hotel, took some rest and then returned to the bus station. The hotel guys had gave us speciifc information about where the Ooty buses would be parked. As we got to the platform, we realised that there were very few ooty buses, and all that came were full. We waited at the platform looking for a bus that would have seats for us. Taxi guys were all around trying to attract passengers - but we had decided to take a bus itself. While waiting there, a bus without a board pulled into the platform - a quick check with the conductor confirmed that it would head to Ooty. A huge mob had already formed at the door, and the only option I had was to put my bags on to a seat through the windows - to "reserve" our seat.
The bus to Ooty...

The bus looked tired, battered and has surely seen better days. The interiors were also worn out, and many seats lacked rear covers thereby exposing the cushion outside. The bus filled in no time, and we got moving by 1712hrs. We passed began ascending the ghats soon later - the driver was a young chap, and showed his enthusiasm in driving. We climbed up all the 14 hairpin bends smoothly - he didn't have to stop and reverse at any of them. It got darker as we ascended. I dozed for a while, and woke up only as we were approaching Coonoor. There was a traffic jam since a railway crossing had closed. The traffic pile-up continued all the way till Coonoor town. We started from Coonoor at 1844hrs. The ride from Coonoor to Ooty was uneventful - except that it rained, and all the windows were downed, making the last stretch a little claustrophobic. We were dropped at Ooty bus station at 1941hrs. While I expected the bus to return to the depot, it directly went back to the platform to commence a trip to Coimbatore!
Our tickets...

Day in a nutshell:
Segment 1: Kodaikanal to Mettupalayam, via Palani, Coimbatore
Bus: TN-39-N-0130 Ashok Leyland Viking 222" WB
Operator: TNSTC (Coimbatore) Limited, Tiruppur Division. Depot: Palani
Total Fare: Rs. 60 for Kodaikanal to Palani, and then Rs. 119 for Palani to Mettupalayam - totalling Rs. 179 per person for Kodaikanal to Mettupalayam.
Timings: Dep Kodai at 0832hrs, arrived into Mettupalayam at 1611hrs - 7h39m
Summary: The first crew were a little slow, but very careful driving. The second set were excellent - quite fast on the road, time sensed. Maybe they could've given a proper lunch break, since the trip is this long. The crew were at the wheels for over 6 hours continuously (except the short 10 minute break at Pollachi).

Segment 2: Mettupalayam to Ooty via Coonoor
Bus: TN-43-N-0616, Ashok Leyland Viking 222" WB
Operator: TNSTC (Coimbatore) Limited, Nilgiris Division, Ooty-2 Depot.
Total Fare: Rs. 40 per person.
Timings: Dep Mettupalayam at 1712 hours, arrived into Ooty at 1941hrs - 2h29m
Summary: Nothing specific here. Good crew, were quick. The bus was not in great shape - interiors were really bad. Tourist routes like this need better buses.
That was our day...

Overall Summary: Both the buses were traveled over the day had a 'single door at the rear' design. The buses had very dense seating pattern, seating over 57 passengers in the 222 inch wheel base platform. The bus has a overall length of 10.8metres, and 57 passengers is really cramped in this design. Leg room is 'adequate' as long as you aren't taller than may be 5'6". The newer buses in TNSTC seem to have better leg room - that is a very happy news. The buses are speed limited - to ensure better fuel efficiency. This forces the crew to struggle to maintain timing. At a total of 10h08m of travel time (excluding the waiting time for bus change), this is certainly the longest trip I've ever undertaken in a 3+2 seater bus, especially in a TNSTC (Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation) bus. I liked the journey, and TW being a travel lover was a big blessing! Looking forward to me....

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