Bangalore to Thrissur: Airavat Club Class 'Special'

There were a lot of uncertainties around the date of my journey back to Kerala to celebrate Onam. In the setting of the recent deluge in Kerala, celebrations were called off, and Onam was more of an "observance" than celebration this time. I had some office work that delayed my departure back to Kerala, and I finally managed to get two days off before the weekend. I initially planned to depart from Bengaluru on Friday (August 24) morning, getting home by evening. Some family reasons came in, and I had to be at home by Friday morning. Buses departing from Bengaluru on Thursday were more or less sold out, and the available ones were selling a jacked up prices. I decided to check with KSRTC once before I book a ticket to Coimbatore - bingo! KSRTC (Karnataka) had no less than 5 specials that evening - and all of them had a few seats. I picked one departing later in the night, and picked a window seat. The ticket was approximately 30% pricier than the regular services.

August 23, 2018:
I had a lot of housekeeping work at home before I left home. I had also prepared my dinner. I left home a little past 1930hrs. A bus towards the metro station left just as I neared the bus stop. Another bus came a little later. KSRTC permits free travel in BMTC buses (only non-AC buses) upto two hours before departure time - and I used this provision this time. I took a metro from Dasarahalli to Lalbagh, from where I took an Auto to Shantinagar bus station - I lost some time waiting for an auto at Lalbagh. Ola couldn't get me an auto, while the regular auto guys were, either, not ready to ferry me to my destination, or, wanted too much money for the distance. I finally got one auto on the Uber app. This was value for money - he got me to the bus station in about 25 minutes.

I was at the bus station by about 2055hrs - about 37 minutes to go for my bus. I roamed around the departure platform for a while - almost every bus to Kerala was running full, but the platforms weren't too crowded. A little later, I moved towards the dedicated platform for special buses - the road outside BMTC Central office (formerly BigBazaar). This area resembled a war zone - buses were mostly parked by the order of departure time - one queue of Volvos and another of non-AC buses. Most of the non-AC buses looked run down and dilapidated, while AC ones (majority were Volvo multi-axles) were in fairly good shape. The crew were completing boarding quickly, and buses were moving out quite fast. I walked through the length of the queue, but my bus was nowhere to be seen.
The bus - KA-01-F-9186 of Bangalore-4 depot

My bus was brought from the depot sometime around 2115hrs (Scheduled departure time was 2132hrs) - the driver headed towards the front end of the queue instead of joining the queue. The driver showed his skill by turning around the 13.7m long bus in very little space, and parked the bus tight without causing problem for other drivers. He parked the bus, got off the bus and rushed to get the reservation chart. I had just noticed that the AC buses were all running with a single crew member - just one driver-cum-conductor. This was the case with all the specials departing at that time. The non-AC buses had two crew members though. A couple of buses were boarding from the road side, as well. One of them was to Thrissur, and the other to Kannur. Boarding for my bus began a little before 2130hrs - the sole crew member appeared a little harried as he checked tickets and had to answer calls from passengers too.

Boarding was slow - quite a lot of passengers were missing, since the boarding point was a confusion, especially for people taking the special for the first time. The driver-cum-conductor had quite a task tracing out passengers and getting them to the bus. KSRTC policies generally do not allow the crew to depart leaving behind passengers - unless the passengers voluntarily declare themselves as a "no-show", or remain untraceable until quite some time. We finally started from Shantinagar bus station at 2159hrs - 27 minutes behind published schedule. We crawled out of the bus station, joined the traffic block near Lalbagh, and then slowly moved towards Hosur. The interiors of the bus appeared well maintained - the bus was old, but did not show age. There were no rattles from the suspension or from the rest of the body. Blankets and water bottles were placed in every seat - I was really tired and slowly got set to sleep.

We pulled into "St. John's bus stand" - the bus stop outside St John's hospital for the next pickup, at 2214hrs. This stop was quite long - the driver was on the phone most of the time getting in touch with passengers and finding out their status. There was a KSRTC staffer at the bus stop to coordinate departures - he ensured buses were parked properly and did not cause a traffic block. We finally completed boarding at got moving by 2233hrs. I was struggling to remain awake - I vaguely remember seeing Madiwala market - slept even before we passed Silk Board! This bus appeared to be from the first lot of Volvo multi-axle buses delivered to KSRTC, in 2011 - the leg room was huge (the bus had a full size emergency exit on the right side. I was quite comfortable in that seat - and that helped sleeping.
The special platform and the chaos around

I had a nice long sleep - woke up just as the bus was starting off from a stop - I rubbed my groggy eyes to find where we were - and I was shocked - we had just departed from Palakkad bypass (0549hrs) - I had slept for close to 7 hours at a stretch! I wanted to continue sleeping - dozed for a while, but woke up just before we entered the Kuthiran pass section. The bus began rocking violently as the road got worse - there were huge craters in the ghat section - the recent landslides had damaged the road very badly. Interestingly, all the vehicles were very well disciplined on the road - I did not notice a single vehicle overtaking us. We slowly went through the pass - we picked up speed as the road got better. We stopped at Mannuthy bypass (0710hrs) to drop a passenger and carried on towards the city. We had another stop near Sakthan bus station (I normally get off here - but decided to carry on for some other reasons) - 0724hrs. The bus finally terminated at the KSRTC bus station at 0728hrs - 58 minutes behind published schedule.

Remarks: The bus, KA-01-F-9186, homed at Bengaluru Central Division Depot-4 had a little over 17.18 Lakh kilometres on the clock. The bus was maintained really well for its age - except over really bad patches, I couldn't get any squeaks or rattles. There was a single crew member - he was polite and spoke very low - he was harried since he had a lot of work to do, but that didn't reflect on his behaviour to passengers. The total running time was 9h29m - thats quite high. The bus took 8h55m from Madiwala to Thrissur - which is quite high as well. Although not sure, I assume the bus stopped for dinner en route -  another special had stopped for dinner (spotted by a friend). The same driver had to work the bus back to Bangalore over the day, since the bus had to work a special trip again in the evening! I felt bad for the driver - he hardly gets to rest. Really wonder why should they risk lives by overworking the crew. Overall a great trip - very sleep friendly. 

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Did not check if they were available.
Entertainment: Available, not used.

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

Overall: 4.75/5

Pros: Value for money, excellent service
Cons: Nothing to say

Will I take this service again?
Its a special service. I'd not hesitate taking a special again!

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