Bangalore to Thrissur: Orange Travels BharatBenz AC Sleeper

I had my eyes on a particular service - 'OTT-1043' operated by Orange Travels, as we charted out our plans to head home to celebrate our first Onam together. This particular service is operated using a BharatBenz bus. Bookings weren't open yet, and I wanted to see how they price the service. The booking opened on July 16 for my travel on August 14. I was surprised to see the bus was priced at the normal ticket rate - not jacked up fares as is the norm during peak seasons. I held on for a couple of days - finally picked up two tickets through the Orange website on July 19, 2018. I hadn't looked at other options this time - badly wanted to try the BharatBenz, you see!

Kerala was reeling under the worst rain related deluge in recent times - dams were opening one after the other. As the D-Day came closer, I was worried if the trip would really happen. Rain mellowed down as the week began, giving me more hopes.

August 14, 2018:
It was wet day. It rained through the day in Bengaluru - I got stuck in two places during the day due to rain. I finally reached home a little past 1715hrs - there was no power at home, and I badly needed to charge my phone. Power supply was restored around 1800hrs, after which I left my phone to charge and got ready to travel. We had originally planned to travel by the Metro until Jayanagar, and then hire a cab to Madiwala, from where we would get into our bus to Thrissur. It was rainy, and we had fair amount of baggage as well - as a split second decision, I quickly checked fares on the two major cab aggregator apps - and found that they both charged in the range of Rs. 400. Taking a cab now made sense, since we'd be spared of the hassle of having to lug up the bags to the metro, then down at Jayanagar, and the hassle of getting a cab from there to Madiwala. I booked a cab, and was waiting for him to respond - while this message popped up on my phone.
GPS device on the bus you are about to travel is not working. We apologize for not being able to provide tracking info of your bus.
The cabbie sounded vague and doubtful when he called up to confirm the pick-up point. Much to my surprise, the car arrived outside my home about 10 minutes after I booked the vehicle. He was happy to head to Madiwala, but wanted payment in cash. He was ready to ferry us at the discounted price quoted by Ola, but wanted cash - I agreed, since I didn't want to search for another cab. The driver used navigation on his phone to identify the shortest route, and set off towards Madiwala. The ride to Madiwala took a little under two hours, and we got there by around 2130hrs. Our next stop was Swaadam Veg restaurant - for dinner. We had a relaxed dinner, and headed towards the pick-up point (three buildings away) by 2200hrs. By the time we reached there, I could see my bus stuck in a traffic block a little away. The bus pulled in to the pick-up point by around 2205hrs. Boarding started immediately.

We had to leave our bags in the boot before we boarded. The attendant enquired the alighting point as he collected bags, and arranged in a way that it would be easy to retrieve and unload bags. We joined the boarding queue later - the driver was checking the tickets, verifying the PNR number and randomly asking the passengers' names during the process. I felt a lot of vibrations along the door as we boarded - the engine was quite noisy as well. The lower berth was actually too low - getting in required squatting. Since people were still boarding, we just threw our bags into the berth and rushed in. The crew were quick and efficient - they had most passengers already on board - they got upset as the clock went past the scheduled departure time. We finally got moving by 2220hrs - 5 minutes behind schedule.
The bus: PY-01-CR-4267 (Pic from Archives)

Madiwala market was a mess, as usual, and we crawled through the market. We had a brief stop on Silk Board flyover waiting for some passengers to arrive. Once past all pick-ups, the crew let the beast lose on the elevated highway. All the clatter from the engine was gone, and was replaced by a humming sound. The ride quality was very mature - the expansion joins on the flyover was dampened really well - the bus didn't bounce on them. All I could fell was the thud-thud noise as we went over the joints. There was no snarl at the toll gate - so much that I didn't realise we had exited the flyover. We passed Attibele toll gate by 2323hrs. The ride quality was so good that I slowly drifted asleep - went deep into sleep in no time.

I was woken up as the attendant came around announcing a "toilet break", adding that this is the last stop and the bus would be "non-stop" after this. The time was 0010hrs - we were at the dreaded Hotel Uthaiya (now Hotel Nandini) near Kurubarapalli, a while before Krishnagiri. The crew had left for their dinner - this service was supposed to be "non-stop", and the website had clearly mentioned "no dinner break". We used the restroom, and returned to the bus. This dreaded place is frequented by government buses and some operators - the drivers, allegedly, get excellent food, while the passengers get overpriced, terrible food. We started off from this place by 0029hrs - a 19 minute break.

I was finding it hard to sleep now - it often happens that I find it difficult to restore sleep after 'break'. I managed to sleep again - another round of nice, long sleep this time. I vaguely remember the attendant coming around and calling out some passengers - the light was turned on as well. I continued sleeping. I woke up again as the attendant announced another "toilet break" - the time was 0522hrs, and we were at 'Amirtha Bakery' near Ettimadai (near Walayar, the Kerala-TN border). We were quite late now - I am not sure where did we lose time, but it looked like it had rained through the night. We used this restroom break again, took a stroll and returned to the bus - it was mushy and wet outside. We started at 0532hrs. I dozed off again.

I don't think the bus stopped at Palakkad - I woke up just as the bus entered the rough patch of road at Vadakkencherry. The lunar sized craters were handled very maturely by the bus - it didn't bounce around, but swayed very "controllably". I kept dozing off and on. I decided to get up as the bus ran past Pattikad - I quickly collected our belongings (mainly spectacles and mobile phones) and got ready to alight. I moved towards the cabin as the bus neared Mannuthy. I looked at awe as the driver maneuvered the beast with ease. The brakes seemed very responsive - the retarders were very effective, it stopped without pushing me around. The suspension dampened craters, i mean, potholes with ease. We were finally dropped at Mannuthy (Thrissur bypass) at 0756hrs - about an hour and 11 minutes behind schedule. Notably the bus took only an hour and 24 minutes from Walayar, including the traffic snarl at Kuthiran.
The snack packet - the contents in inset.

Remarks: The bus, PY-01-CR-4267, had clocked a little over 1.31 Lakh kilometres. The coach was built by Veera Vahana (Model: V7), on a BharatBenz OF1623 chassis. The fit and finish of the coach was really good. A lot of fine detailing had gone into body building - every joint was finished really well. The engine made a lot of noise at lower gears - I felt like the sound was actually from the AC Compressor, than the engine. The engine was fairly quiet as it moved to higher gears. The ride quality was outstanding - the suspension was soft and the body roll was well controlled. There was some rattling from the body as the bus went through some rough patches. Both the crew were excellent - minimal honking through the night was the norm. Both of them weren't rash - I could recall a couple of hard braking - but the retarders made our life very smooth. 

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes (Packed individually)
Water: Yes (500-ml bottle)
Snacks: Yes
Charging Point: Available, worked.
Entertainment: Available, not used.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4/5

Overall: 4.75/5

Pros: Value for money, excellent service, amazing ride quality
Cons: Can be very expensive during weekends

Will I take this service again? I'll certainly give them another chance. 

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