Thrissur to Bengaluru: Airavat Club Class Scania

This Onam trip home had a lot of twists. A lot of scheduling and rescheduling took place, and my trip was charted out with a solo return back to Bengaluru on August 19th. TW would stay back at my home, and join my parents in the festivities - while I'd return again for Onam a couple of days before Onam. I was to return on a Sunday - and all private operators were charging astronomical rates already. I had to decided between the two STUs - Kerala and Karnataka. The Kerala option was expensive, but would drop me at Peenya - the Karnataka option was cheaper (atleast two hundred rupees cheaper) but would drop me only at Majestic (the main bus station in Bengaluru) - I decided to choose the later - I still have no clue why did I select this option, though. The Karnataka STU gave me around 3 options - after looking at all of them, I chose my favorite service, the '2133TRCBNG' Airavat Club Class service. The bus was more or less filled already - seats were in the last few rows - I had to be careful to avoid the seats with the baby sticker! I finally opted for seat #33, the row just ahead of the emergency exit.

Things took a dramatic turn hours after I reached Kerala on Independence day. It was raining as I reached there, the rain just got worse. Thirty three dams in Kerala were discharging water. Rivers were at spate. The state was at the door step of the worst deluge seen in almost a century (historians speak of a deluge in 1924 that damage almost everything in the state). Water levels rose slowly - it rose in my hometown as well. Low lying areas in my home town were taking in a lot of water - houses submerged in water, people moved in hordes to the rescue camp that was set up right next to my home. Local bus services had wound up almost completely - majority of the water bodies in our area were overflowing, roads were closed - some were washed away. The highway was blocked - due to landslide at some places, flash floods at some others. Interstate buses were cancelled on almost all the days. I was concerned - I didn't have alternatives, since railway lines too were washed away, and the airport was flooded!

August 19, 2018:
The first I did that morning was to check the status of the roads - buses were still off, the road didn't seem to be open. A lot of local enquiries were done, and we found the road was open partially, we could hire a vehicle that could take me to Thrissur, albeit through a longer route. As the day progressed, I kept tracking if my bus to Bengaluru would operate - the service was still listed on the website, and was still open for reservation - this was not the case the earlier days. I was now sure my bus would run. In the mean time, two more buses were opened as "special" services. I confirmed a taxi guy - who would pick me from home at 1900hrs - two-and-a-half hour before departure of my bus.

The taxi, a Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire, reached my home perfectly at 1900hrs. We set off from home by around 1905hrs. The driver himself was affected by the deluge - his house was inundated. The roads were wet - the shoulder had water stagnation at multiple places. We had to take a longer route to get to Thrissur - roads were in a pitiable situation. There were lots of potholes - some of them were really deep. We could reach Thrissur by around 2035hrs - covering a distance of 48 kilometres. The bus station didn't resemble a war zone (which is usually the case on Sundays) - a lot of platforms were still empty! The few buses that were running had heavy crowd - people occupying each inch of space available. The Kerala Restaurants Association (or a similar name) was having a free meal distribution camp at the bus station - they helped a lot of passengers and operating crew to have a meal that night.
The bus: KA-57-F-1723 after reaching Bengaluru

A couple of Karnataka SRTC buses were around - one at the platform (ready to depart) and another parked a little away. I happened to speak to one of the crew members - he had arrived in Kerala on August 15th - 5 days ago. He got stuck while driving back to Kerala - the landslide at Kuthiran pass had blocked the road. He returned to Thrissur - by now the alternative roads were also closed. The bus was stuck at Thrissur till that day (August 19th). The crew were desperate to return home - they had survived on whatever food and water they got. Really felt bad for them. There was no sign of my bus yet. An SMS with details of my bus appeared about 5 minutes past 2100hrs - the message informed that I'd be traveling on board KA57-F-1723 of Bengaluru-4. This bus wasn't seen at the bus station yet.

The bus came in a little after 2125hrs - the security guys were hell bent on letting this bus park at the platform. I always wonder why do the security guys (of Kerala SRTC) behave so rudely to other state buses - I've always seen the security guys of Karnataka SRTC being very co-operative with other state buses. The guys here were shooing of the crew of my bus - he made sure the bus didn't park at the platform, but get parked a little away. They parked the bus near the garage, and started boarding there itself. Two more buses to Bangalore (both specials) were also boarding at this time. The crew were very efficient with the boarding process - we were done soon, and got ready to move in no time. We got moving by 2138hrs - five minutes late. 
Food distribution at Thrissur bus station

The driver was slow - he lugged the engine quite a bit, and was quite slow initially. We ran through the city, took the exit to Mannuthy bypass and then joined the highway. The roads in the initial few kilometres was good - as the road got worse, the crew went a little more slower. All the three Bengaluru buses of Karnataka SRTC were now moving together - racing with each other. Sometime in between, RS784 (Ernakulam depot, Kerala SRTC) went ahead of us at a fairly good pace. Soon later, all the four Bengaluru bound buses (3 from Karnataka and 1 of Kerala) were running together in a formation! Kuthiran pass was in shambles - we crawled through the potholes. A little past Kuthiran, I slowly dozed off.

The bus pulled in to Hotel Malabari near Mangalam Bridge for a dinner break (2242hrs). This service generally doesn't take a dinner break - but the break on this day was completely understandable. The crew were stuck for 5 days - they surely wanted some 'good' food. I took a stroll and had one tea. I returned to the bus before the crew returned. The crew of all the three Karnataka buses returned together - we started off (2310hrs) together again. The driver was faster now. We overtook the other two and rushed faster. The bus entered Palakkad town, and got to the bus station by 2337hrs. The Kerala RTC bus (RS784) was already at the bus station. Our boarding completed quickly - and we got moving by 2340hrs. We rushed back towards the highway - I was awake till we passed the toll gate at Pampampallam. I slept soon afterwards.

I woke up in between - the bus was stationary now - we were already past Coimbatore, and the time was around 0050hrs or so. The bus started soon after stopping - the crew had changed (the driver and conductor interchanged, rather). The guy at the wheels now was faster - we were rushing forward. I dozed off soon later - one long nice sleep. I woke up as the lights came on, and the bus was moving slowly - we were at Electronic city toll gate already. There was a snarl at the toll gate - we crawled through, and stopped to drop passengers (0542hrs). We took the elevated highway after this - quite unusual, since I've seen KaSRTC always going below the elevated highway. Not just that we took the elevated highway, the driver was literally gunning down. My GPS recorded speeds in the range of 95-96kmph all the time - we were overtaking buses continuously one after the other. The driver was certainly on fire.
The bus - being brought to the platform

There was some traffic near Silk Board (all thanks to buses that stop at the beginning of the flyover to drop passengers) - we crawled, then stopped, dropped passengers and moved forward (0601hrs). We stopped again after the bridge, near Madiwala Mosque (0604hrs), then at St.John's signal (0607hrs). The bus got to Shantinagar bus station by 0618hrs - I was a little concerned if they'd call it the terminus - but the driver just reconfirmed if the rest of 'us' were traveling to Majestic. He picked up some passengers of another bus too, and continued towards Majestic. He was quick here too - we finally reached Kempegowda Bus Station aka Majestic at 0631hrs (not exactly at the bus station, but on Tank Bund road) - 13 minutes behind scheduled time.

Remarks: The bus, KA-57-F-1723 homed at Bengaluru Central Division, Depot-4, had clocked a little over 3.25 Lakh kilometres. The bus was fairly well maintained - except a nagging rattle from the rear suspension as the bus went through rough patches of road. The overall ride quality seemed to have improved over the other KSRTC Scanias that I've been in. The crew were great - although they were tired and desperate, they spoke very politely to passengers. The running time was fairly good - 8h53m - longer than usual - but the sectional timings were good. We took a 28 minute dinner break. The bus took only 6 hours from Palakkad to Electronic city (which is the usual time) - we got delayed near Silk Board. I liked the service - if not for the dinner break, we'd have surely reached before 0600hrs. They did not provide water bottles - understandable since this would've been the crew's source of drinking water when they were stranded. The blankets were clean (they were pulled out from a fresh packet). Overall, a very good service.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Not provided
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, did not use.
Entertainment: Available, not used.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.75/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.99/5

Pros: Value for money, excellent service
Cons: Nothing much (can be a little unpredictable on weekdays)

Will I take this service again? 2133TRCBNG has always been my favorite - and will continue to be so. Absolutely recommended.

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