Thrissur to Bengaluru: Orange Travels AC Sleeper

My earlier post had explained in fair detail of the predicament and hurdles I faced while planning a trip to Kerala for Vishu. Although a fair effort was put into planning and booking, all the efforts were in vain as SpiceJet decided to cancel our flights (I am still waiting for a refund on those bookings!). The information about cancellation of our flight from Kochi to Bengaluru came about a week before we were to travel, and this actually made us think if it was better to cancel the trip. The lure of going home after close to 6 months, and the fact that this was the first Vishu after our wedding made me look for other options. Flights were too expensive, and were ruled out earlier on itself. Trains were all waitlisted, and I couldn't fully depend on booking a tatkal ticket. Buses from Thrissur to Bengaluru were charging fares that was almost at par with flight fare. Left with not many options, we chose to book from Coimbatore to Bengaluru - I had a lot of confusion there, and finally picked an operator that I hadn't tried earlier, and picked up berths that would be comfortable as well.

Fast forward to April 14, 2019: Both of us woke up early enough to attempt getting a tatkal ticket. Remember we had reached home only at around 0230 Hrs, and it was well past 0330 by the time we slept - we were up at 0900hrs again, to attempt booking a tatkal ticket. We had to ensure our mobiles had good network - we did our homework, and opened the IRCTC portal a couple of minutes before 1000hrs (the opening time for Tatkal ticket reservation, for AC classes). My phone couldn't log in, while TW's phone logged in. We picked the train of our choice, entered all required details, and headed to the payment page - this page screwed up things, kept "waiting" for the bank's response, and after a few agonizing minutes, the ticket popped up in my mailbox (the IRCTC page was still "loading") - Waitlisted 12 & 13! There was no point retaining the waitlist ticket - we retained it till the next day, and cancelled after we found it didn't get better!

April 15, 2019:
We had resigned to fate - we had to travel from Coimbatore. I was busy looking for ways to get to Coimbatore - there were no trains at the time I wanted, and no buses with reservation appeared either! Completely flummoxed and hopeless, I even looked at expensive bus options to make the connection. A little towards afternoon - a couple of hours before our planned departure time, I randomly checked for tickets from Thrissur to Bangalore on redbus - bingo! Plenty of them appeared, all at normal rates! I found sleeper buses priced at Rs 1199, which is the usual fare - this was down from the Rs. 2499 and Rs. 2799 displayed the previous day! I quickly put in a word to TW, who was now excited to spend a few hours more at home, and headed to the website of Orange Travels. I picked up two lower berths in their 'Grand' sleeper coach (the premium sleeper charged lesser than this one, but had only upper berths in the rear section) - the website offered an "eTicket discount" and quickly headed to the payment page. The payment went through - but the website showed that the payment failed! A pop-up message asked me to wait for 30 minutes for a call back - I called up their helpdesk soon later. I had to navigate through a horribly organised IVR system to get to a customer care executive - who was really helpful. He took down my details, retrieved the booking, and confirmed to me that I'd receive my ticket in 15 minutes. He requested that I call them again if I don't receive a confirmation in 15 minutes. I got my tickets in about 5 minutes after I called them - must say, very efficient service!

We were now enjoying the extra hours we got - TW was busy plucking mangoes from the tree in our yard, and mom was busy packing vegetables (which she cultivated in our yard) for us. With a 2240hrs departure, we had lots of time to spend at home. We had our dinner by 2000hrs, and began looking for an Uber cab. Although a few cabs listed, none of them would accept our booking. Finally by about 2100hrs, we decided to hire our neighbourhood cab, who arrived at our place by about 2115hrs. The rescheduling of our departure meant we added a lot more baggage, and two pieces of baggage now became 3! We loaded all these in the cab, and headed to Thrissur. The soft spoken and well behaved cab driver drove carefully and calmly - he confirmed our bus' timings and planned his drive accordingly. I received a call from Orange Travels' office in Thrissur a little before 2200hrs enquiring our whereabouts, and also confirming the location of their office. The guy on the phone updated that the location had changed, and was slightly different from what was mentioned on our ticket. I thanked them for the update and confirmed that we'd be there on time. We reached the office by about 2225hrs - the scheduled reporting time. I went to the office to update that we had arrived while TW secured our bags outside. The office had a toilet nearby - a well appreciated amenity for lady passengers. The guy at the office was very friendly, and kept updating the location of the bus. Interestingly, I was also receiving messages from Orange Travels as the bus came closer - in fact, I received a message as soon as the bus passed the immediate previous pick-up point.
The bus - PY-01-CT-8548

The guy from the office came and checked how much baggage we had, and also confirmed that the bus was just a kilometre away then. As he finished saying this, I saw the bus at a distance. The bus reached us at 2235hrs - the attendant quickly helped us leave the luggage in the boot, and the driver quickly checked our tickets and let us in. We were in the first berth, right after the entrance itself. One more passengers joined, and the bus was signed off by the office guy. We moved exactly at 2240hrs - perfectly on time. Our berth already had water bottles (neatly placed in the bottle holder) and two packed blankets (which smelled fresh). The snack box was missing - we didn't really miss it, it was an overnight journey afterall. The initial part of the journey was rough - the roads were under construction and the driver had to maintain pace to stick to its scheduled time. I felt a little uncomfortable during this period - and was looking forward to the bus entering better roads. Soon after the bus got slightly better roads, the bus pulled into a motel just past the under construction (its fully constructed, but awaiting the green signal from the government) toll gate near Vadakkencherry, at 2323hrs, and the crew called for a 10 minute break to use the restrooms.

The place had clear restrooms, a motel, a shop that sells tea and some cold-drinks and a shop selling fried snacks. The stop was quick - the crew were back very soon. The attendant went to count the passengers inside and found that three passengers were missing - he counted thrice and still fell short of the numbers as per the reservation chart. The driver honked, and sent the attendant to the restaurant to check if any passengers were there - he returned without finding any. The driver decided to count himself - he came in and counted, and found that all the passengers were on board - they later concluded that the attendant hadn't counted properly. I found out the next morning that the attendant was a new chap - completely new to the job. He was still being mentored. All this confusion delayed departure, and we finally got moving at 2349hrs - a 26 minute halt, 16 minutes more than the originally planned stop! We had better roads now, and the ride got really smooth after this. All cabin lights were switched off after this stop.

I dozed off for a while, and woke up just as the bus stopped at Palakkad to pick passengers (0018hrs) - there was some confusion here as well, but was settled soon, and we got moving at 0020hrs. I received a message from Orange that said the bus was late by 25 minutes at the last pick-up point, and they expect some delay at arrival in Bengaluru, and included an apology statement! Super impressed!

I slept soon after this halt - I had contracted cold due to the sweltering summer in Kerala, and this became a big impediment to sleep! I woke up multiple times during the journey. The bed felt very comfortable and I think was the right size, as well. The AC vents were positioned at the ends of the berths - and both the vents were adjustable - but for direction and volume of air. A very comfortable pillow was provided as well, and the blanket was big enough. I was woken up as the attendant shouted out "toilet break" - it was about 0538hrs, and the bus had pulled in to a fuel station near Shoolagiri. Although this break was welcome, I really couldn't understand the logic of refueling at this time, risking a delayed arrival in Bengaluru. Another bus of Orange had come in a while before we started as well - confirming that this is their regular fueling halt. We started off at 0550hrs. I was hopeful of a timely arrival at Bengaluru now.
The bus - PY-01-CT-8548 after reaching Bengaluru

The driver wasn't rash - he was fast, and maintained pace. The attendant came around calling for passengers alighting at Electronic city just as the bus entered the toll lanes for the elevated highway. We were in the cabin already - the bus was in the FasTag lane as well - an SETC bus up ahead had blocked two lanes (The driver tried cutting from one lane to the other, but ended up almost hitting the divider and blocked both the lanes!). It took a lot of effort from the driver to finally get into one lane - thus wasting close to 15 minutes for everybody there! We were dropped at Electronic City toll plaza at 0640hrs - ten minutes behind their scheduled time, and exactly 8 hours since we started from Thrissur, including about 38 minutes lost in breaks!
The SETC guy blocking two lanes at the toll gate!

Remarks: The bus, PY-01-CT-8548, was fairly new. I didn't notice the odometer reading on this one. The bus was built on an Ashok Leyland chassis by MG Bus & Coach - a model they call "Lotus". This was my first journey in an MG built bus. The interior fit and finish was outstanding - every panel was even and the gaps were consistent. The quality of the interior fittings were great. I liked the comfort and design of the berth as well. A pillow and blanket was provided by the operator. The bed sheet appeared a little dull - may be due to its colour. The crew were great - very soft spoken and polite. The attendant helped us with the baggage without any fuss, and the driver didn't hurry when it took a while to unload our bags after getting to Bengaluru! Overall, another great experience with Orange, and they've always been consistent at that! 

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, worked.
Entertainment: Available, not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5 (Overall, good driving)
Crew behaviour: 5/5 (Overall - good behaviour)
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Value for money, excellent service
Cons: May be they could avoid that refuelling while coming to Bengaluru

Will I take this service again? Absolutely. Was value for money.

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