Thrissur to Bengaluru: Suraj Holidays Sleeper

I was traveling on an off-peak day, read a weekday - this was my opportunity to try one of the many sleeper buses  on the route (they could get insanely expensive on weekends). I could also afford to be a little late - most of the sleeper buses get to Bangalore only by 0700hrs, and 'Bangalore' for most of them ends at Madiwala. Its a good 2 hours from there to my place, and I always make it a point only to take a bus that drops at Majestic or at the least, Kalasipalya. I used the same 'filters' this time as well - a drop, at least, at Kalasipalya and preferable arrival before 0700hrs. I had quite a lot of operators whom I wanted to try - all of these operators provided Thrissur town pick-up. I stumbled on Suraj Holidays while browsing for options on Redbus. This was a Volvo Sleeper coach - the new MG StarZ as well! It checked all my boxes - a new operator, a new type of bus, Kalasipalya drop and a 0700hrs arrival. I got the ticket at a cheaper price after applying a coupon as well - so I was all set for the ride.

Since the journey was on a weekday, I kept checking the booking status on this bus. Needless to say, bookings remained low even as the day of journey came closer. In fact, there were hardly 5 or so bookings even on the day before the journey. I was a little concerned if they'd cancel the trip now. I did check the alternatives and keep them ready, just in case these people cancelled the service.

December 03, 2019:
Sometime around 10am - I receive a call from an unknown number. The caller identified himself as calling from 'Suraj Holidays' - my heart skipped beats, and I felt low. I knew what he was about to say. He asked if I had booked a ticket, I said yes. He then slowly said, "Ah.. sir.. the bus is cancelled today since it had to go for maintenance.. we can rebook you on our normal AC sleeper bus if you don't mind. We'll give you a refund of the difference of fare.." I gave it a thought, and asked him if I'd get the same berth that I was originally booked in - he said, yes and confirmed my booking. He offered a 15% refund of my ticket fare and 'apologised' for the inconvenience.  I received an SMS from the operator about the rebooking - and the message also had information about the boarding point. What caught my eye was the "Pick-up van" part after my boarding point address.

The bus was to depart quite later in the night - close to around 2300hrs. I had to travel to Thrissur by the last bus - I'd have to spend quite some money if I missed the bus. I left home at around 2030hrs - the last bus to Thrissur from my place should come in a little past 2045hrs, and the bus stop was a five minute walk away. I didn't have much baggage - a backpack and a laptop bag. It was quite humid, and I got sweating in no time as I walk up the mild grade towards the bus stop. The shop near the bus stop was winding up for the day - the last customer was checking out his purchase, while the autorickshaw stand opposite the bus stop had one auto waiting (I thought to myself that this guy could be my saviour if the bus didn't turn up - but the guy got a trip a little later). My bus to Thrissur rolled in a little past 2045hrs - the bus was a little crowded. I did manage a seat, and even got to leave my bags on the overhead shelf. The driver was in no hurry - I wanted him to take it a little slow anyways. Some time past 2130hrs, I received a call from the bus crew - he wanted to know where I was, and asked if I could hire an auto and come to the bypass, since I was the only passenger to board from the city.

I asked him to hire a vehicle for me - I wasn't very confident of hiring an auto on his promise that he'd pay. I wasn't getting the best vibes about the operator now. He said he'll arrange a vehicle and requested me to call him once I get to the pick-up point. I was at the pick-up point a little after 2135hrs itself - the bus had come in quite quickly. All this while, none of the tracking links send by the operator worked, and all the links kept saying "Tracking is presently unavailable for this bus". Meanwhile, I headed to the KSRTC bus station nearby - two reasons; one to use the rest room, two to be in a place that is not isolated! I forget to call the crew in the mean time. The guy calls me again at 2230hrs, and asks if I am at the boarding point - I say, yes. He requests me to get into a bus operated by Greenline travels, and updates the bus number - I see the bus standing there, and I get into the bus. Meanwhile, the guy who called me, had called the driver of this bus, and informs him to drop me at Thrissur bypass (Mannuthy).

I got to ride in the bus' drivers cabin - sitting on the co-driver's jumpseat. Not an experience that I'd enjoy, especially since it was hot all around. The driver was a little rash - he threw the bus around corners and took turns at fairly good pace as well. A little bit of time into the ride, we witness an accident - two bikes had crashed, and the driver of one of them had developed a seizure on the roadside - onlookers were trying to stabilize him (wrong decision) and trying to get a vehicle. The driver of the bus I was traveling in jokes to the attender about how today's youth were driving rash (remember my statement a few lines above). He turns sane, and drives a little slower now. I was dropped at Mannuthy bus stop a little before 2245hrs. I see Kerala Lines buses there - had a little bit of regret not booking them. A few other operators whom I had considered while booking also go past me while waiting.
The bus, after dropping at "Kalasipalya"

The place I was waiting in was isolated - there were two ATMs, but no security guards. It was windy - a tarpaulin sheet tied on the building (that housed the ATM) was fluttering all the time adding to a horror effect. The only other human presence here was a small food cart a little away - the guy there seemed to be winding up for the day. I check the tracking links again - and thankfully one worked. The bus was a little late, and fairly far. I had lots of time to spend. There was no place to sit - and I continuously wished that it didn't rain. The crew on my bus calls up a little past 2310hrs - asking my whereabouts. He says he is at Mannuthy - I said I was dropped a little ahead, near the ATMs. He confirms my location, and replies he'll reach in a while. The tracking link showed the bus was stopped right at Mannuthy junction - it didn't move for a while (I assume the attendant went to buy something). He finally appeared at the place I was standing, at 2316hrs. I rushed into the bus, the attendant confirms my seat number. I head to my seat soon later - the cabin lights were turned off, and I had to use my phone to get into my berth.

It was noisy as hell - I could hear the sounds from the differential, and almost every bit of sound produced by the engine, including gear shifts. All this while being right in the middle of the bus. A 'welcome kit' was left on my berth - a non-woven polypropylene bag, again, with some goodies and a bottle of water inside (I checked the contents later, after getting home). Overall, I wasn't impresssed - it was really really noisy. I was a little too tired - I hit the berth soon later (after adjusting my bags on the berth, and finding place to sleep). I was awake till we passed Kuthiran Pass - there was no standstill traffic, but slow moving traffic. I dozed off after the pass, but kept waking up time and again. The AC didn't seem to be really effective - I tried changing the direction of the air vents multiple times, but didn't help.

I was woken up by the attendant's call for toilet break. We had stopped at a bakery right after Vijayamangalam toll gate (0210hrs). I got off the bus, used the restroom, walked around for a while and returned to the bus. The bus started off at 0222hrs. I continued my efforts to have a nice sleep - the noise from the differentials and the engine didn't really help. I dozed off sometime in between. I woke up only as the bus passed Attibele toll. We stopped by at Narayana Hrudayalaya to drop a passenger (0631hrs) and then at Electronic City (0638hrs). We took the elevated highway towards Silk Board. We got to Silk Board by 0647hrs, and to Madiwala by 0650hrs.  I checked with the attendant if they'd go to Kalasipalya - he says yes. The bus was already quite late.

The direct road from Madiwala towards Dairy Circle was closed for road works, and the bus turned towards Adugodi. We got stuck in traffic right after Forum mall. It took a quite a while for us to get to Adugodi - I hoped he continued straight towards Richmond circle - but the bus took a left at Anepalya, and turned towards Dairy Circle! We went all the way to Dairy Circle, and then turned towards NIMHANS! We crawled through Lakkasandra, and got to Lalbagh by 0720hrs. I think the crew could've saved a lot of time by going straight to Richmond and then towards Kalasipalya. The bus crossed Minerva Circle, and got on to the road towards Kalasipalya. He travelled a few metres, until Basappa Circle - and announced that the bus reached Kalasipalya! There were only 2-3 of us in the bus - two of us got into a fight with the crew. He said this was Kalasipalya, and began teasing us. I felt really bad - I was given a bus that was poorer than what I booked for, I was troubled with the boarding experience, the bus was terrible, and finally was dropped much away from the promised dropping point. Suraj, never again!
The welcome kit, after unpacking on reaching home

Remarks: The bus, NL-01-B-1206, was built by SMK Prakash on an Ashok Leyland Viking 1811 chassis. The bus was kept in good shape overall - but was terribly noisy. The driving was okayish - not very smooth, but not 'rash' as such. The welcome kit provided had a bottle water, a pack of Lays Chips, a pack of Unibic cookies and a face wipe. The positives - I was informed of the bus type change in advance, a refund was promised - I raised a ticket about this on redbus, and a refund was credited to my account in a couple of days, as well. The negatives - change of boarding point, and dropping much earlier than the promised point. The driver was busy teasing us saying this was Kalasipalya, and maybe we didn't know about that! I got off the bus swearing never ever to travel by Suraj Holidays again!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: Yes
Charging Point: Available, worked
Entertainment: Not Available

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 3.5/5
Crew behaviour: 1/5
Punctuality: 4/5 [An hour late]

Overall: 2.5/5

Pros: Couldn't pin point any
Cons: Everything else!

Will I take this service again? Absolutely never!

Comments

Unknown said…
These weekend operators fly by night operations will give The whole industry a bad name

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