Solapur to Shirdi: MSRTC's all new Non-AC Seater cum Sleeper

As I drew up plans to head to Shirdi after examination work at Bijapur, I looked at various options on the internet. No direct buses turned up - no trains either. I had the option of taking a train to Pune - but the train got there at a very odd hour, thus spoiling my sleep, plus getting me to Shirdi quite later in the day, which would make it a very tight visit. I recalled my journey to Shirdi the previous year, and it was a helluva experience getting to Shirdi from Pune - and I badly wanted to avoid repeating that experience this time (read it here, if you haven't read about it yet!). I briefly considered going via Hubli - but it seemed to add too much of traveling time. I looked at options from Solapur instead - two interesting options popped up - one was a Shivshahi seater coach, and the other was a non-ac seater-cum-sleeper coach. The second option quite grabbed my thoughts - I did a round of research on the internet to find if it was a new bus, or would I end up in a run down rebodied vehicle. Photographs on the internet confirmed it would be a new bus - exactly what I wanted. I reserved a berth soon later. The next challenge was getting to Solapur from Vijayapura (Bijapur) - some research on line, and with known people confirmed there were regular buses on the route.

February 01, 2020:
I checked out of the hotel sometime past 1400hrs, and flagged down an autorickshaw to get to the bus station. After heading to an ATM at the bus station, and stocking a bottle of water, I headed in search of the platform from where buses to Solapur would depart - signage were poor, but it didn't take a lot of time though. I spotted an NWKRTC bus with a board reading "Solapur" standing there. I wanted to travel by a MSRTC or atleast a NEKRTC bus - I wasn't sure if there'd be any at that point of time. I remained in split minds for a while trying to reach a decision - the NWKRTC bus that was standing at the platform was a BS4 Eicher with a body built by their inhouse body building unit - this was a combination that I wanted to try. This further deepened my confusion - I decided to get into the bus waiting there, instead of wasting more time at the bus station. I got a seat at the front - with a nice view of the road. But, then, the bus got crowded even before we left the bus station, at 1445hrs.

The sun was on my side - my seat selection went terribly wrong. I should've assumed that the sun would be on the left on a bus that was traveling from south to north at that time of the day. Never mind. I was quite tired, and did doze off multiple times during the ride. I woke up as the bus pulled over for a break, at a place called Zalki (1615hrs) - I got off for a short walk, and returned to the bus as the driver returned to the bus. We started off at 1625hrs - by now most of the crowd had deboarded, and largely had only seated passengers. Road widening work was in progress, and hence the bus kept going through rough patches and diversions multiple times. Things got better as we entered Maharasthra - the road was two-laned, with no signs of widening, but in good condition. The ride was largely eventless, and we finally got to Solapur bus station at 1750hrs - about 3 hours and 5 minutes after starting off from Vijayapura, covering a distance of about 100 kilometres.

I spent some time roaming around the bus station, and I spotted the bus I would be traveling on later in the night. As it slowly got darker, I headed out of the bus station to have some food - I walked into a small restaurant outside, and had Maharashtrian Thali - yummy food, and the flavour was outstanding. I returned to the bus station about 30 minutes later. The bus station was quite crowded for most part of the time. I was expecting that my bus would be brought to the platform well in advance - but that wasn't the case. Interestingly, a recorded advertisement about this service was being played on the PA system ever 20-15 minutes. The bus was brought in at 1930hrs - the scheduled departure time. The bus looked like it wasn't washed ever since it was delivered to MSRTC - it was dust everywhere, inside out. The bus was mobbed as soon as it was parked. I remained outside for a while - got in only as the crowd thinned out.
The bus, before the journey started from Solapur

I had chosen an upper berth (the bus had only upper berths, the space below these berths had seats) in the second row. The berth was dusty - I had to dust it before I got on board. The ladder to get to the berth was placed at the head end of the berth - terrible placement, I must say. It should've been placed in the middle - so that anybody getting on the berth could lie down comfortably. Nevertheless, I got on to the berth - I had to fold my legs awkwardly to get on to the berth, and then slide down to lay down. It was getting a little sultry inside - there was fan for the berth, which made it a little comfortable. The berth had a removable pillow, a reading lamp and even mobile charging point (USB ports).  We got moving from Solapur at 1956hrs - there were very few passengers on board - about 4-5 people occupying berths and about 7-8 passengers on the seats below. Thats a little over 25% occupancy in a bus with a capacity of 45 passengers.

The bus was built on a Tata LPO 1618 chassis by MG Bus & Coach, Belgaum. The engine was really noisy - and very audible inside the coach. The ride comfort was okayish - body roll was on the higher side. The driver wasn't very slow - and this made for a very rough ride on the upper berth. It was impossible to lay supine - I had to be on my side or my tummy to kinda manage the body roll. In the meantime, the bus reached a Toll gate (Sawaleshwar) - the bus didn't have a FasTag and had to use the cash lane, for which there was very long queue. The bus slowly inched forward towards the gate - other vehicles cut across lanes delayed all the other vehicles in the queue. As we slowly neared the gate, the bus was filled with a burning smell - I initially assumed it was from outside the bus. A little later, I sensed it was from my bus - there was smoke coming from the front tyre, and I got a little panicked seeing that. I jumped out of my berth - in fact, few other passengers also noted the same and had rushed to the driver already.
The same bus, captured the next day at Nashik

The bus was at the toll gate now - the conductor was standing outside the bus trying find where the smoke came from. The driver paid the toll, and got to the other side of the gate. He pulled over, and parked the bus on the road side. The smoke came from the clutch - the driver said this was because of the prolonged wait at the toll gate, and that he was on half-clutch all the time. A very bad driving practice - and this had almost burned off the clutch plate! Most of us remained out of the bus till the smoke subsided and the driver assured it was alright. I was still not very convinced though - infact, placed my belongings in such a way that I could evacuate from the bus quickly if there was an emergency later (thank God, that never happened though). We started off from there by 2047hrs - we had lost about 30 minutes here.

It was getting a little cold - the berth was quite dusty as well. I put on my jacket - it served two purposes. Saved me from the cold air, plus allowed me safe my shirt from getting dirty. I was also carrying a bedsheet with me - I spread it out and lay down in no time. Meanwhile, the bus rolled in to Mohol bus station (2106hrs) - a few passengers got in, and we got moving by 2108hrs. I tuned in to a movie on my phone - the air was chilly, and I alternated between keeping the window open and closed. I always find non-AC buses uncomfortable for this reason. I was engrossed in the movie for the rest of the time. We got to Tembhurni by 2219hrs, and quickly started off by 2221hrs. The roads were quite pathetic for most part of the journey. I dozed off sometime after Tembhurni - I had left the window slightly open to let in some air - my jacket had a nice head cover, and that helped me avoid getting sick.

I woke up just as the bus entered a bus terminus, and the crew announced a break - the time was 2315hrs, and we were at a place called Karmala. This was the "dinner" break for the bus - the crew had walked away to the canteen there already. I wasn't very hungry - but I certainly wanted something to eat. I too headed to the canteen - a dim lit place that didn't have a lot of options. Misal Pav was my call. I returned to the bus soon after I finished my food. A little later, the bus was turned on, and the driver took it around for a spin - literally for a spin. He took it through the rough roads inside the bus station, banging a couple of hard brakes too. We started off from Karmala at 2357hrs, with a new crew in charge of the bus. I slept soon after we left Karmala - in no time, actually.

I vaguely remember the crew calling out for Tarakpur and Rahuri (around 0250hrs) passengers - perhaps when the bus had stopped at those bus station. I had a fairly nice sleep, and woke up just as the bus neared Babhaleshwar (thanks to Google maps, which updated where we were). The bus pulled over outside a small tea shop near Babhaleshwar - I initially thought we had pulled over for dropping passengers, but it turned out that it was a break (0318hrs). I usually don't take tea - but I wanted something hot to keep me a little warm, and awake till we got to Shirdi. We were parked outside a tea shop - I had one serving of tea, which was really tasty, with overpowering flavour of ginger. The shopkeeper had fire place outside the tea shop - people, including the crew of my bus, had lined around to get a little warmth.
During the tea break..

We started off from there by 0322hrs. I did not get on to the berth now - instead packed my bedsheet and other stuff into my bag and occupied a seat below. The seat, of Harita make, was fairly comfortable. It felt a little wider than the usual seats - it didn't have a calf rest, but had a working push-back function. Each seat also had a mobile charging point (USB ports with 2.1A and 1A output) and a reading lamp (it worked). We got into Shirdi bus station at 0343hrs - about 43 minutes behind schedule.

Remarks: The bus, MH-09-FL-0069, homed at Solapur depot was kept in a fairly good shape externally. The bus was not cleaned at all - there were empty food packets, used bottles and what not inside the bus. The bus was built on a Tata LPO 1618 chassis by MG Bus & Coach, Belgaum. The bus was among the new fleet of buses, that are changing the very image of the state operator. Both the crew were good - despite terrible roads, they both tried their best to maintain time. The ride was fast - couldn't really say the ride was rash though. I liked the journey - it took about 7hrs and 47 minutes, about 17 minutes more than the scheduled running time. 

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Pillow: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Worked.
Entertainment: Not Available.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 2.5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Pros: Punctuality, Awesome ride, great crew.
Cons: Dirty bus, unpredictable maintenance

Will I take this service again? Its a good option on the route!

Comments

Unknown said…
Hi Binai,

I am yet to travel in these new MSRTC sleeper- seater buses. Thanks for providing a thorough insight.
On the website, the fare for sleeper as well as seater is same. Is it really so?
Thanks
Abhijeet (coriollis)
rahulvijayev said…
The bus is really dusty and is even evident in the photos. Wonder if they have any cleaning schedule in place.

Waiting for the travelogue from Shirdi to Bangalore...

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