Bengaluru to Coimbatore: KSRTC Airavat, and onwards to Thrissur!

March 08, 2020:
It was the 4th day since I was holed up at my home due to some official reasons. I was almost insane, and badly wanted to go meet my little one. I was finally cleared to go home, and my leaves approved by the boss by around 1000hrs. I quickly ran through all the options I had, and decided to try out the KSRTC Airavat service via Mysore to Coimbatore - I wouldn't get chance to try this service very frequently. I checked the KSRTC website, and found my favorite balcony seat  - the first row seat - still available! I lapped up that seat, and left home in a hurry. I did not even pack my bag properly - took what ever I got and ran out of home. I took a bus to the nearest bus station, then a metro to Majestic, and a BMTC bus from there to Shantinagar. About a kilometre before I reached the bus station, the conductor rang up to find out my location - I updated, and he replied, don't worry, we still have time!
The bus - KA-57-F-3948 before starting off from Shantinagar

I got to the bus station with about 5 minutes to spare for departure - ran straight to the bus, marked my attendance, and then went out to pick up a packet of biscuit - which was sold at a premium over the maximum retail price. I was quite surprised on boarding the bus - I was the sole passenger on board! A little later, one more passenger joined in - the conductor now signaled the driver to start! What? Just 2 passengers?? The reservation chart had only about 8-9 names - they seemed to be joining later. We started off from Shantinagar at 1250hrs - 5 minutes behind schedule. We rushed towards Mysore road bus station in no time - getting there by 1310hrs. The bus was first taken to the platform from where TN bound buses leave - the driver shouted out for passengers to Mysore and Coimbatore for a while, before heading to the Mysore buses platform.
The interiors - seriously good!

The crew managed to attract a lot of passengers, very quickly. In fact, the driver had even called up the controller at the bus station in advance to inform that they didn't have passengers - I guess they stopped issuing tickets for the Mysore shuttle service to make passengers for this bus. The bus filled in no time, and we got moving with about 5 empty seats, by around 1331hrs - tried getting some more passengers from near the exit gate, and finally pushed off at 1335hrs. We crawled through traffic until we got past Kengeri. The crew were continuously on the look out for more passengers - they pulled over at the bus stop right after the NICE road exit, past Kengeri - got one passenger, and moved on (1355hrs).

Upgradation of the highway between Bengaluru to Mysuru seemed to be in very swift progress. There were plenty of diversions on the way - the carriageway was down to 1.95 lanes (the second lane had infringements) at some places. This did slow down our progress quite a bit. I was getting quite hungry by now. The time was already past 1430hrs - the last meal I had was over 5 hours ago. The packet of biscuit that I had picked up from Shantinagar was helping me a little bit. I was continuously checking the distance left to the usual place KSRTC buses stop - but as fate would have it, the bus just ran past the hotel! Gosh! Did he decide to skip the lunch break! We seemed to be running behind schedule already - but then, people could be really hungry!

We finally pulled off the highway, and stopped at a restaurant near Channapatna (1500hrs). This seemed like a new place - Udupi Srikrishna Bhavan - the restaurant had a canopy styled roof - more like an open air area with a make shift covering (no, I am not complaining - I really liked the ambience!). I did not go through their menu - directly opted for the most ubiquitous item to order at that point of time - South Ootta (South 'meals'). Soon later, a Banana leaf appeared on my table, followed by side dishes. A little later, the waiter turned around with three small Pooris, followed by a bowl of rice and a rice papad. I digged in to the food in no time - I just realised that I was terribly hungry then! I cleared up the food in no time. I spotted the crew already return to the bus by then - I ran to the cashier, who took his sweet time to process my bill. By now the bus had backed out from the parking - and he waited calmly for me to return. We started off at 1525hrs.
The lunch!

The restaurant dining area!

The driver was pushing the bus as he was trying hard to make up for some lost time. The bus was locked at 80kmph, and it severely slowed down our progress even on empty stretches of road. The driver was real quick - I was in love with his driving style. He picked up the right gaps, made perfect overtakes, and maintained pace even with the speed lock. We got to Mandya by 1558hrs - dropped a few passengers (who had more pieces of bags equal to two times the number of passengers in their group) and continued. We dropped more people at Srirangapatna (1623hrs) and then got to Mysore limits (Columbia Asia Hospital) by 1637hrs. The driver kept pace inside the city - finally getting us to the Suburban bus station by 1648hrs - three minutes behind schedule time. We first stopped at the arrivals bay, dropped passengers, unloaded all their bags, and moved towards the departure platform, with just me and the crew on board! I was the sole long distance passenger on this bus!!!
Roads after Mysore!

We backed in to the departure platform - people mobbed the bus quickly. The conductor announced the fares - some people backed off, others boarded the bus. There were a few reserved passengers - who also joined quickly. The crew went about to get their paper work done - then came around to try attracting some walk-in passengers. We finally started off from the platform at 1705hrs - 20 minutes behind schedule, with over 75% occupancy. We struggled a bit to exit the bus station - buses in the Bangalore platform had jammed the exit a little. We exited the city soon, entered the highway towards Nanjangud and continued gunning down. We continued pace till we got to Nanjangud - then turned off towards Chamrajnagar. The crew changed a little after turning off - the roads got worse, with some widening works in progress in patches.

We got to Chamrajnagar bus station by 1827hrs - the conductor (who was driving till then) went to get his waybill updated. The driver returned to his seat now - we started off at 1830hrs. I had a quick calculation - We were surely not reaching Coimbatore at the misleading arrival time. The fastest travel time I've had between Mysore and Coimbatore via Sathyamangalam was 5 hours - so with a 1705hrs departure from Mysore, I would assume the earliest we could get to Coimbatore was 2205hrs - about an hour and 20 minutes past the scheduled arrival time. In the mean time, the driver swiftly entered the highway towards Coimbatore. The road condition went from bad, to worse, to worst soon later - at places, we had to search where the road was. There were craters, and some bits of bitumen in between. The bus never exceeded 40kmph at any point in this stretch of road. This terrible part of road (I am not really sure if I should call it a 'road') lasted till we passed in to Tamilnadu (1937hrs) at Hassanur Check post.

The crew were talking of the dinner break - I was sure they'd stop, since the bus wouldn't get to Coimbatore before 2200hrs anyways, and that would be too late for dinner. The bus finally entered the Jeeva Motel at Hassanur (1946hrs). This place, I think, is owned by the state transport corporation - and is sublet to a contractor for operations. Its a small motel built to serve the buses that operate on this route - so its a large dining hall, with a limited menu. The food is served with outstanding efficiency - and I must say, it was fingerlicking delicious. I had a full tummy for about Rs 70. The place also had a very basic toilet, as well. This crew were really efficient during breaks - they were back at the bus soon later, and we started off at 2009hrs.
My dinner - you pay for what you eat. This what I bought!

Soon after this break, we entered the famed Dhimbham Ghat road. This is, personally, of my favorite ghat routes in this part of the country, and I've always loved my drives this way. This 14 kilometre long section is punctuated with 27 (yes, twenty seven) hair pin bends! This road cuts through a wildlife sanctuary, and is an area where leopards have been spotted often. In fact, we did spot a lone wild elephant at the beginning of the ghat section - standing majestically beside the road! This stretch of road is a real test on the sanity of drivers - and, apologetically, private car drivers are the worst among the lot here. Absolute lack of lane discipline, and quite often even try overtaking heavy vehicles at blind turns! We started descending the ghat in style - the driver was surely a regular on this route, and he took the turns with ease!

I videographed a part of the journey (video below), but later decided to enjoy the ride instead! One of the 27 bends were narrow for the bus to pass through in one shot - we had to stop, back up, and then turn. Interestingly, or incidentally, we were welcomed to the base of the ghats by wild elephants! A pair of them were spotted right next to the forest checkpost at the base of the ghats - the driver shouted to the checkpost saying there are elephants next to them. The driver was back to hitting the gas pedal - the 80kmph limit was biting us badly again. We got to Sathyamangalam by 2114hrs - an hour and 19 minutes behind schedule. The crew interchanged their position a little past Sathyamangalam. I must say, the conductor was not a poor driver in any manner - he too had a great style of driving, but did not fully match the driver! He found the right gaps, maintained pace and kept the bus at 80kmph as far as possible.

There was fairly high traffic in the opposite direction - being a Sunday, a lot of buses were operating, and this particular road seemed a new found favourite among Coimbatore based operators. The onslaught of vehicles in the opposite direction, and some stretches of under-construction roads slowed our progress - but the guy driving the bus managed to maintain some pace. We had drops at multiple points on the way, and we finally stopped outside the Gandhipuram bus station (SETC) at 2240hrs - close to two hours behind schedule. The bus doesn't have a scheduled drop at Gandhipuram, on the website - but the bus regular drops passengers there. I continued my journey home from there.. to come up as a separate post.

Remarks: The bus, KA-57-F-3948, was still in mint condition. She had a little over 38000kms on the clock. She had a speed lock of 80kmph - and strictly adhered to that speed limit, except at inclines. The crew - simply great! Perfect style of driving for 2 lane roads - he found all the perfect gaps for overtakes, maintained pace throughout the distance. This applies to both the driver and the conductor - both of them were equally competent on this. The bus took 3 hours and 2 minutes from Mysore road bus station to Mysore bus station - including a 25 minute break - so that is a ride time of 2 hours and 37 minutes for a road being widened! The run time from Mysore to Coimbatore was 5 hours and 35 minutes, including a 23 minute break - perfect run time I'd say! The end-to-end travel time was 9 hours and 50 minutes, including all the breaks and waits at bus stations. On the higher side, but appropriate for the route it took. The schedule given on the KSRTC website is completely way-off though!

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Pillow: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
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 (Close to 2 hours late at Coimbatore, but I am rating based on the run time)

Overall: 4.5/5

Pros: Awesome ride, great crew, Value for money.
Cons: Longer run time due to the route

Will I take this service again? I'll surely try this one again!

Comments

rahulvijayev said…
Lovely report as usual. Have travelled in 3948 on 28th feb from Bangalore to Kanhangad..

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