January 02, 2022:
The 06136 Mettupalayam Udhagamandalam Express special, hauled by X-37392 "Nilgiri Macaque", went around taunting me for having missed the journey. The sounds from the loco, and its whistle were reverbating all around the valley as the train ascended the hills to Nilgiri. Meanwhile, I walked out of the railway station, in the direction where the bus station was located. I missed a turn, and ended up walking a longer way to the bus station. The bus station was not very crowded - it was just a little past 0715hrs then. Taxi drivers were all around the place in the platform from where buses to the Nilgiris depart.
There were two buses to Ooty at that time - one was to Gudalur and the other was to Mysuru via Ooty and Gudalur. I chose the latter, since it was a newer bus, and also seemed to the first to depart. The bus didn't have too many seats - I managed to get one in the rear half of the bus. I was confused between the 2-seater and the 3-seater - chose the latter for reasons that I still fail to understand! The bus didn't depart from there until most seats were occupied. Crew of TNSTC (Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation) generally dissuade local (short-distance) passengers from boarding long distance buses - they let in such passengers only as the bus departs. That was the case here as well. A bunch of short distance passengers boarded the bus, as it began moving out of the bus station, at 0740hrs.
I was on board TN-43-N-0907 operated by Mettupalayam-2 depot, of Nilgiris Division, Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation (Coimbatore) Limited. It was an Ashok Leyland Viking 222 WB Bharat Stage-4 chassis, with the coach built by a local body builder. The coach had seats arranged in a 2x3 layout. The seats seemed quite comfortable, and the leg room was not bad, either. The windows were at an appropriate height as well.
|The bus: TN-43-N-0907|
The driver was fast - I'd say faster than the usual TNSTC style, but not very fast. The conductor came around issuing tickets soon after we departed from the bus station. The conductor was issuing manual tickets, not the dreaded Electronic Ticketing Machine. I used the word dreaded since its a nightmare for collectors! The fare was Rs. 50. The bus exited the town very quickly and got to Kallar very quickly. The ghat section begins at Kallar. This ghat road, also referred to as the Coonoor ghat or Kallar Ghat road, is part of National Highway 181. The stretch had about 14 hair-pin bends and is quite taxing for vehicles. In the past, buses used to stop for watering at Burliyar - with newer vehicles using coolant instead of water in radiators, this stop has become obsolete. I think vehicles still stop there on the way down the ghats, though, as a tea break and also to cool down their brakes.
The driver meant business as he began ascending the ghats. His experience was visible, and the bus went up the ghats with ease, as it was being driven in the right gears. He didn't lug the bus, nor drive it at lower gears excessively. The engine didn't sound strained - the engine notes were melodious. I was enjoying the Leyland's melodies as we slowly ascended the ghats. The hairpin bends were handled with grace. I regretted sitting on the right side of the bus, since most of the vistas were on the left side.
The ghat road had suffered substantial damage from landslides during the North-east monsoon season, which according to the India Meteorological Department was the highest since 1901! The road was restored very quickly - but damages were visible at places. Road works were in progress at some stretches of the road. Interestingly, the bus to Gudalur, that I had spotted at Mettupalayam, was right behind my bus. It got colder as we got closer to Ooty.
We reached Coonoor at around 0850hrs - it was a quick stop, just enough to let passengers alight, and an equal number to board. The conductor in this bus was a little rude - and at this point he got into a quarrel with somebody who asked if the bus went to Ooty. He began shouting out that the bus had a board, and he should read it. Very interestingly, the board - a multi-colour LED board - was displaying only "Mysuru" on it, in three languages. The passenger said the same, and the conductor continued grumbling for a while more. For some reason, in almost all my journeys, crew of TNSTC were often a very mixed bag. Some of them were friendly, but a substantial set of them were grumpy - especially the senior lot.
It got foggy as we passenger Coonoor. At some points, the visibility came down to a few metres - where the bus slowed down. I think it also drizzled during the journey. The climate got pleasant as we neared Ooty. The bus made multiple stop as we entered the town of Ooty - starting from Charring Cross. The bus entered the bus station at Ooty by 0945hrs - a little over 2 hours since we departed from Mettupalayam! That was a distance of 50 kilometres done in about 125 minutes, driving up the ghats! Impressive, I must say!
|Ooty Bus Station|
Remarks: The bus, TN-43-N-0907, was in fairly good position. The crew were not so great - the conductor was grumpy and a rude on more than one occasion. The driver wasn't happy about me clicking a photo of his bus - he was like, Don't you know its illegal to take photo of TNSTC bus?. That said, he was professional when it came to driving - very experienced and handled the bus really well. Not a single incident of rash driving or hard braking anywhere through the journey. The bus was good as well - basic seating comfort was provided. The running time of just over 2 hours was great as well!
Charging Point: Not Available
Entertainment: Not Available
Driving: 5/5 [Mindboggling smooth!]
Crew behaviour: 2.5/5
Pros: Frequency of buses, Cheap, Value for Money!
Cons: No luxury, Crew behaviour
Will I take this service again? This is the best option on the route!
Why is it a nightmare for the collectors to use the ticketing machine? Isnt it supposed to be an easier/quicker tool for tallying and closing the trip sheets?
As for those who collect tickets as a hobby , SETC is the best. Better quality, bigger and thicker paper that can be preserveded for longer. Icing on the cake is how they make holes in the numbers denoting fare stage by using a paper punch