A rainsoaked journey...

Monsoons is sometimes the best season for a journey - but it often is not. Kerala's State Transport buses are often praised - and very often cursed - for using shutters for windows instead of sliding glass windows that are now a norm in most states. The shutters, made of rexine and metal bits, allow uninterrupted flow of air, when they are opened. However, during a rain, a shutter can be a torture.

In one of my earlier posts, I remember having praised KSRTC for its decision to retain the shutters (a statement, that I often regret making). On a very recent journey (which would form the nucleus of this post), I almost continuously cursed the shutter - the reason: it rained almost continuously for most of my 4 hour journey. The end-result was that we were sitting in a metal box that was closed from all sides. No light inside the cabin - other than for the coach lighting - and no possibility of knowing what was happening outside.

Coming to the journey, It so happened one evening that I had head to Coimbatore the next morning. The intention was to reach there at the earliest, but not later than 1 pm (1300 hours IST). I was accompanied by my dad on the journey. The night, prior to the journey, was spent almost sleepless. The bus that we had to board would depart at 0700 from the KSRTC bus station at Thrissur. This bus station was about 35kms from my home, and we had to leave home latest by 0530 to ensure that we were at the bus station with sufficient time to spare.

We started from home with about 7 minutes to go for 0530 (that is at 0523). It was drizzling slightly, but not hard enough to open an umbrella. The countryside was still silent, except for a bus growling at the top of its voice, preparing for its long day ahead. A casual enquiry with the conductor of that bus revealed that the first bus would be passing the nearest bus stop at around 0535~0540. The bus - I should rather call it a Midi Bus - arrived at 0550. I was slightly tensed due to the delayed departure. The vehicle was based on a Tata 407 chassis, and hence could seat not more than some 20 passengers. All seats were taken. The smaller bus also meant it was slightly unstable at higher speeds.

At the end of the 55 minute ride, the bus stopped near the KSRTC bus station. It was raining slightly, and had to make a dash to the bus station (for two reasons: one - the typical mentality to avoid the umbrella getting wet; two - to make it on time for the 0700 bus). On reaching the bus station, I noticed that the bus was standing ready to depart. Most seats were taken, and we managed a couple of window seats at the rear of the vehicle. Just as we settled, I noticed another bus parked near my bus. That too was heading to Coimbatore. We decided to change buses, and jumped into that. Thankfully, that bus departed before the other.

That bus - RAC501 of Trivandrum Central Depot - was working a Trivandrum-Coimbatore Super Fast Schedule. The bus was pretty new (just 3 months old), and the engine was super silent. The ride was really good, and the seats were too good (in terms of leg space). Rain was still continuing, and about 5 minutes into the ride, the passengers sitting behind me objected to keeping the windows open. I did overcome their pressure for some time, but later the rain increased and I had to shut it down. The ride was getting boring and I chose to catch up with some sleep. As fate would have it, the bus entered a rough patch of road and all hopes of even sitting calm were dashed.

The bus that 'transported' me to Coimbatore, during the Breakfast break at Palakkad

The rain dried up, and I opened the window. The rest of the journey was average - with a 30 minute halt at Palakkad for breakfast. The skies were overcast, and roads were wet - with intermittent showers - punctuated the rest of the journey. The bus finally dropped me off at Ukkadam Bus Station - a suburb of Coimbatore - at around 0955. The journey took exactly three hours to complete. The rest of the day was busy, with us roaming around the city.

We reached back at the bus station at 1445. There was one good looking Super Express bus waiting to depart. Both me and my dad wanted to travel by that - but unfortunately no seats were available. Better sense prevailed, and we decided to take the later Super Fast bus. The next bus in line was RRC842 heading to Kottayam, departing at 1530. There were frequent Fast Passenger buses towards Palakkad. Reservation coupons were being issued at a counter.

The bus that brought me back to Thrissur... being prepared for departure from Coimbatore...

We got two of them, and got into the bus. Being a Friday, there was heavy rush for each bus departing from the bus station. A board inside the bus proclaimed that it would reach Thrissur at 1815 - just two hours and 45 minutes from Coimbatore. The bus did depart exactly on time from Coimbatore. But, what happened was a replay of my journey between the same pair of towns back in July 2003. Very heavy rain through the journey, taking much longer than the actual running time.

Just after departure from the bus station, I understood that the driver was on the route for the very first time. He was not sure of where to take a turn, and an off-duty driver traveling in the bus (interestingly, that was the very guy who drove my bus to Coimbatore) was his saviour guiding him through the journey. The bus was crowded by the time we left City limits. The journey was eventless till we crossed over into Kerala. Hardly 100 metres in the Kerala, the skies opened up and the rain lashed mercilessly on the road. Visibility was poor, and I could feel the driver's desperation.

On a rain-soaked KSRTC journey... Image is only representational; not from the journey being described...

To add to his agony, the wiper broke down about 70 minutes into the journey. The wiper blade just broke off the arm and flew away while it was working. The driver just switched off the wiper and continued driving, albeit at a slow speed. The rain still continued incessantly. We had a long halt at Palakkad to facilitate repairs. A guy came around and installed a new wiper arm. We left Palakkad well past 1740 - delayed by about an hour now.

The crowd inside the bus just increased, and so was the rain. The rain continued with even more vigour. Although the wiper was repaired, bad condition of the roads now added salt to the injury (of being delayed). The driver maintained speeds in the range of 65-70kmph through the run. Everything went normal till we reached the foothills of a small ghat section of the route - called Kuthiranmala. The approach to the ghat is around a curve. The road takes a right curve, then a left curve, then a bridge and finally a sharp right curve, which is on an up-gradient. The bridge is just wide enough to let two heavy vehicles cross each other (see this place on Google Maps, here).

Just as my bus finished crossing about 75% of the bridge, a huge multi-axle tractor-trailer hauling a vehicle carrying container (see here) decided it was time for him too to enter the bridge. The length of his vehicle meant he couldn't take a sharp turn. Traffic piled up behind my bus, making it impossible for the driver to reverse. The truck driver seemed very inexperienced - by the way he decided to enter the bridge irrespective of the traffic on the bridge. The entire circus ended up in wasting 15 minutes on the bridge. The end result was huge traffic pile ups on both sides of the bridge.

It got dark by now, and the continuing rain meant that the journey was getting boring by the second. The shutter can only be either completely opened or completely closed. There is no provision to keep it half open. As the seconds passed, I kept cursing the designers for making it a blind journey for all passengers. Although sliding glasses would not allow the kind of airy journeys that the current designs permit, they would at least allow passengers have a clear vision of what is happening outside.

After a long agonising journey, the bus slowly entered Thrissur town. We got down outside Sakthan Thampuran Nagar Bus Station - a municipal corporation run bus station, from where buses towards my hometown are operated. We reached Thrissur only at 1930 - an hour and 15 minutes past the scheduled arrival time! What followed was a nerve-wracking ordeal on a Priva bus, with the driver trying to compete on an F1 championship. We got down from the bus, even as the rain continued... Finally reached home a while past 2030, ending a truly rain-soaked journey.


Sriram said…
Dear Binai,
Whats the diff between Super Express and Super Fast ....
Previously KSRTC was having Fast Passanger What happened to that....
Binai K Sankar said…
The seats are slightly better in a Super Express compared to a Super Fast. The Express would take lesser stops than the Fast as well.

Fast Passenger Buses exist even today.