Earlydays of busfanning...

During my childhood, buses and trains were my first love. My kindergarten school was close to a railway line - trains used to run close to my classroom. As I kid, I used to crawl out of the class to see trains going past. However, our family rarely traveled by train and almost all journeys to our hometown were by bus. My oldest memory of a bus is quite interesting - That was one Tata bus running on a city service in Coimbatore - I distinctly remember seeing the broken tail lamps as the bus ran away. I was fond of traveling sitting at the front seat - thankfully, my dad was always supporting of this craze and he would sit with me in the grueling heat.

Those days, there were just of a couple of government run TATA buses in our area - one them, I remember, had round headlamps, and two destination boards above its windshield. The driver would let the bus switch off every time they bring it to a halt (may be to avoid the irritating vibration from the engine). Those buses had conventional bulb lamps - dim lit. It got dark everytime the bus was crowded. The driver never used to let the bus idle - he just switches off the engine every time he had to stop.For some reason, I was a fan of TATA buses then - the Leylands were noisy, and they crawled out of bus stops. The then Cheran Transport Corporation (now Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (Coimbatore) Limited) had mostly Leyland buses running to the area we resided in.

A major private company in the area, Anamallais group, launched an innovative service in the area - their buses had lower floors. The buses were painted in a distinct blue-white colour. The buses were airy due to the ventilation hatch on the roof. All their buses were TATAs and they were operated on some very crowded routes. Those buses had a huge board on their roof at the front, which showed the route number - these boards were lit, and hence passengers could identify the bus from far. Buses of Anamallais were always well maintained - their drivers never switched off engines at bus stops.
This is how Anamallais buses looked like. The colour was different back then.

During our frequent travels to our hometown in Kerala, I always made it a point to aim at getting the front seat. In the olden days (1990s), Kerala SRTC buses had just one entry door at the back. The seating was in 2x3 layout (like today) - one could sit right next to the driver at the front - the seating was not as good as it is today, but still heaven for a bus-fan. My dad used to accompany me there. I always wanted it to rain when I traveled in a bus - the reason was simple: I loved watching the wipers in action. When the entire family traveled, we hardly took a KSRTC bus - we used to take private omni buses. Some time in the 1990s, KSRTC introduced 'town-to-town' buses on the Thrissur-Palakkad route. Majority of the buses in that route were TATAs - I used to love traveling by them.

One "frontseat" that I vividly remember is a travel from Ooty to Coimbatore - it was Bharathiar Transport Corporation bus (those days, the state operator in Nilgiris district was BTC - today, its amalgamated with TNSTC Coimbatore). BTC buses used to let males sit at the front, while CTC (Cheran) buses always had the front portion reserved for Ladies - I hated traveled in CTC buses due to this sole reason. Coming back to the BTC ride - the steering wheel of this bus was covered with green plastic wires. The driver was a young chap - he was very fast, but had very good control of the bus. I was enjoying each and every turn the ghat - he would struggle to turn the bus, then just leaves the steering to come back to its position. That was perhaps the last time I went to Ooty by road. (I went to Ooty again in December 2011 - after more than 13~14 years!). That is perhaps the only ride I can remember about a TN bus.

The private non-ac omni buses that I have traveled in were on Conti travels. They used to operate from Coimbatore to Alappuzha in the evenings. Almost all our bus journeys to my mother's home town were by Conti Travels' buses. Their buses used to painted distinctly in white, with a blue line running along its length. The buses did not look great - even at that time. They were just simple buses, with pushback seats. There used to be two drivers - both of them in white-and-white uniform. They had one Mahe registered bus and a few Kozhikode registered ones. They did not have TVs or any other source of entertainment - the bus would leave at 4 pm from Coimbatore and take a break at Vadakkanchery. They would reach Alappuzha around 9.30~10 in the night. They were the first operator to introduce an Air-suspension bus to Kerala. The buses were built by Azad. These buses had hydraulic pushback seats - they were easier to recline compared to the spring loaded ones.

We moved out of Coimbatore in 1999 - there ended long journeys by bus. Journeys to our hometown was still by road, always in our car. I hadn't traveled by train to our hometown until 2004 - which incidentally was also my first journey on Konkan Railway. After shifting to Mumbai (in 1994),  my journeys by bus was limited to city journeys. I fell in love with the BEST/NMMT design instantly - they were so comfortable for city journeys. The two doors meant ease of alighting/boarding even during peak hours. The buses were always Leylands. Sometime during this period, I started loving Leylands more than TATAs. The rare journeys in TATA buses (MSRTC used to run a few of them) were usually marred by those heavy vibrations and screeching noise from the brake. The Volvos came in 2002 - I remember a quarter page advertisement in a news paper about these buses making intercity travel very comfortable.
My first Volvo journey - I have fond memories of this bus.
I remember seeing them on the road for the first time sometime in 2002 end - that was a private bus, if my memory serves me correct. Volvo buses kept eluding me very often - I missed chances to travel by them on every occasion. Volvo buses attracted me every time I saw them. My chance to travel by them came in 2006 - and that was not a short journey. The journey was in a KSRTC Airavat from Bangalore to Mumbai!! That journey changed my opinion about bus journeys forever. Since my intercity travels by buses were very rare, most of my journeys were by train. Most of my Volvo journeys were by KSRTC Airavats. I shifted to Bangalore in 2008 and bus journeys got more frequent since then. The Volvo Multi-Axle buses came sometime in 2008 - those monsters were elusive to me. My first spotting of a Multi-axle bus was by chance - by spotting one of them rolling past me while I was waiting for bus to go to office!
My first Multi-Axle journey was in this bus - in 2009. (This is a recent photo)
The first journey by a Multi-axle bus was in 2009 - that was a Kallada bus. Since then, I've managed to do 24 journeys in Multi-axle buses and 25 in regular ones (Volvo B7R or two-axle Mercedes Benz). The Indian bus scene changed dramatically after the introduction of Volvo buses. Mercedes Benz buses came into the market with the promise of creating a storm - Sadly, they couldn't make their presence known to a greater extent. With the improvement of the National Highways, road journeys have just received a boost.

Bus tickets got replaced by Volvo Tickets and now people ask tickets for the "10-wheeled" bus (They refer to Multi-axle buses - which actually have only 8 wheels). Almost every operator is buying atleast a pair of these buses, and it has become a prerequisite for survival now.  Volvo buses reduced the journey time substantially on many routes, and have often given the railways a run for their money. The Bangalore-Mumbai route takes 24 hours by train, while a bus would do it in 18hours! Bangalore to Ernakulam takes atleast 12 hours by train, while the bus does it in less than 10 hours (this is set to reduce further as the 4-laning works of the National highways get completed). Buses entered newer routes like Ernakulam-Hyderabad (18 hours by bus compared to 26 by train!) and Trivandrum-Hyderabad (20 hours by bus compared to 30 by train!!).

Personally, my longest journey by bus till date is a 19.5hour journey from Ernakulam to Hyderabad. The second longest is 18hours from Bangalore to Mumbai in 2006! Frequent bus journeys brought my old love for buses back, and converted a once hard railfan to a busfan! Buses have evolved, so have busfans. From those innocent teenagers who mimicked the sound of those buses, collecting tickets and imitating drivers, the new ages busfans wield cameras and focus more on taking photographs, calling the buses with adjectives the earlier generations used for the fairer sex!

Where there is a road, there is a bus.. so are bus fans...


rejoy leen said…
wow...beautiful post!!one of the most interesting post till date.could relate to most of the stuff mentioned be it admiring the first volvo bus sighting or the first volvo b9r trip..good one Binai!
Unknown said…
A wonderful one Binai, the best one till now.
Unknown said…
Eloquenty written with a very keen eye for detail "Buses of Anamallais were always well maintained - their drivers never switched off engines at bus stops" .... you nailed it.