The Shivneri Scania & my trip to Shirdi!

I had to go to Shirdi.

But I didn't have a ticket!

I briefly romanced the idea of taking a train - but then the timings wouldn't work. Then some private operators, but that didn't fit either. I fell back on MSRTC - browsed their website looking at options. Finally, I decided to keep the options open. The conference that I was attending was to go on till about 2pm. I had to factor in the traveling time from the venue, near Chinchwad, to Shivaji nagar bus station as well. With all these in mind, I decided to head to the bus station and then decide.

October 02, 2016:
It was a Sunday afternoon - but the traffic on the road was high for a weekend. There were some gridlocks along the way. My cab driver dropped me at Shivajinagar bus station by around 1540hrs. My bag was quite heavy and I was a bit confused about having a break journey or heading straight to Shirdi. Just as I entered the bus station, I saw a banner announcing a non-stop service to Shirdi. I thought of trying this - but the service was an ordinary class service. The timings they put up seemed too ambitious to be true.

I stood at the bus station fully confused about what I should do. There was one bus of Madhya Pradesh Parivahan heading to Indore, via Shirdi. I thought for a couple of minutes if I should try that. While waiting their confused about what to do, came in the Swedish Griffin! The blue coloured beast parked herself at a Platform at the corner of the bus station, with her LED boards screaming "Pune to Aurangabad". My brain went into a convulsion - the direct Shirdi bus(es) on one side and this one on the other. If I took the griffin, I'd have to change buses at Ahmednagar - not really something I'd want to do with heavy baggage. But then, I was surely inclined to try the griffin.
The bus - MH06-S-9194
Taking a decision was tough - but then, When the going gets tough, the tough get going..

I shut off my thoughts about the further journey, and just headed to the Shivneri ticket counter. Shivneri buses generally do not have conductors - one should either reserve, or buy a ticket from the ground staff. I got a ticket from the counter next to the platform - the ticket charge was Rs. 350, and it mentioned my seat number as #12. A copy of Hindusthan Times newspaper and a 300ml water bottle was handed out along with the ticket. I got into the bus and was quite excited to see I had a window seat. I had to push my bag into the overhead luggage rack. The engine was already running, and the AC was on.
The ticket issued at the counter. It has the bus number, departure time, seat number and fare.
The seating was good. The gangway was narrow, very narrow. The high window line felt a little claustrophobic - its a good place to rest your hand, though. We started at 1605 - 5 minutes behind schedule. It was a tough job to reverse out of the platform - the place was all chocked with buses all around. A couple of conductors (of other buses) helped the sole crew in this bus - with all their help, we moved out of the bay by around 1612hrs. It was 1616hrs by the time we exited the bus station. At the time of final sign off by the counter guy, we had 35 pax on board - 7 to Ahmednagar and the rest to Aurangabad. The driver meant business as he picked pace on city roads. Even though it was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly on the higher side.

I am not conversant with the roads of Pune - so no comments on what route he took. We passed Yerwada at 1634hrs - I am not sure if there is a pick-up point there - but he did stop near a bus stop and then picked pace. The TV wasn't switched on - so no entertainment was available on board. The power plug was switched off as well. While sitting bored, I saw a sticker on the seat next to me - about a wifi based entertainment system. I tried this out on my phone. It did not force me to install any app - just connect to their wifi network, use the system browser to open their website, and watch whatever content you feel like watching. There were lots of Marathi shows, and a few Hindi movies. I selected a movie that I hadn't seen before - It was probably the best onboard entertainment I've ever experienced.
The entertainment system..
I was hooked on to the movie that I was watching and did not really look out - it was dark already and was pouring for most of the distance as well. The driver was cautious, and kept speeds in the range of 75~80kmph all the time. The ride wasn't very comfortable - the suspension was on the tighter side, and braking was scary at times. I did not feel the effect of a retarder anytime - looked like the driver mostly used only the service brakes. Since I was in the front portion, can't really talk about noise insulation, or body roll. The engine appeared a little noisy to me. The AC was really powerful - I kept switching off the vents very often. The fittings weren't great - there was a lot of leakage in cooled air - I was getting cold air even after closing both the vents above my head.

The bus pulled in for a break at Smile Stone Motel, at Palwe, between Shirur and Ahmednagar, sometime around 1834hrs. I was quite hungry and just ran into the hotel to have some food. I was quite eager to have some  Pav Bhaji and just did that. I had my food real quick and then came back to the bus. It was drizzling then - but wanted to talk to the driver before I got in. Soon after he came, I enquired about ways to get to Shirdi - he said getting a bus from Swastik bus station (in Ahmednagar) was easy and I need not be worried about crowd since it was quite late for crowd already. I was a bit relieved on hearing this. We started from there around 1859hrs - rain thickened now. It was lashing on the bus, and I was worried seeing this.

The rain strengthened as we proceeded towards Ahmednagar. Since I was going to the place at night, I had to keep the GPS on to tell me the whereabouts. We pulled into the Swastik Bus Station, in Ahmednagar Maliwada at 1925hrs. It was still raining hard, and I was looking confused at the prospect of getting out of the bus into rain, with all the baggage. But thankfully, there was an extended shelter at the place the bus stopped - I could get into that without getting wet. I moved a little to the side, and saw a bus to Shirdi parked beside!

Remarks: The bus, MH-06-S-9491, of Shivajinagar Pune depot had clocked a little over 1.07 lakh kms on the clock. The bus was dirty on the outside - can't blame since its been raining quite heavily, and the bus had just arrived from Aurangabad amidst heavy showers. The interiors were fairly clean - there were no carpets inside - the ensured the gangway was dusty. The overall maintenance seemed very good - no scratches or dents on the body. The driver seemed well-versed with the operations of the bus - except that he did not seem to like using the Retarder. The ride was on the stiffer side, and the braking was a bit nervous. I loved every bit of the WiFi based entertainment system - I only wished the power plugs were switched on as well.

Blanket: No
Water: Yes (300ml bottle)
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: WiFi based entertainment available.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Multi departures (Frequency), easy availability, good driving
Cons: Fares pretty high, braking was a bit nervous

Will I take this service again? Lovely service. Prefer them if you are headed to Aurangabad.

The Tailpiece: The ride to Shirdi from Nagar!
Ahmednagar to Shirdi for Rs. 96. 
I rushed to that bus - which was actually ahead of my bus for quite some time. It had a "Pune -> Pachora" board - I asked the driver if they go to Shirdi. I took a seat when he replied affirmative. I was seated in the rear half of the bus, beyond the rear axle. We started from Ahmednagar around 1930hrs. The bus was MH-20-BL-3376, from Pachora depot. The ordinary buses of MSRTC have a rather lavish 2+2 seating, with wide seats and good leg room. We went inside the Maliwada central bus station for the customary entry (entry on the log sheet) and headed out in no time. The driver was fast from the word go. He never bothered potholes - just went over them. It was pouring cats and dogs outside - and none of the windows would close fully. So cold air mixed with water kept lashing inside. There were hardly any stops on the way - all the small towns/villages were bypassed. The only bus station we entered was Rahuri - at 2039hrs. Just a momentary halt - giving just enough time for the conductor to run out, get the log sheet entry done and return. The high speed run continued. My GPS recorded speeds in the range of 85kmph most of the time during the run. I was dropped at Shirdi by 2135hrs. It was a 2h05m ride for just over 90kms - the ticket cost me Rs. 96. It was this 2 hours ride I enjoyed a lot - the typical MSRTC styled driving.