The trip was on..!!! For almost 7 years I have been waiting to get a chance to travel through the nilgiris during day time and now the wait is over.

Vishu holidays was the plan and the route plan was to cover Wayanad and Kozhikod on day 1 and Travel through the nilgiris on day 2. The main intension of the trip was to travel in the great service operated by Sulthan Bathery depot to Coimbatore which covers most of the parts of Nilgiris.

I started my journey on 12-04-2014. My target was to reach Kozhikod in Trivandrum-Kalpetta super fast. But I missed it by a few minutes. I reached KSRTC bus station Ernakulam just after that bus left. So I waited for Trivandrum-Mysore Express.
It was almost 12 midnight,I saw a Super Express bus entering the bus station. I was sure that it was the mysore express. There was a huge rush as it was weekend and holidays approaching. Had to wrestle through to get in to the bus.

The bus departed at 00.10 which is 55 minutes late, but I was sure that it will make up the lost time before it reaches Kozhikod. It was RNC 680, Super Express Air bus, TATA 12m. I got the seat behind the rear axle, seat no 37. The air suspension was working fine but the bus vibrated at high speeds and the bus was flying…!!!

At about 3.15 am, we overtook the Kalpetta SF and reached kozhikode at 4.30am. Now that’s just 4 hours 20 mins ride from Ernakulam to Kozhikode and we had a 20 minute break for crew change at Thrissur, which is a blasting performance…!!!
I waited at Kozhikod to get into a ‘good bus’ to Kalpetta and I had to wait till 5.30am… I got Kozhikode depot’s RSE 270 Which was operating a Town to Town Schedule to Mananthavady.The ‘Hot Seat’ #51 was vacant so I sat there with the intenison of some busfanning but I failed because of extreme sleepiness…!!!

I reached Kalpetta by 7.30am, Had a round of busfanning at Kalpetta town and bus stand but the initial plan was to visit Kalpetta depot and some busfanning at Sultan Bathery. But I changed plans and made a trip back to Kozhikode in RSK 120, Kalpetta depot’s Ernakulam service. The conductor was Mr Vijesh, my friend and my college classmate. He ‘Blocked’ the hot seat for me and we had a good chat on the way to Kozhikode.

Had a quick round of busfanning at Kozhikode and I returned back to Sultan Bathery in RNE 922 of Kozhikode. Next plan was to make a short trip to Muthanga but I was too tired so returned back to the room in Kalpetta.

The next day, 14-April 2014; Excitement level was high… The big trip… in the Sultan of Nilgiris…

I reached Sultan Bathery early by 7.20am so that I can have a session of busfanning at SBY in the morning… I had a peep into the garrage… There I saw him… RSK 645 getting ready to conquer the Nilgiris. I had booked seat no 1, the “hot seat” of a KSRTC bus which gives a clear view of the front, driver and the Instrument Panel. We left at 8am sharp, the driver seemed to be an absolute expert, an old guy who looked about 55 yrs old. The bus was fully loaded and had about 35 reserved passengers.

I was having a close look at the tachometer. The bus was having excellent throttle response as the RPM needle was touching the redline. The bus was well tuned to handle extreme uphill drive. The driver was controlling the bus too easily. Though the route from Sulthan Bathery to State border at Pattavayal is not too much steep, it had sharp curves. There was absolutely no possibilities for high speed driving as the roads where narrow.

Pattavayal is about 20 km from Sultan Bathery, and when we reached there, the bus filled up with standing passengers. Now the real ride begins… The roads became steeper, the turns became sharper and the atmosphere became cooler. If you want to have a ride or a drive in any vehicle, The Nilgiris is a the best place to be in South India.

Cool wind, the whistling sound of turbochargers and the smell of burning diesel… awsome combination…!!! I enjoyed the smooth cool climate of nilgiris. I always had a peep at the tacho meter and whenever there was a steep inclination, the needle was on the red line mark…. The 160bhp engine was showing its full agressiveness with full load of passengers. We reached Gudalur by 9.35am. There was a huge croud as the bus entered the bus station and the bus was now tightly packed with a total of at least 100 passengers.

I just kept clicking randomly by putting my hand out of the window, my camera captured random images of the beauty of Nilgiris and my bus continued to burn diesel… The temperature became cooler as we approached ooty. I checked my GPS for altitude and it showed figures of 1800-1900 meters above sea level. We havent reached Ooty yet…

It was around 10.30am, we reached Pykara and stopped for a tea break. I didn’t bother having tea or any snacks. My intension was to take snaps of the bus. I thought of giving a special name for this bus and the service and spontaneously a name came to my mind… “ The Sultan of Nilgiris”.

Yes… The Sultan of Nilgiris continued his royal ride towards Ooty. The altitude is now above 2000 meters from sea level. The conditions where overcast which made the atmosphere even more colder. It was about 11.40am. We reached Ooty bus station. A few people alighted at Ooty and quite a good number of passengers entered the bus.

We left Ooty Bus station immediately and moved towards Coonoor. The roads now where even more narrow and the traffic density was more. On the right hand side of the bus, I saw the steep cliff, I remembered the snap which I had taken somewhere around that location in 2007 when I made a trip then. I wanted to get down at that location and capture the snap of The Sultan of Nilgiris riding away majestically through the ghats. And I decided that I will make a trip, riding my bike through the Nilgiris exclusively for this purpose.

The Sultan reached Coonoor at 12.37. As the bus stopped in the bus bay I spotted something which is even more interesting… The Meter Gauge Train hauled by YDM loco. I clicked desperately to get the pictures of the train and the loco and I was lucky enough to get good snaps of them. We left Coonoor immediately and now its downhill ride. Steep roads with sharp curves, 14 hairpin turns, tight traffic. But the sultan did it with ease. Thanks to the excellent skills of the driver.

As we descended the Coonoor Ghats,atmosphere became drier and warmer. I noticed some kind of tree with Violet flowers all along the ghat roads and it was just awesome. Those trees just enhanced the beauty of the Nilgiris and I wished that if the bus stopped somewhere for a break so that I could take some snaps. I took a few snaps of those trees; though desperate I got a few good ones.
After some extreme ghat riding, now its time for straignt roads; time for some high speed driving. The roads where clean with minimum traffic. The driver just blasted in top gear at full possible speed. The bus was locked at 80km/h but the acceleration was tremendous. We stopped for lunch break near Mettupalayam, a vegetarian hotel, I don’t remember the name though. The food was typical tamil style and I enjoyed it a lot because I was too hungry…

After lunch, again the Nilgiri Sultan speeded up. It was time to break free. Mettupalayam-Coimbatore stretch was covered in just about 1 hour, I checked the speedo. It was not crossing 80. Suddenly I spotted a white Malabar bus. Yes. The great Mannarkkad-Mettupalayam LS, RRE 895, which coveres Anaikatty Ghats. I couldn’t take any snap of it.

We reached Coimbatore by 3pm. I had a long chat with the driver and the conductor. The driver, I forgot his name, was a veteran who had worked with various transportation and logistics companies and had excellent experience driving fully loaded trucks through all kinds of road condtions including the Himalayas…!!!. The conductor was a young guy, Mr Vipin from Sultan Bathery. We discussed about the service and the collection. Their opinion was that if KSRTC starts another Night service from Sultan Bathery to it will be super hit, as the present schedule is fully loaded every day.

Its time to escape from Coimbatore. My plan was to board a 12M FP bus from Ukkadam busstand but changed the plans when I got the HOT SEAT in RNE 938, Coimbatore-Kothamangalam LSFP. Next target was Palakkad, Then to EKM. On the way back, I met a busfan friend mr Ajeesh and had a busfanning journey from Kanjikod till Palakkad. After a round of photosession, I waited for a bus to Ernakulam but there was no buses to EKM during that time slot of approx 7-7.30pm. So I got into a TVM SF via Kottayam to Thrissur.

I waited few minutes at Thrissur and bang… I got a super rocket Super Fast. RSK 658, Sultan Bathery-Trivandrum SF. It was another speed moster and had heavy acceleration. I was really happy to get another bus of Sultan Bathery depot. Sultan Bathery is well known for their maintanance, especially the performance side. And awsome driving too..I noticed something interesting in RSK 658 that they had tied a miniature bird cage on the bell for weight balancing. The bus speeded up as and I reached Edapally by 11.30pm. After all heavy bus rides, I walked to my home happily….

Antony Varghese