In the last 5-7 years, Poona-Bombay travel has changed drastically. This can be attributed to two reasons – the Expressway and Volvo buses.
A decade ago, the most obvious choice of transport for someone wanting to travel from one of these cities to the other was by train. The Deccan Queen, in all probability. The only other viable option was one of the State Transport run buses (ST’s for short). However, these suffered from a multitude of problems, ranging from a terrible suspension to dirty seats, from windows that wouldn’t close properly (leaving you to contend with a chilly draught if you happened to be traveling on a cold night) to ones that closed but rattled so hard that your head hurt by the end of the journey.
Almost everyone preferred to travel by train – it was faster, more comfortable and even cheaper!
Then came along two things that changed that. First, the government built an Expressway between Poona and Bombay. This cut down on the time required to commute by road between the two cities and also improved the comfort factor.
And secondly, a spate of new buses, which were advertised to be ‘Volvo Buses’ arrived on the scene. (I presume this means that they’re manufactured by Volvo, unless it’s just a new, not-so-cool nickname.) These buses were larger than the normal buses (both in physical size and the size of the hole they cut in your pocket) and were air-conditioned. More significantly, they were new unlike the century old relics that one had to travel in previously.
Initially, all of these buses were run by private agencies. They would make several stops within the city itself to pick up passengers before hitting the Expressway. (The ST’s wouldn’t do this – they started from the bus station and headed out of the city immediately.) This was good news for most people as it meant almost everyone had a ‘Volvo stop’ within 10 minutes of their home. A similar system was followed in the destination city upon arrival. Hence most people could now also alight much closer to where they were staying than previously.
Add to this the fact that the new Volvos had a television screen on which they showed an ‘in-flight’ movie, and it’s easy to see why, for most people, the Volvo overtook the train as the standard means of transport.
However, everything was not as dandy as it seems. Not for me, at least. After having traveled by Volvo a couple of times, I soon realized that all the reasons I was paying extra to travel by Volvo were actually working against me! Incredible but true!
1) The New ‘Air Suspension’:
I didn’t like the new ‘air suspension’ because it had a slow, swaying effect. It made me feel like I was in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Within a few minutes, I would be as sick as a dog!
2) The Air-conditioning:
I didn’t like the fact that the bus was air-conditioned for the simple reason that it meant all the windows were shut tight. This in turn implied that I couldn’t get any fresh air on my face, and when coupled with point no. 1, it didn’t leave me in a very jolly state. It aggravated my queasiness to no end and I had the most torrid time of my life. The closed windows also left me few options about where to be sick, since these buses do not always provide you with vomiting bags.
3) The Pick-up Stops:
These are supposed to be a boon but they’re the biggest bane of all. I live not ten minutes from the bus station in Poona and would always catch the bus at the beginning itself. Also, I would alight at the last stop in Bombay. This meant I had to face at least an hour (sometimes two, if traffic was bad) of meandering in the city at both ends of my journey. This added a good 50% to the time I spent in traveling, and since my motion sickness was at its worst in city traffic I felt like killing myself. Additionally, I would often be staying at Colaba in Bombay – a short bus ride away from the last train station (Victoria Terminus), but a much farther distance from anywhere on the bus route.
4) The Movie:
The movie shown in a Volvo is invariably a low-grade, cheesy Hindi movie. The kind I absolutely detest. And the volume would, without exception, be loud enough for a deaf man to hear! The movie thus meant that I could never fall asleep as fast as I would have liked to. (When you’re queasy, you can never fall asleep too fast!) I don’t understand why they can’t provide for earphones if they want to screen a wretched Hindi film!
Thus even now, I still prefer traveling to Bombay via train, or if that’s not possible then by an ST bus. Give me the rattling ST with the wind in my face, any day! I don’t see why I would want to pay extra money to reach later and all green in the face.
I’m traveling to Bombay tomorrow morning and I’ll be damned if I step anywhere near a Volvo!
(For an interesting, adventure-filled Poona-Bombay experience – see here.)