Airavat: Bangalore to Mysore

Airavat

Part 1; Yes there is Part 2, I take joy in inflicting pain upon my readers.

Airavat is a special state bus with certain amenities like A/C and better seats, as opposed the State transportation Red bus. I saw an uniformed driver and conductor guiding me to get into their bus. I said, “I want to ride an Airavat“, the conductor who was loading the passengers baggage paused and showed me the sign Airavat written on the bus. The name was partially blocked because side luggage door panel was open. I gently smiled and said, “I want to ride that Airavat“, it was one behind this bus more posh looking and a picture of Baby stroller; which meant when you travel in that bus you felt like a baby in the cradle, “That has A/C“. To which he replied, “This has A/C too, get in we will leave soon“. It was his inviting smile and sense of responsibility to fill the bus to capacity, he need not do that, since this was a state run bus and he was a govt employee. This bus looked lot beaten up compared to that Baby Airavat, but I decided to go with these guys. At the wheels was the Mahout; taming this beast of the bus. Concerned about the state laws of ladies reserved seats, I asked him if I could sit right behind his seat. To which he said, “Sit anywhere you want sir, the whole bus is empty“. It was, I was their first passenger to board. Then I asked him gingerly, “When will this bus leave?“, it appeared that people were walking past this bus and going to Baby Airavat. Usually they would not move until the bus is to the capacity, literally there was no schedule. “Just now a bus took off, we will be moving in five minutes“. For me it was the seat I had got, a full POV road view seated right above the driver seat, sitting on an elephant where Mahout was at the helms.

The view all my ride
This is the Baby Airavat, which I wanted to ride

I had started my journey at 6AM from RamaMurthy Nagar, my brother’s house who had dropped me to Bayappanhalli Metro, the plan per my brother was, I get off at Majestic and get the Airavat to Mysore. As soon as I got off at Majestic, I was awaited for a rude awakening, no buses departed from Majestic to Mysore, all of that service had moved to Satellite. My bother had no idea about this and I don’t blame him, he always travelled by his personal car and never used the public transport. Majestic is an area where all modes of transportation are housed next to each other, The Southwestern Railway Station, The circular maze inter and intra-city bus stand; Kempegowda Bus Station and now the newly constructed Namma Metro. I just had to walk around a little and finally had managed to get into city red bus to Satellite.

Barely it had been 5 or 10 mins, they had decided to keep moving, although the Mahout said, “How many seats do we have?“, to which the conductor responded, “We have some 19 passengers.“, “let’s look for few more, we need to cover the diesel price at least.“, another family got on and we were off the stand. The time was 8AM, I had spent 2 hours of my time to get to the Mysore bus with all that Metro-city bus switch and ride.

Majestic bus stand

I am not a big fan of breakfast on a regular day other than a cup of tea, but I do look forward to IWS (Idli Wada Sambar) on my Indian road trip, it is my BLT to an American. While conductor gave me the ticket, I had asked him when would they stop for breakfast, very soon came the answer.

I call this driver Mahout with huge respect, it is impossible to maneuver the bus through these streets packed with all kind of vehicles cutting ahead of the bus, needless to say even the pedestrians are crossing the streets, he was stopping the bus within inches of other vehicles. The duo was courteous to all the passengers who boarded in the middle of the road, including help them load the luggage in the compartment. It was a bright sunny day, could be hot outside but I felt pleasant inside the bus. Wonderful restaurants passed by where the private buses were parked, the time was nearing 9AM and the driver was in no rush to halt. I figured, they had a designated restaurant where they stopped. They did and it was next town the ChannaPatna bus stand; the city of toys. The time was 10AM and my stomach was growling, had my IWS with double chai. Complimented the Mahout for his driving skills, to which he had humbly said, “Well, we have to manage in this crazy traffic“. Sadly the roads from Bangalore to Mysore are completely under construction for the 6 lane highway. Currently the buses and other vehicles get by the old roads and some time getting on the partially built highway. What bothered me the most was the trucks with any disregard, overload blocked the road without giving way for the bus to pass thru. Technically that should be considered as illegal to block a commuter bus. In western states the bus has the highest priority second only to ambulance, the simple reason for this privilege is, a bus transports at least 50 people which other wise would have been 50 cars on the road.

From ChannaPatna the conductor took the wheels, otherwise called Mahout 2. The ride from here on was fairly smooth although these are still the service lanes to be, once the highway is complete, which would reduce our commute time drastically. Thoroughly enjoyed the ride, thanked the duo handsomely and asked for the bus to KR Nagar my final destination bus ride. To which they gave me the platform number, grabbed my belongings and got off. Alas! I had an electronic reader/writer reMarkable, which I had used to jot down my thoughts about this very blog and left it on the seat next to me, which was camouflaged in gray seat with a gray sleeve!

Part 2

Once you loose an electronic item in a public setting, it is next to impossible to recover it, I was extremely disappointed as I realized it when the KR bus was on the move. I brushed it off completely assuming this was the collateral damage for my fun filled trip, had no mood to spoil rest of the vacation with my family. Reached KR, spent time with my other brother and family then came back to Mysore to visit his new house, met my old friend Manoj settled in Mysore from New Jersey, never mentioned anybody about the reMarkable. I really wanted to put that behind. On the way back to Bangalore, I narrated about the Mysore bus chaos starting point and road conditions, to which my SIL (sister-in-law) suggested that I always ride the trains, the best mass transit system. She helped me book a sleeper in the afternoon to Bangalore and had a pleasant ride back.

Now that the trip was over and the thought of reMarkable re-lingered, felt helpless and the loss wasn’t the money, but the notes I had gathered on it over a period of time. There are few people like my brother in Hubli and my BIL(brother-in-law) in Bangalore, you tell them about your worries and they see that they find the solution to it. I felt too embarrassed to mention him about this loss, had I lost the Passport it would have been a different matter. I knew if I mentioned him he would drop everything and get behind this, so just slept thru the night. Next morning I had plans to meet my other New Jersey friends settled in Bangalore.

My ride next to Red bus

Next day ate my brunch; technically I was full and ready to take on the hot summer day without the worry of lunch. Instead of going towards Marathahalli; friends residence, I decided to take a solo trip to Satellite opposite direction, with a last ditch effort to contact the Airavat office and ask about the bus I had taken two days back with the license plates; I had captured it as my blog thought, my Airavat! Got of the auto a decently charged fare, not happens all the time with autos in Bangalore, every one was in distress about the gas prices that has shot up in past six months from Rs 50 to Rs 80 plus. There was another Airavt ready to leave and I enquired where was the office, got a suggestion that a I take next bend, I will see the office. I rushed to the bend and more Airavats were lined up and to my amazement I saw my Mahout standing and guiding a bus. I ran to him and said, “Sir, you recognize me?“, him little perplexed by my sudden interruption, then I pulled my mask down to show my full face. “Ah! you are the one that travelled to Mysore the other day“,
Yes, I had a left a reader on the seat“, jumping to my main concern
Yes you did, I sent the conductor, to find you at the KR Nagar platform, we could not spot you“, I had gone to platform 5 which housed KR buses somebody else suggested me that I take Hassan bus which went en-route to KR and reached faster, hence the conductor could not spot me. “My conductor has kept it safe with him, give me your number to contact, he is currently on the move but he will contact you as soon as he reaches Bangalore or wherever you will be“.
Sir, tonight I am travelling to Hubli.
No worries we will arrange to ship it to Hubli thru another driver, let’s keep in touch and note my number as Balu“, thus the Mahout I adored came to be known is Balu, “Here, this number of the conductor, save it as Ismail“, my Mahout 2 was Ismail.

Thrilled and thanking Balu, I took off for my main event of the day, met with my friends, enjoyed Sanjeev’s handmade Irish Kulfi. Later that night, I took the Channamma Express to Hubli. Next day contacted Ismail, about his schedule, to which he indicated that he was in Trivandrum and would be back to Bangalore on Saturday the earliest. Thursday I was flying out of Mumbai to New Jersey.
Finally, I reached out to my BIL who was shocked to hear and readily agreed to do the needful. I exchanged the numbers of BIL and Ismail, they got in touch on Saturday and brought the reMarkable home.

New York Five Boro Bike Tour

Abstract
I was inspired by this idea that we could bike entire New York, while the cars were taken off the street, it’s a forty mile ride spanning all five boroughs of the city and ascend few iconic bridges to reach the final destination. I added additional spice to this event by choosing to get the event by riding my bike from home taking mass transit to get there and back.

Jump to:
History
The journey begins…
Destination Downtown
New York Penn Station
The kick off
Knowledge is Power
Fly overs
Verrazano’s bridge
The finish line
The Ferry
West Side Hwy
Thanks

The official FIVE BORO BIKE TOUR map

History
Back in 1977 some 250 NYC bike enthusiasts held a 50 mile bike challenge to promote cycling in the city. Then with minimal security and within the NYC traffic they had completed the event successfully. Next year the then NYC Mayor Ed Koch officially changed the name of the event to FIVE BORO BIKE TOUR instead of challenge to attract more bikers to participate in the event, ever since it has been a popular NYC event, with the capacity as high as 25 to 30 thousand participants.

The journey begins…
Well below is the picture taken at 5am on a Sunday morning. Most Sundays I spend my mornings in bed while my wife goes to jog. I had signed up for New York Five Borough Bike Tour. My luck had it that it got cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19, hence rescheduled in May 2021. As things did not improve it got postponed to Aug 22nd. Then came the Hurricane Henri it got postponed to Aug 29th, finally the day had arrived, I had to get off my bed.

Sleep biking to train station

Destination Downtown
Most people would have written about the event experience itself, but I wanted to capture the whole stretch as to how I got to New York and back. Like the picture shows at 5am it was air/brake and water bottle check. I actually started to ride my bike at 5.30am to Princeton Jn station. The plan was to take scheduled 6.02am to Newark Penn and then board on to Path to downtown. Wanted to reach train station in time giving about 20 minutes to reach there but had reached in 10, was I pumped or what. So after a long wait the train arrived. The doors opened and there is a special section for bike storage in the train, to my amazement there were already two bikes stashed, bikers from Hamilton or Trenton headed to NYC Bike Tour. After Hellos I settled next to them. While we struck with conversations, time had passed by one of them asked what station is this, I looked up it was Newark Penn and train had started to move. Surprised as I asked them aren’t you getting off hear and taking path? to which the lead among them, now I know he is Israel, said, no we are going to New York Penn and from there will bike down the venue. Train had left the platform and now I was following them throwing my original plans out the window.
Conductor passed by looked up at us as one of us was supposed to get off at Newark Penn. I raised my hand and said “that’s me and I want to bump my ticket“, pulling the cash out. Conductor has his way giving a pass to their patrons once in a while today was that day, he goes, “why don’t you download the NJ Transit app and purchase the ticket their and show it to me, I will be back” and he took off. This generally means that he will never come back and he wants to give me a pass. I know this since I am regular commuter. As expected NY Penn came and we all got off.

New York Penn Station
Israel set out to look for the elevator and there were ten other people with their huge luggage waiting, the elevator looked small it would not fit three bikes and besides our turn would come after two shifts at least. I suggested lets ride escalator, which is what we did. Now we were in the main lobby of the station we had to take another escalator to get to the streets, riding an escalator with bike was easy, the tricky part was opening the heavy double doors with one hand while holding the bike with another. Last escalator, Israel had done and held the door for us, now it was my turn, with a struggle held the doors open and let the second biker out, by then Israel was on the street laughing at us. There was another set of double doors next to mine that was ajar all the while. Fun had begun, ice was broken.
It’s been more than two years now that I am not a regular at New York, due to Covid-19 reasons, the beautiful change I noticed was their is a designated bike lane on either side of the road marked with green patch in all of Manhattan, I am like wow, New York City is getting Europenised; if that’s a word. So it was a breeze biking down the roads to downtown, soon we saw a bunch of bikers settled in huddle.

My bike tour buddies

The kick off
From the selfie below you can see the other two have Yellow number tags; they had signed up for yellow wave which would start at 8.30am and I had signed up for Orange wave which was scheduled to start at 9.20 which was basically a last wave after another which was Green. The Blue wave had started at 7.30am. We had reached the venue at around 8am. Israel suggested I hope on Yellow wave and I did not hesitate and we were off at 8.30am biking down the roads along with bunch of other bikers with no cars on the road, zipping by the red lights.
Like the event says, this biking spans all the five boroughs of NYC, starting from Manhattan downtown, barely touching Bronx, cross the river land in Bronx and then take the next bridge and back in Manhattan. I wonder why, Bronx is the most notorious of all the five boroughs, although it is home of Yankees Stadium. My guess is next route would have been on National Highways, which the city authorities had no rights to block them. Then we crossed the Queensboro bridge also known as Ed Koch bridge to land in Queens. This was the first big bridge with steep elevation, people took a break to take pictures on the iconic bridge. Soon after we were forced to walk the bike in the rest area. Johnny’s lined up on one side and volunteers serving banana and water to the bikers on the other. Grabbed a banana and few snacks, relaxed on the side and we were back on the bike.

Knowledge is power
I learnt this the hard way, while we began biking there was huge bottleneck hence we chatted while we rode, Israel asked “What is the pressure on my tires“, to which I said, “To make my riding easy I have pushed it to 20 or 22“, to which the other guy said, “What! mine is 100, 22 is way less, this will slow you down“, he rode a classic Schwinn, where he had received several compliments. “At next rest area you should check your tire pressure rating and put to the max” recommended Israel. The next break came after the Queensboro bridge. I had always put 18 to 20 on my bike comparing it to cars 33 to 36 PSI. My tire read 68 to 86, so I pumped it to 80 and then the life was smoother.

Fly overs
We ride through huge bridges that is given but we also constantly bike over the fly overs pushing our limit of exhaustion up the hill and then a free ride down the hill. As easy as it sounds and rewarding riding down the hill, it can be really be painful on your rear if you don’t stand on the bike pedals.
This reminds me of one thing, it is good to have a very good bike, I could see few of the riders breezing thru me with easy pedaling, they were probably very good bikes, but if I have to say one thing, if you can buy and $1000 bike then invest $500 on the bike and rest on bike seat, trust me your bum will thank you. After Manhattan, Brooklyn is the most beautiful borough, we drove thru some chic streets. Sad as it may sound we did not ride on the most iconic bridge of all the Brooklyn Bridge.

In this picture you get to see sea of bikes as opposed to cars on FDR drive, this is akin to Tom Cruise running in the middle of Times Square in Vanilla Sky.

Verrazano’s bridge
I guess Verrazano’s bridge is on the highest elevation in NYC, correct me if I am wrong, but on this bike tour it was. Also the winding road that leads to the bridge is quite a ride, a familiar car rider would know that. Hence this was the last climb up the hill of our 40 mile tour, with that excitement I pushed on and reached the peak of the Verrazano’s. I dismounted my bike to take pictures, from this peak I could see Russia but that’s me. From hear on it was down hill to the destination. Mind you there are few more flyovers and by definition there will be ups and downs.
While I was taking pictures and recording, I saw a commotion next to me. There was a man lying on the road and someone else pumping his chest. The man lay still and people took turns resuscitating him, I stood afar from the crowd knowing that I had nothing to contribute while the pro riders were at work. Most of the bikers had stopped at distance and prayed for his recovery. Suddenly cheers erupted from the crowd yelled spread out and give him some air. That is when I thanked god and mounted my bike to ride, as soon as I peddled two steps, I heard the OHHH in the background, turned and looked to see that the man was back to square one, others thumping his chest again.
Crowd was building up so I took off, paramedics and FDNY vehicles drove head on to us to pick up the man in distress. The man had made the peak, if only he had taken a little breather in between.

The finish line
As for me cool breeze was slapping my face while I zipped by the down hill, by crossing the bridge I had landed in the fifth and final Borough Staten Island, somewhere it was posted 35 mile mark, I gave sigh of relief, but then the flyover came, now you have to pump again, I had to make a decision which cheek do I like more and whom do I punish. I repeat invest in the seat comfort, don’t make the mistake I did. Down the flyover and huge right bend, not having to pedal and then I see someone standing on the mega phone shouting, “Congratulations you have done it“, I was like, did I?, 40 is done, it’s over, should I drop the bike and kiss the floor? The next megaphone lady shouted dismount your bikes and walk it to the Bike Festival arena. And just like that my Five Borough Bike Tour had come to an end.


After freshening up and some water headed to beer stall to get some beer with my train buddies, who had finally arrived looks like they decided to hang out more during the tour unlike me just riding it down. The choice was IPA or Fat Tire, fittingly I chose Fat Tire having ridden lean tire for a while now.

Enjoying Fat Tire after the biking!

The Ferry
My friends chose to hang out there so I headed to the Staten Island Ferry that would take me to Downtown. Walk the bend led to the ferry, upon arrival the line was not huge, assumed everybody was still hanging out and having fun. The lady ahead of me was puzzled “Do we have to pay for this ferry?“, she was expecting it to be part of the whole tour package to land us back to the place we started from. I mumbled “Welcome to American capitalism madam!“, Immediately the lady attending the ferry pointed further saying that “You can board that ferry, that is free ride arranged by Bike Tour“. That led us to another ferry where more than 200 cyclists waited for the next ride. Thought this is going to be a long wait, to my amazement the next ferry hosted all the 200 and more, I had got the front seat(standing) overlooking the view to World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge in a single frame. It was a cloudy day, hence the gray pastel, great for biking but not for landscape pictures. You can’t have the cake and eat it too.
Hoped off the ferry, it is amazing to watch how quickly they dock it, no wonder it is a everyday busy commuter ferry for SI residents, I had heard about this ferry as NJ residents could drive up to SI and park there cars to ride this ferry to reach Downtown for everyday work. NJ Transit trains who bag awards year after year are the worst transit system to NYC.

Walking into this huge ferry, it almost looks like a cruise liner
Statue of Liberty on left, WTC in the middle and zoom in to right to see Brooklyn Bridge

West Side Hwy
Now starts my personal bike ride to reach NY Penn Station. Had known from past that there was a bike path along the Westside Hwy, which I used to cross over to the park during lunch from CITI overlooking Hudson river. Bikers gave a hard ring while we crossed their path. It was an amazing ride fully divided with two way bike path, following the bike rules, the rookie NYC riders who had come for bike tour rode on the other side of the path and got yelled by the opposite side, “Stay in your lane“. Through and through the bike lane is established along the length of Manhattan, I had to get off at 34th street while I looked at my old work building. Had no mood to ride on 34th street since it was another up hill and buses shared the bike lane for offloading passengers, hence walked the bike for most of the path until I reached Penn Station. My next train to Trenton was scheduled for 3.52pm which was more than 45 mins wait, trains run every hour on a weekend schedule. Was hoping and praying that the track assigned to our train would be 10 or higher number which usually have escalators, which is what we usually get on weekday schedules. To my hard luck finally 10 mins before departure they posted track 1, you need to walk down the steps with bike, uggh!
This was going to be an hour commute to Princeton Jn, now I had to carry the bike thru underpass one last time and ride it home. I said my self “last mile” while I took a bend to my home.

Thanks
Last but not least thanks to mother nature our Bike Tour was peacefully sandwiched between Henri and Ida, and special thanks to you for making it to the end, I feel your pain 🙂

It is very common in European countries that all the major cities have adopted to pollution free commuting, like riding bicycles around the city.