The story of private buses in Kodagu

Kodagu Connect Exclusive

Aadhi Kaveri, Igguthappa Travels, Subrahmanya, Gafoor Travels, Gowhar Travels, Panchakshari… rings a bell? Well, these are the names of private buses in Kodagu of the yesteryears. All these are part of nostalgia now.

Over the last few decades, many of the iconic buses have ceased operations while some of them have changed their names and in some cases the routes have been cancelled.

In the 1980s, residents of Kodagu would know the time of day by looking at the names of these buses at a particular location. The iconic Subrahmanya Travels shuttling between Virajpet and Madikeri was a bus etched in the memory of senior citizens. Even now, they have fond stories to tell about the driver, conductor and cleaner of that particular bus which was operational till 1990.

The history of private bus operators in Kodagu dates back to the pre-independence era. Bolandanda Kalappa was the first person to buy a bus in Kodagu. He was followed by Muruvanda Bojappa, Natolanda Achappa, Hosuru Joyappa and Ammanakuttanda Ganapathy.

Sri Rajarajeshwari bus.

In 1950, Muruvanda Bojappa took the risk of providing a bus service to far-flung areas in south Kodagu like Birunani, Teralu, Pookola and Beeruga when there were no proper road connectivity in place.

Chevrolet, Study Back, Bedford, Fargo, Benz were the bus brands of those times and a bus used to cost Rs 14,000.  All the buses had front engines and were petrol-only.

Even buses of 1990s like Shweta, West Ghat, Roshan Travels, Prabha, Nethravathy are  part of history. Auto Service, a bus connecting Madikeri and Kanhangad (Kerala)  via Murnad, Napoklu, Bhagamandala and Karike, is etched in the memories of commuters.

Shiva Prakash buses during Ayudha Pooja.

Many decades back, private buses were the only mode of transport for residents of Kodagu. Cars and jeeps were then owned by the affluent class only. In those days, each and every bus in all routes were packed with commuters. It was not unusual to see cleaners often hanging in the footboards of the buses with doors half-open.

1990s was the golden era of private buses in Kodagu with almost 250 buses in operations across the district. There were a lot of competition among buses on various routes. For a few years, the government allowed contract carriage system which allowed private bus operators in Kodagu to introduce their buses along Mysuru and Mangaluru via Madikeri. The system was stopped after a while.

Private buses at Gonikoppal bus stand.

In 2018, there are around 160 private buses in Kodagu. The number is decreasing rapidly with most residents using their own cars, jeeps and bikes for their travel requirements. Except for peak hours in the morning and evening, most buses have no takers throughout the day. Some of the bus operators are not recovering operating costs too.

Prahlad Shivaprakash, the proprietor of Shivaprakash Motors says once upon a time he owned 10 buses. Thanks to increased operating costs, poorly maintained  roads, hike in tax rates, he sold all the buses except for one. Other reason for the decline of private buses is the stiff challenge from KSRTC buses in all the major routes within Kodagu.

Sri Laxmi Narasimha bus.

With no solution in sight, some of the bus owners have quit the transport business by selling their entire fleet. Some of them are trying to cut costs by not providing service on Sundays because they wouldn’t find takers on a holiday.

All said and done, some of the buses are still doing well in key routes. Coorg Union, now called Shama, connects Madikeri and Kutta via Bettageri, Napoklu, Kakkabe, Virajpet, Gonikoppal, Hudikeri and Srimangala. Ashoka is another such bus which connects Thithimathi and Kodlipet via Gonikoppal, Virajpet, Madikeri, Madapura, Somwarpet and Shanivarasanthe.

The existing bus operators claim they are running the show not because of huge profits, but they are here for the sheer passion of serving people.

Tickets-tickets… voldein-voldein… raiyya-raiyya… the show goes on.

Text and photos: Hareesh K G, Source – Kodagu Connect.