There’s a 45-second video circulating on YouTube. The camera follows two buses navigating a tricky hairpin bend. The video was shot somewhere in the ghats, east or west not clear, but one could tell immediately the buses are government-run ones.
A Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation bus and a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation one. The video has 13,882,073 views and 7,15k likes. The bond between bikers’ may be more visible, but it only takes a couple of minutes of Google search to establish the solidarity between the growing tribe of bus lovers – particularly those who have an affinity for public buses. From documenting scenic routes, bus timings and new technology of the buses to forming groups and travelling back and forth, the bus lovers’ have over the years strengthened their network.
”Some of us in our Facebook group, Team Aanavandi, found each other in Orkut. In 2011, we started the Facebook group. We have about 1.57 lakh members currently. As far as I know, in Kerala alone there are at least five major groups on Facebook. Each one might have 30,000-50,000 members,” says Anthony Varghese.
This Kochi-based IT professional says although he was fascinated by the buses as a child, the obsession for them started in 2005, when he joined college. ”This is when I started travelling a lot. I went around by bus, initially on my own, then found people to go with me. And soon we started an online platform for many more of us to connect,” says Varghese.
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Not only Facebook, but other social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest also have groups that pay ode to buses. Then there are blogs and video blogs on independent platforms that are regularly updated, again with followers in lakhs. In these groups, people discuss pretty much anything that is related to buses. Posts are sometimes frivolous – links to a photo story of abandoned buses around the world or even a drawing of a bus by someone’s son. But often they also get into serious discussions over topics like ‘are Kerala State Road Transport Corporation employees underpaid.’
In his blog, Platform 7, which was started in 2006, Binay Sankar documents his various trips by buses as well as trains – of late more of vlogging than blogging – and news pertaining to public transport from the region. What started as a personal journal of sorts grew into a treasure trove of information for the public. For instance, he rates the infrastructure of the buses that he takes, letting the readers know what to expect from the journey in every way – from behaviour of the crew, comfort of the seats and the driving to the condition of the road en route.
Sankar, who grew up in Coimbatore, also talks about his childhood fascination for buses. ”But it was in Mumbai that I fell completely in love with bus journeys. I used to travel by buses a lot in that phase. Later, I moved to Bangalore on work and I started going on solo trips – the destination did not matter, I only made sure the buses drove through hills and forests,” adds Sankar. Travel along scenic routes seems to be a big draw among the bus lovers’.
Josef Scaria’s YouTube page Yathra Visheshangal picks a picturesque route and uploads approximately 25-minute videos about the journey. The last video he posted was about three weeks ago. He had travelled from Pollachi to Valparai via Anaimalai hills. The video switches between beautiful scenery outside and the driver navigating those treacherous hairpin bends with ease, all along Scaria describes in Malayalam what he sees. Skilled drivers are yet another draw. ”These guys go up and down the route so many times that they know how exactly to take a curve and where exactly to cut. Of course, at times you do come across some overconfident drivers who cannot distinguish between thrilling and dangerous, but mostly they are impressive drivers,” says Sankar.
While bus lovers’ from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have online presence, the ones that are most active and with many members are in Kerala. For instance, Anji Telugu Vlogger’s channel on YouTube has only 12.2k followers, while Yathra Visheshangal has 171k followers. The absence of women’s voices is conspicuous. Women do come for group gatherings that are organised every now and then, insists Varghese. But, according to him, in a gathering of say 100 people, they may get five women participants.
”They do not usually go travelling with us, but I have come across solo women travellers at times in my journeys,” he adds. Of course, bus lovers too subscribe to ‘old is gold’ and devote considerable megabytes for discussing buses that were manufactured before 2001. Often, you come across references like RSA 16, RSE 197, referring to older bus models that have achieved a cult status among the aficionados. ”Ashok Leyland model, for instance, had a different sound and there are people in our group who often reminisce about them,” says Varghese.