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Royale ride down the ghats

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The rich geological history of the western ghats apart, the region boasts of some uncharted and pristine beaches. The Konkan belt of Maharashtra is a region which is a known secret for inhabitants of the state, but for rest of the domestic and inbound travellers the region is still unravelling itself. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) on its part has set up resorts in some of the best locations. The railways already has a relevant network of trains charting the region.

In December, 2012 MTDC in its effort to promote the Konkan region inaugurated Konkan Royale. Five luxury buses specially created by Volvo will run on the roads to different locations in the region. The 43-seater Konkan Royale luxury buses will ply to and from Mumbai/ Pune and Konkan. Chhagan Bhujbal, minister for tourism, Government of Maharashtra, said at the formal inauguration of the buses, “Maharashtra has a vast avenue of tourist destinations. The Konkan region holds prominence and attracts tourists from all parts of the country and world. The high-end Volvo service will add one more reason to visit Konkan.”

State-of-the-art in all aspects, the bus is not just equipped with a mini-pantry with a microwave, coffeemaker and a refrigerator but also a chemical toilet to make the journey as seamless as possible. Also on offer are wi-fi connectivity, two LCD televisions and a GPS tracking system. “The concept of Konkan Royale is fathered by MTDC to generate substantial tourism in the Konkan region. Whereby tourist can relish the entire 1300 km stretch of the serene Konkan in a state-of-the-art modern luxurious transportation and accommodation at affordable prices,” says a MTDC spokesperson. He further adds that five buses from Volvo have been purchased at around Rs 1.25 crore per bus.

These Volvo 9400XL buses have an equipped toilet with fresh-water flushing system. The design focuses on a long-term reliability, powerful flushing action and easy access for service purposes. The bus model was introduced in 2008, today it is Volvo’s bestselling product. It is also India’s first multi-axle bus with features like electronic suspension, electronic brakes, sophisticated multiplexing and a range of other safety and performance features. It also raised the engine power to 340HP. The Volvo 9400XL offers about 20 per cent extra occupancy/ revenue and at the same time provided better fuel efficiency per passenger kilometre. It is built at the manufacturing plant of Volvo Buses in Hoskote near Bengaluru.

The Konkan Royale route includes Harihareshwar, Murud-Janjira, LotaParshuram Temple, Baate Beach, Sindhudurgh, Malvan Tarkarli, Kudaleshwar and Sawantwadi. The route from Pune includes Kolhapur. However the buses are not plying commercially yet. The package will offer a 1300 km drive and stays at the luxury resorts of MTDC on the way. The inaugural tour that MTDC conducted provided glimpses into how the package format would work. The shorter tour took passengers from Mumbai to Ganpatiphule onto Vijaydurg and finally to Tarkarli. The second tour had the additions of Kunkeshwar temple, Amboli and Devbagh beach and backwaters.

The passage through the ghats is a novel experience, the view out of the bus windows reminds of things familiar but together with the terrain and local communities offers a refreshing newness. Even though the buses offer the best of luxury that an automobile with compact space can offer, pitstops are a must. A word of caution to the novice road traveller and those with motion sickness – the roads on the western ghats although are of quality, the snake like movement along it make it difficult even for the seasoned traveller to keep their insides from churning. The added advantage however are the priceless locations of the MTDC resorts. At Ganpatiphule, the resort is located on the beach with the famed Ganpatiphule temple right beside it. The resort has two styles of accommodation – huts and rooms. Similarly, the resort at Tarkarli is also on the beach and the resort also provides shack like structures to enjoy the view. The resort cottages or huts are designed on the local Malvan style with full modern amenities.

The tour is one which cannot be completed in a rush and MTDC plans to introduce five-day packages. These packages are not yet active since MTDC is looking for a private operator to take on the management and operations of these buses. They have invited proposals from well established and reputed transportation firms for operating and managing package tour services in the region through the Konkan Royale buses. The operator shall be responsible to market and manage the packaged tours, operate and maintain specified buses on specified routes working in tandem with MTDC in scheduling them. The operator will also be responsible for booking and ticketing the tours as well as assisting MTDC for logistics such as hotel arrangements, tourist facilitation at destinations, etc.

Operators who are to bid for the tender may be a firm, joint venture, consortium, partnership firm or company with minimum five years of experience in conducting luxury package tours in India. Special experience in Maharashtra would be preferred. They should have minimum five years of experience in operation and maintenance of luxury coaches with a minimum average annual turnover of Rs five crore in preceding three financial years ending March 31, 2012; they should also have minimum net worth of Rs 1.25 crore as on March 31, 2012. Involvement of a private operator would make this initiative an example of a PPP project.

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