It happens regularly, but foreigners would never notice.
For every overnight train trip, payoff and bribes happen with a flurry.
You see, the trains in India are always over booked and many times you won’t get the seat that you want or sometimes even what you paid for. In 3AC for example, the berths on one side of the train have six beds and six seats. If you are one of the unlucky people sitting on the other side with three seats and two beds, you are in trouble. Two people on the lower berths will not be sleeping tonight! That side of the train should have 3 and 3, but it only has 2 beds for three people.
This is where the switcheroo happens.
It all starts about two hours before lights out.
A frenzy of activity occurs as people try to pay off the car captain to get themselves a bed.
We never would have known about this, but one of the guys that was sitting with us was going through that exact situation. He shared what was going on with us.
Here is how it works.
Sometimes people don’t show up for their voyage and seats become available. The captain know exactly where those seats are
and exactly where everyone is supposed to be sitting.
Don’t think that you will ever get away with sneaking into another bed because there is a well paid queue waiting ahead of you.
The Captain knows who is getting on and off where and when and he knows how long a seat will be vacant.
The good news is, if you happen to be sitting in the non air conditioned SL Class, you can slip him a couple of hundred Rupees and chillax for few hours until the rightful seat owner arrives. If you are willing to pay enough, you could even get a bed for the night.
Who Can do the Switcheroo?
Can foreigners take part in this switcheroo?
It is doubtful. Our friend was having problems getting an upgrade simply because he didn’t speak the Captains dialect. Everyone in India speaks Hindi and most English, but they also speak the language of their separate regions. If you happen to come from the same region as the man in charge of the seats, you will receive preferential treatment.
Tension runs high
It can become heated at times. One guy got on the train late only to find out that his seat had already been so.
A good fifteen to twenty minutes of yelling went on and he eventually got his seat back.
More money was exchanged, some was given back and the line up started again.
People were standing beside the free seats that they wanted ready to pounce and claim their prize.
Our friend eventually got his reward. He was patient and friendly and he was willing to fork out another 250 ($5.80 Cdn) Rupees on top of his 1000 ($23 Cnd) Rs trip. He was lucky enough to be promoted to 2AC for a comfortable nights sleep in style.
It provided hours of entertainment.
So the next time you travel on India Rail, watch out for these exchanges and you will understand what is happening.
Keep a close eye though, it is very discreet. If someone blatantly offers money in public, he will be shot down faster than a cow being chased off of a beach in Goa.