Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Taste of Travel: Cooked in the Parking Lot

With a little over an hour to kill in New Delhi, India, we couldn't go see the Red Fort, shop in one of the emporiums or see much of anything. Instead, Feroz Baktoo, who had secured transportation for Deon and me to Jaipur, invited us to eat lunch with him and his staff above his small office.

We jumped at the chance to eat with the five men. A 21-year-old worker we'd befriended and had introduced himself as Mr. Arshad led us up a narrow staircase in the office to the second story, where a blanket was spread over most of the floor. Following Arshad's lead, we took our shoes off and sat cross-legged (dare I say Indian Style?) in a small circle with the others, to whom we were introduced.

Feroz showed up a few seconds later with several stainless steel containers of food his wife had cooked for him earlier that day. He disappeared again and returned with a cardboard box full of chicken fresh-cooked over a fire in the parking lot. The other fare consisted of rice, potatoes and more chicken.

Arshad sitting down for lunch:

Small pie tins and paper plates were passed around, and we all served ourselves with our hands. Since these were Muslims, we weren't constrained from using our left hands to eat, which most Indians consider the "dirty" hand. This was good news for Deon, who was finally able to eat with his dominant hand.

The food was excellent and filling, and we were able to discuss all sorts of things with our hosts. Even though we were almost as far as we could get, geographically, from home, we found that talking to them was not much different than talking to anyone else in America. The fact that they were Muslim Indians and we were Christian Americans never even came up. Feroz told us about his business, and we offered tips on how he could attract more Americans. Deon and I answered his questions about Hawaii and convinced him that he needs to go there sometime.

There were some cultural differences, chief among which was the way our respective societies treat women. Deon and I tried to explain the concept of a double standard, but our arguments fell on deaf ears. Though India is scraping its way into modernity, there are still long strides to be taken in both human and women's rights.

When we got into the car to head to Jaipur, Arshad passed us his business card and said that if we ever traveled to Kashmir, his home, we were to come stay with him. This was indicative of the hospitality we found throughout the subcontinent, from metropolitan Mumbai to sleepy Old Goa.


Ron said...

Read your blog about Feroz Baktoo in New Delhi. His company is one of three companies I am in contact with in planning a trip to Rajasthan. Other than arranging the car for you, did he make any other tour-type arrangements for you? In other words, would you recommend him for setting up our entire 3-week tour? Would appreciate your comments.
Ron, San Francisco

Brandon Darnell said...

Hi Ron,

Feroz set us up with two flights (one on Spice Jet and the other on Kingfisher), hotels in Jaipur and Ranthambore, and transportation each way.

It's possible that trains might have been faster at some points, but I wasn't all that worried, as it fit our timeline.

I would recommend him for a three-week tour. You could probably do it a little cheaper on your own if you know what you're looking for, but India is a place that is quick to charge extra to foreigners.

In Mumbai, my friend and I sort of conned an Avis rep into finding a hotel for us, and he got it and a shuttle to the airport for $70. Two Mexican professors we met at the hotel had the exact same thing we did, and it cost them $110, so I don't think it's the same as paying a travel agent here and losing money vs. doing it yourself.

If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me from my profile.

Have a good trip!

Ron said...


Thanks for getting back to me. Now I feel more comfortable using Feroz for our trip. This will be our first trip to India, so that's why we're arranging a private tour rather than going on our own. Thanks again.