In a tête-à-tête, Malachy Nugent, Vice President, Financial Services, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, reveals the joy of discovering Indian street food and offbeat local experiences. By Sush Clays
Is there an Indian holiday that strikes a chord with you?
Holi has to be my favourite Indian holiday. It is unlike anything we have in the United States—an exuberant celebration with colours, drumming, and groups of friends coming together with unbridled joy. We have celebrated Holi at home with family, in our local community, and at a luxury resort, and each time was a different experience.
Cultures around the world always seem to have some similarities with one’s own. What about India do you think is closest to the United States?
I was struck by the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit that pervades Indian society. Coming from a relatively younger country like the US, I half-expected a culture that stretches back millennia to have slowed down a bit by now, but Indian society embraces the future with as much gusto as it honours its storied past.
What about the country surprised you, and what are your tips for travellers who are visiting India for the first time?
I was surprised to discover how easy it is to get around the country, even in the remote areas. Air travel is convenient and inexpensive, and local transport is plentiful with services like Uber and Ola. Make sure to get a local data plan and install a couple of key apps like WhatsApp, Uber, Yatra, and Paytm.
Which is your favourite Indian dish?
I fell in love with the street food in Mumbai, especially pav bhaji, pani puri, and chaat. Indian food is renowned for its spice combinations, so almost every dish is a unique experience, be it grilled meats and curries from a high-end restaurant in Delhi or a paneer kathi roll from a street vendor in Kolkata, both of which can be topped off with mango lassi or kulfi.
Any luxury experience in India that stands out for you?
We spent a week at the Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur. Situated in the middle of the city, the renovated palace was an oasis and refuge after a day of exploring the city and attending scintillating panel discussions at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
What has been your most precious purchase in the country?
My family bought me a carved marble chess set for my birthday last year that I absolutely love. It is not the sort of thing a traveller takes home in a suitcase, but it is easy enough to ship large items from India.
All of us discover secrets when we explore a destination. What were yours?
When we travelled around India, we always made an effort to go off the beaten track. Whether on the coasts of Goa and Kerala, in the deserts of Rajasthan, or in the mountains of northern India, we always tried to spend some of our vacation time away from the regular tourist sites to have a more local experience.
What are some of your favourite books to read when holidaying in India?
Salman Rushdie is one of my favourite authors, so trips to India often inspire me to reread one of his classics, like Midnight’s Children. I also like Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns and The Last Mughal. Slightly more obscure, but equally gratifying, are the works of Easterine Kire, who chronicles her life in the state of Nagaland in Northeast India. Kire is the first Naga author to have her work translated into English, and spoke this year at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Any hotel in India that has been special to you?
The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai became our regular stay option in the city. Overlooking the Arabian Sea and The Gateway of India, this hotel is a must-visit. Enjoying an aperitif with my wife, Dana, in the hotel, before heading out to the city is one of my favourite memories.
Any local experiences that you’d like to recommend?
In Delhi, take a break from classical Indian art and architecture to spend an hour or two at the National Gallery of Modern Art, located near India Gate. It has a fantastic collection of modern and contemporary Indian paintings, crafts, and sculptures.
The writer is the founding partner of Welcome Home Luxury Real Estate Services in New Delhi. Her clients include top multinationals, airlines, and embassies in India.