Image courtesy: Harsha K R.
Glass blown vases from Venice, grass skirts from Hawaii, chocolates from Switzerland, Matryoshka dolls from Russia, Aborigine boomerangs from Australia, ‘I (heart) NY’ t-shirts from New York … the list goes on. For most avid globetrotters, collecting souvenirs is as much an integral part of their trip as sightseeing and travelling.
Chennai is far from being non-existent on the tourist map. Even as early as the year 2007, about 650,000 people visited the city to see the sights and soak in the culture. What is it that they take back from namma Chennai that is characteristic of our spirit and tradition? Though some of these do not come from the strict confines of the city, they have been, by and large, adopted as Chennai’s identity. Depending on how fat your wallet is, here are a few ideas.
Chennai has a lot to offer to tourists in the name of experiences and memories. Yet, souvenirs don’t seem to have caught on too much. But Chennai’s spirit and culture cannot be captured in any single object.
1. Kancheepuram Saris
A classic example of a traditionally non-Chennai souvenir, the Kancheepuram saris are everywhere today. All over the world, Kanchi saris are symbols of grace, elegance, detail and design. With over 5,000 families practising weaving as their livelihood in this city, there are thousands of saris that are produced every year.
- In Chennai, T.Nagar is awash with stores boasting of various hues and shades, with border and without, double colours and just single tones. Today, saris are known as traditional Indian wear all over the world and Kanchi saris are the best that money can buy.
By far the most economical of all souvenirs to take back, this is probably also the most popular one. If you are armed with a camera and the thirst to keep clicking away, you can be sure of going back with dozens of unique souvenirs, pictures that not one other soul in the world can claim to have.
- Starting from the temples of the city and their vivid colours which are representative of the celebratory attitude of the city to the cut-outs of movie stars on the Marina telling you about our obsession for Kollywood, you can put together your very own souvenir and take it home with you!
3. I Love Chennai:
Across the city, whether it be in fancy boutiques or just Pondy Bazaar roadsides, you are likely to stumble upon various small takeaways — keychains, t-shirts, mugs — that proclaim our love for the city. The t-shirts, in particular, are becoming quite popular among the youth who want to show off where their loyalty lies irrespective of where they are around the globe.
- With a few hundred rupees in your pocket, you can buy a lot of Chennai love!
4. Kaapi Maker:
If one has spent enough time on the streets of Chennai, filter kaapi becomes an irreplaceable part of everyday living. It is a sweet, milky coffee that has failed to be duplicated anywhere else in the world. So for the tourist who likes to get down to the ground with the locals and not restrict themselves to tourist buses and star hotels, filter kaapi will become an essential part of the Chennai experience.
- That being the case, a coffee maker may be an innovative yet useful souvenir to take back home. Not only is it not as big as sculptures and paintings are, you certainly ensure that you take away some of the flavour of the city with you!
5. Mahabalipuram Artifacts:
Possibly slightly less expensive than the previous options, a visit to Mahabalipuram (or Mahabs) would give rise to dozens of sculptures you can cart home with you. Again ranging from tiny key chains to huge figurines that need extra shipping charges, Mahabs’ artisans have them all.
- Another great thing about these souvenirs is that they don’t need to all be religious. You have Buddhas and Ganeshas but you also have deer, lions, cranes and whatever else you may fancy! Being only a few hours from Chennai city, Mahabs today is a must-stop for every tourist anyway.
6. Tanjore Paintings:
Another original, non-Chennai takeaway, these paintings hail from the district of Thanjavur. Known for their attention to detail, richness and vivid use of colour, these paintings represent the exquisite traditional art forms of Chennai or Tamil Nadu at large.
- These paintings can range in size from tiny pictures that fit into your palm to huge murals that could cover walls. The detailing and size contribute significantly to the price but anyone who owns a Tanjore painting never gets tired of admiring the attention to detail that goes into every work of art.
7. Crafty Finds:
As the name clearly implies, Naturally Auroville is the best place to find the handmade stuff that sells like hotcakes in the township of Auroville. Meant for the convenience of Chennai’s populace, this treasure chest has everything you could ask for and more: think handcrafted books, an assortment of perfectly made incense sticks, perfumes, oils, accessories, and a myriad of things to take home. Vinayaka Tanjore Art Gallery, a high-end boutique, boasts an enormous selection of vintage Tanjore or Thanjavur inspired paintings. This special shop aims to stand apart from the paintings you would see at most thrift stores.
- The paintings are made in gold foil and studded with precious stone – the stuff for the rich and artsy they are! The well-organised space is glimmering and clean, making it much easier for the patrons to admire the works, while taking a walk inside the store. Or else, head to the Victoria Technical Institute, a 100-plus years old institution, which was a charitable trust meant for supporting the Indian craftsmen, and later turned into a one-stop-shop for buying beautiful furniture, clothes, traditional toys, brassware etc.
8. For the Modish League:
For the high on fashion Chennai crowd and the tourists intent on buying some western clothing, Rehane and Evoluzione are the best choices. These stores make an effort to stock something unbelievable for everyone who wants to shop there. Chennai’s fashion-loving set loves dropping by these two outlets to buy the choicest, trendiest stuff for their well-kept wardrobes.
9. Cotton Cravings:
To beat the excessive, proverbial Chennai heat, the denizens of Tamilian capital visit the Cotton Street to buy cotton fabrics and clothes of their choice. This area features a lot of stalls selling fabrics for clothing as well as curtains. So stop by to stock up on some good cotton stuff at a bargain.
- This sprawling shopping complex housing 400 plus shops carries high-end and local brands, an assortment of clothing stores, and sundry stuff galore! This century-old shopping hub has everything, from t-shirts to jackets to jeans and more. The space (and selection) is massive, so we suggest setting an afternoon aside for making the best of your shopping trip.
10. Traditional Pieces of Jewellery:
If you are passionate about traditional jewellery, then Chennai is one of the best destinations for you; it offers varieties of designs, and best quality bangles, chains, earrings and much more to enrich your jewellery collection with an incredible essence of Indian culture.
- Traditional jewellery carries the stamp of the local culture and non better than the city of chennai to acquire one of a best pieces of souvenirs ever that you can take home from a new place.
.Chennai is far from your average boring run-of-the mill tourist spot. It is unique and will give you memories to last a lifetime, along with souvenirs that will keep doing the same, i.e., reminding you of your glorious trip.
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