In a country that is home to various ethnicities, India’s far stretching regions are coloured with local art, handloom and interesting drinks. While there’s that much and more enveloped in its four corners, here’s a list of few local items that would make for interesting souvenirs to carry home with you.
Dating back almost 4000 years, dhokra is an ancient and painstaking form of metalwork in which artisans create art using the lost wax method – a wax figure is made, a mould is formed around it, and the wax is melted, poured out and replaced with molten metal; the mould is then broken open to reveal the figure inside. The best dhokra pieces – human and animal figures being the most prominent – are produced in the tribal belt that stretches from Jharkhand to Odisha through Bengal. In the Tibetan Buddhist belt of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, you’ll also find metal objects of ritualistic import, such as trumpets, bowls, bells and talismans.
The indigenous country liquor, feni is a popular gift. There are two types of Feni – cashew and coconut – each coaxed into its spirit form through a delicate process of small batch pot-still distillation. A time honoured Feni embodies no concentrate, colouring, artificial yeast or any artificial flavourers. Feni bottles come in different shapes and sizes, often with a little sculpture to depict a Goan aspect. From the 15th century onwards, European traveller’s tales have abounded with accounts of Feni, Goa’s heritage drink, capturing an expression of the rustic, old Goan charm in every bottle. It has come to be synonymous with Goa’s identity and is an integral part of the Goan people’s culture.
The Mewar, Marwar and Bikaner schools of art are famous in Rajasthan, and each one has a distinct style. Most of these paintings depict the lives and times of the kings who ruled the state. Udaipur, Jodhpur and Bikaner are the three cities that have galleries and art schools from where one can pick up paintings that range from Rs. 500 a piece right up to a few lakh rupees depending on the popularity of the artist and the age of the painting. Copies of many of the original paintings that adorn the palaces and forts in Udaipur and Jodhpur are available in studios in the cities. The Mewar (Udaipur) School of Art is famous for its miniature paintings.
Kerala has become synonymous with Ayurveda due to the age-old expertise that exists here. Even so, you should consult a physician before buying a not so common Ayurveda item off the shelf. Many Ayurveda clinics manufacture their own products. Santhigiri outlets are easy to find across the state.
Antique Kashmiri carpets are worth their weight in gold and it’s difficult to find authentic hand-woven specimens. More affordable are namdas – cotton rugs and gabbas – which are stitched collages of recycled woollen cloth pieces embellished with crewel embroidery. Here’s a little tip to make carpet buying a simple process for you – unless you know how to assess carpet values, consider erring instead towards much cheaper chain-stitched gabbas (Kashmiri rugs with applique) or floral namdas (felted wool carpets). The fabled kaleen – a woollen hand-woven Kashmiri carpet – continues to be regarded as a long term investment. While only a handful of these creations are still made using age-old techniques, enthusiasts leave no stone unturned in hunting them out.