Quintessentially Chennai could mean a lot of things. YASHASVINI RAJESHWAR suggests a few that you could take back home.
Glass blowings 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 non-existant on the tourist map. Even as early as 2007, 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. In the course of asking around for this article, I came to understand that Chennai’s spirit and culture cannot be captured in any single object. We give tourists memories, we give them a taste of our hospitality and we welcome them back anytime they want to come. We make sure namma Chennai is truly namma, irrespective of where they come from or where they will go.
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. 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!
I (heart) 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!
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 himself 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 likely to be, you ensure that you take away some of the flavour of the city with you!
Artefacts from Mahabalipuram
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.
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.
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