India is known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions, and souvenirs serve as fascinating reminders of our country's captivating history. From intricately designed handicrafts to vibrant textiles, there is a wide range of souvenirs to choose from each state.
Rajasthan’s ghewar, West Bengal’s handloom saris, Kerala’s ayurvedic oils, or blackberries from Kashmir — every corner of India is known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions. When travelling through the country’s 28 states and many union territories, it is often confusing to decide what keepsakes to take back home.
This Independence Day, My Kolkata took a virtual tour of India, one state and one souvenir at a time to curate a list of keepsakes and souvenirs to buy on your travels.
Terracotta work in ChattisgarhShutterstock
Indian handicrafts are a testament to the country’s rich artistic traditions and skilled craftsmanship. From the terracotta and shola art of Bengal to Channapatna wooden dolls in Karnataka, Indian artisans have mastered the art of creating unique and exquisite pieces. Each region in India has its own distinct style and technique, reflecting the diversity and cultural heritage of the country, and if you’re looking for handicraft souvenirs, here are some of our picks.
Woodwork souvenirs (Arunachal Pradesh): The land of rising sun and lush green forests is also famous for its wooden crafts. Many of Arunachal’s tribal communities like the Monpa, Wancho, Sherdukpen and Khampa , make an array of wood carved things, from masks and figurines to vessels.
Madhubani art in BiharShutterstock
Madhubani art (Bihar): While the litti chokha of the state is much sought after, another unique export from Bihar is Madhubani art. The folk painting method of India’s Mithila region uses natural paints and various mediums from canvas to cloth, meaning you can have Madhubani art on everything from frames to garments.
Terracotta figurines (Chattisgarh): Did you know that in Chhattisgarh, terracotta figurines were traditionally made to keep evil spirits away? In modern day, these handmade terracotta objects, which usually feature animal figurines and incense holders, have found a place in the state’s handicraft industry.
Rogan artwork in the making and (right) a woman doing embroidery work in KutchShutterstock, Rumela Basu (right)
Kutchi handicrafts (Gujarat):The list of handicrafts from Gujarat can run long, but the region of Kutch is where you can see, and buy, a wide range of handicrafts. From embroidery and mirror work, to the rare Rogan paintings, copper bells to block printing, lacquered woodwork, and woollen weaves.
Thathera brass and copper utensils (Haryana): Not only are these handcrafted utensils beautiful to look at, they are also on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. These utensils made from copper, brass and certain alloys primarily by the Thathera community in Haryana and certain parts of Punjab are a great option if you want to bring back something different.
Tribal art jewellery (Jharkhand): A fairly new state, there are quite a few similarities in traditions and culture between Jharkhand and Bihar. One of the crafts unique to the tribal regions of Jharkhand is the jewellery — different communities make pieces of jewellery like pahuchi, mandli, hasuli, thela, matar rola, sikri, tarpat, and jhumkas and kadhas from brass and silver, which are widely worn by men and women.
Black pottery from Manipur and (right) cane art from MizoramShutterstock
Buddhist and Tibetan souvenirs (Ladakh): While woollens and woven garments are popular souvenirs from Ladakh, the Buddhist and Tibetan art and handicrafts can also make great travel keepsakes. Framed Buddhist thangkas, Tibetan baskets, prayer wheels and handicrafts are great options.
Black pottery (Manipur): A form of tribal art, the unique black pottery items of Manipur are baked clay utensils made with dark clay which has a mix of black serpentine and other stones, giving the clayware its unique colour. The bowls, cooking utensils, and cups are known for their uses in cooking and high iron content.
Bamboo and cane craft (Mizoram): Bamboo and cane crafts are popular among the handicrafts of Mizoram. Small baskets, trays, bags, and the quintessential conival Mizo hats are unique gifting options from the state.
Thankgas in Ladakh and (right) pottery in Pondicherry
Pottery items (Puducherry): While roaming the beaches of Puducherry (Pondicherry), the many organic handmade trinkets like essential oils and soaps are good things to have on the souvenir list, take some time out to check out the ceramics and pottery scene in Pondicherry. You will not be disappointed.
Tea gardens in AssamShutterstock
The culinary experience in India changes every few kilometres. Every state has its own flavours and unique ingredients and if you’re someone for whom love finds a way to the heart through the tummy, then food souvenirs should be your travel keepsakes. Here are a few options
Guntur chilli (Andhra Pradesh): Known to give Andhra cuisine it’s hot kick, chillies from Guntur are known for their spice and their rich, red colour. There are various spice levels with some Guntur chillies being among the spiciest in the country.
Tea (Assam): Assam’s tea gardens account for a large part of the country’s tea, and when in this eastern state, a tea garden experience is a must. Bring back a packet of tea to re-live the holiday with your morning cuppa.
Chorizo, non-veg pickles and coconut rum (Goa): While cashews are a popular food souvenir from Goa, there’s more that can fill your pantry and fridge. Spiced Goan sausages or Goan chorizo can make a flight journey with no problems, as will the prawn, chicken, fish and beef pickles you’ll find in the market in Goa. The state is also a big market for craft Indian alcohol brands like Samsara (gin) and Makazai (rum), and has a popular locally made coconut rum called Cabo. Make sure to check carrying limits (in litres) for your domestic flight.
Jams (Himachal Pradesh): Himachali jams are one of the best gifts for your friends. Tasty, made from the freshest produce of berries, apricots and oranges, and easy to carry, these make for great souvenirs and gifts
Coorgi coffee and Mysore paak (Karnataka): When in Karnataka, get some Mysore paak and if you’re headed to the hills of Coorg, bring back some coffee. Made with pure ghee, Mysore paak is a melt-in-your-mouth sweet with a unique taste, and the mild, fragrant Coorgi coffee has its own charm.
Goan pork sausagesShutterstock
Whole spices (Kerala): The spice gardens of Kerala and the quality of whole spices from the state are famous. Pick up a medley of whole peppercorns — black, red and white — or spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. These make great gifts for friends who love to wear the chef's hat once in a while. Make sure they invite you for a feast!
Koliwada and Malvani masalas (Maharashtra): Maharashtra’s coastal cuisine has a unique taste of its own. Gift your folks the taste of Marathi cuisine with Malvani, goda and Koliwada masalas. While the mixed spice goda masala is used in everyday cooking used in lentils, veggies and curries, Koliwada masalas are more popular for their usage in fish preparations. Malvani masala is a mixture of 15 spices that goes into coastal cuisines of the Western Ghats.
Black mushrooms and other wild mushrooms (Meghalaya): Meghalaya is known for its wild edible mushrooms that you will find in local markets. Buy some from the bazaar and pack it in a box, or buy packaged ones from the stores, some of which stock the more popular varieties like black mushrooms.
Bhut jolokia chillies (Nagaland): Bhut Jolokia, the spiciest of chillies in the country, is definitely worth a try and a fiery gift to bring back from Nagaland. If your friends fall into the “Bhaiya aur teekha daalo” category, then this is just the right souvenir for them.
Bhut jolokia chillies in Nagaland and (right) 'titaura' from Sikkim
Titaura and churpi (Sikkim): While you can always opt for winter wear, some iconic edible options titaura and the local yak cheese churpi are also great souvenirs to bring back, especially if you are a foodie or have foodie friends. Titauras are sun-dried hog plums tossed in a mix of common local spices, while churpi is a hard cheese with a strong flavour made from yak milk.
Karachi bakery items (Telangana): Yes, yes, baked good from the iconic Karachi bakery are now available in various parts of the country. However, there is a certain charm in visiting the original bakery and store (from 1953) in Hyderabad and creating your own assorted box.
Nolen gur and kasundi (West Bengal): Now, when it comes to souvenirs, one is spoiled for choice in Bengal. From handloom and handicrafts to food and sweets, there is a range of options. Our picks, apart from Kolkata’r mishti, are two quintessentially Bengali good souvenirs. The rich, dark nolen gur or palm jaggery that you get in winter months, and the sharp mustard sauce or kasundi. If you’re making a summertime visit, look for aam kasundi, which has slivers of raw mango in the sauce. Also, make enquiries for the feta-like Bandel cheese.
Handlooms and textiles
Phulkari work in PunjabShutterstock
Handmade Indian garments showcase the country’s artistic craftsmanship and intricate weaving techniques. The textiles of each state represents its culture and traditions, and if you like handlooms or fabrics, then these are great souvenirs for you.
Maheshwari saris (Madhya Pradesh): The region of Maheshwar is known for its gorgeous saris. Legend has it that Maheshwari saris evolved as a handloom craft under the patronage of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar. While originally made with silk, the craft has evolved with most Maheshwari saris being made with a mix of cotton and silk, which gives it its unique soft and flowy nature.
Handloom saris (Odisha): Odisha has a rich tradition of handloom, especially saris. Perhaps the most well known of them all are the Odiya ikkat or Bomkai saris. Bomkai saris have heavy needle work on their pallus and are woven in both cotton and silk, and usually have mythological motifs.
Leheriya saris and skirts (Rajasthan): With its rich history and culture, the state has lots of handicrafts. Our pick is the Rajasthani leheriya and bandhani. Usually worn by women of the Rajput community, the flowy, lightweight leheriya fabrics are great for both traditional and casual wear, while bandhani work translates into both cotton and silk garments.
'Bandhani' garments in Rajasthan and (right) a Bomkai sari from OdishaShutterstock
Pulkari (Punjab): Punjab’s Phulkari embroidery work is something you can hardly go wrong with. The intricate needlework which usually yield geometrical and floral patterns motifs are found in a verity of things from saris to dupattas, even mojris and can spruce up any wardrobe.
Kanchipuram or Kanjivaram saris (Tamil Nadu): The Kanchipuram silk sari is a coveted item for anyone who loves saris. While these saris are available outside the state as well, there are designs and styles of these silk weaves, including non-zari options, that you will find only in Tamil Nadu.
Traditional handloom (Tripura): Tripura silk and cotton saris are handwoven and are available in many colours and designs. However, the traditional outfit for women in Tripura consists of a handwoven risa (upper garment) and rignai (lower garment), which ar emde by local communities. These fabrics can make for great keepsakes and you can fashion them into garments of your choice.
Pashmina shawls from Uttarakhand and (right) embroidery wok in KashmirShutterstock
Chikankari (Uttar Pradesh): There's no alternative to Chikankari when in Uttar Pradesh. Chikankari kurtis, salwar suits, and saris are widely loved for their threadwork and a pure Lucknowi Chikankari is an asset to any wardrobe.
Angora and Pashmina (Uttarakhand): Uttarakhand’s Angora silk is said to be one of the world’s softest threads and makes for superlight sarees. Pashmina wool is also widely found in the hills of Uttarakhand and makes for the softest, warmest shawls.
Embroidered garments (Kashmir): While Kashmiri shawls are famous world over, its is the unique Kashmiri embroidery that is our pick. This style of threadwork has its own character and the motifs are usually inspired by the landscapes of Kashmir — from chinar trees to fig leaves and more. The embroidery can be found in multiple things from saris and woollen kaftans to bags.
Shell work wind chime from Andaman and (right) a beaded necklace from NagalandShutterstock
While every state and union territory in the country has more than one thing to offer, these are our picks for three bonus souvenirs. Around the country, the local culture, nature and produce is celebrated in unique ways. From jewellery to perfumesA few regions have something special to offer like jewellery, oils and perfumes.
Beaded jewellery (Nagaland): Bead necklaces in Nagaland are a statement piece. Colourful and intricate, made with carnelian and glass beads, coral, bronze, boar tusks, shells, ivory, conch shells, cowries, these pieces of jewellery can elevate any look without trying.
Shell souvenirs (Andaman): The land of pristine beaches offers various jewellery and handicrafts made of sea shells. The delicate work of shells on mirrors, chandeliers, wall hangings and other home decor items are sure to give you some beach vibes. Make sure to buy sustainably sourced items from licensed stores.
Kantha stitch items (West Bengal): A folk craft with humble origins, Bengal’s Kantha work is a beautiful art form. While the traditional of this stitching method started with stitching winter quilts, the work evolved to feature in saris and other garments. Today, Kantha lends itself beautifully to an array of things from clothes to bags, jewellery and home decor.