Earlier this year, while attending the Rann Utsav in Kutch I stumbled upon a little girl of about 7 or 8. Decked up in proper Kutchi attire - a thickly embroidered Ghaghra-choli complete with heavy jewellery and bangles, she was selling handmade dolls. Very animatedly, in a sing-song manner, she pursued visitors to buy the tiny soft dolls that very much looked like her. Her cuteness was her USP, the only marketing tool she needed. Easily lured, I made my way to the tiny stall and held up a little doll she persuasively handed over to me. The doll wore a green and a yellow dress with a black dupatta covering her head. For a smile, she had a black thread stitched in a curve. “It is for 135 rupees. I have made it myself,” the little girl stated.
To say that I was astonished would be an understatement. I knew villagers of Kutch took a lot of pride in their handicrafts but I never knew that little girls like her could craft such amazing dolls. Speaking to her further revealed that she was from Hodka, a beautiful and an artistically rich village I desired to visit but had to cut-off from my itinerary due to a lack of time. As I purchased that doll, I knew that looking at it would make me come back to Hodka someday. It sits on my dresser today, reminding me of the little girl and her community from Hodka – a place I am about to visit very soon.
Herein lies the beauty of travel souvenirs. Their enigma is such that they trigger nostalgia and inspiration at the same time, leaving one thinking of their next trip as well as reminiscing moments from journeys already undertaken. Souvenirs can mean different things to different people. While some make it a point to buy ‘I love xyz’ T-shirts and magnets from gift shops, some find stolen key cards, ripped up tickets or picked up stones the perfect remnants of a time that once was. Some choose to shop for local delights whereas others hold on to little trinkets for the stories they were a part of. All these moments lie frozen in a souvenir that finds a place back home. For some, procuring these is a habit, for many it’s circumstantial – but for almost everybody, they are very special. The time, love and dedication that goes into maintaining these beloved articles are only truly understood by the people who find and collect them. So, we decided to speak to five young Indian travellers about the stories behind their most cherished travel souvenirs. Their responses were as insightful as they were heartwarming.
I. Priyanka Prakash, 21,
Media Professional from Bangalore
Souvenir: A Tibetan Prayer Flag
A cliched memento becomes a relic of identity.
“It was in August 2017 that my parents and I were off to another one of our family vacations. After much discussion and argument, Dharamshala was the chosen destination. Having dropped off our luggage at the hotel, our first stop was at a local bustling market near the Dalai Lama Monastery. It was here that I found the souvenir that would unknowingly become a big part of my life.”
“As I entered the monastery, my mind slipped into a zen mode. It was then, that a slightly aged man walked up to us selling the Tibetan prayer flag. While having a flag of the Tibetan prayer has already become a cliche, it was the setting and the location that added a completely different meaning to the otherwise generic memento. Thus, certain that I wanted to purchase it, I began indulging in a conversation with the man, as I always do during my travels.
He went on to narrate the story of his parents and ancestors and their struggle as Tibetans and how even after all the atrocities and suffering, they chose to take up the path of giving. And during the course of the entire conversation, not once did he seek sympathy or our consolation. He told us that every incident, every event of our life takes place for a greater purpose and that our actions and deeds should always aim towards the good of the society. t was after this that the flag became all the more special to me.”
“It was this conversation that made me realise that I would never give up on travelling. After having met him, I felt like I had grown a little and that only by travelling more would I keep growing. The flag hangs on my desk and every time I see it I think of that man and his entire community that struggles to find an identity. The flag is an important part of their culture, a relic of their identity and a constant reminder for me to travel and find more such heartfelt stories.”
II. Niharika Joshi, 26
Architect from Ahmedabad
Souvenir: Lace Pouches from .Şile
A window to elsewhere.
“Sometimes, sand from the beach stays in back pockets long after the vacation is over, and that tan doesn’t fade easily either. There are accents, a roll of the ‘r’s on the tongue, tattered books with pressed flowers, and beer bottle caps from a wild night. For someone with quite a low threshold for wonder and a want to wander, every trip to elsewhere holds something irreplaceable and extraordinary. I found my treasures in a sleepy town of Şile, located on the southern shore of the Black Sea, a 2-hour direct bus ride away from the main city. My best friend and I found ourselves wandering through Şile’s cobblestoned streets, dipping our feet in cold sea water. The whole town seemed to be a festival of lacework and intricate crochet. There were dresses, curtains, tea towels, coasters, coin purses and unbelievably intricate lace jewellery.”
“That was it for us. We spent most of our money on buying these products. My most cherished were the meticulously knit pouches and coin purses in black and white with pink and red embroidery respectively. I remember that we were so lost in these little items that we totally forgot about our bus to Istanbul and ran to inquire about it. Fortunately for us, there was still time for the last bus. Thus we soaked in the city for a couple of more hours. As the sun started to set, we ran to the bus stop with our little shopping bags full of treasures, managing to secure seats on a slow, winding bus route all the way back to Istanbul. Without a shred of apprehension and with hearts teeming with crochet-memories, we carried back beautiful lace pouches and coasters that perhaps shall never be used but will always be cherished.”
“These are integral parts of the many souvenirs I return to when I’m feeling far away from myself. They are a window to those places which have become an important part of my life. Tidbits of everything I have experienced and everywhere I have been has become a deep part of how I perceive things in life. This is a keepsake that I cannot put a price on.”
III. Priyanka Singh, 24
Social Worker from Agra
Souvenir: Poster Sticker of The Laungewalla Battle From Rajasthan
A moment of glory for a moment of realization!
“As we were cruising through the National Highway 15, moving straight into the oblivion watching a fleet of army vehicles run by, our car suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. Our driver informed us that we had reached the Jaisalmer War Museum. It stood on our right, shining under a scorching sun. I walked into an empty corridor, letting my eyes wander around when they suddenly landed upon this statue of a man in uniform & medals on the chest and a look in the eyes - too real to meet. I had entered the Laungewalla Hall!
Inside there were photographs and accounts of victories, the display of war equipment, the Siachen Warrior hall of fame, the WWI Indian Army Cycle Warriors wall of honour and display of the Artillery Gun team during Operation Vijay, 1999. I went through each one of them with mixed emotions of astonishment, pride and melancholy. The stories of valour and courage of young and old men who never knew us, yet fought for us, risking their lives for the nation.”
“I walked out, lost in thought to buy some coffee in the canteen when I suddenly saw a grainy black and white photograph kept on the shelf of a tiny store selling shirts, metallic show pieces etc. I asked the shopkeeper to hand me over the picture - it was a sticker with a picture of a moment that was perhaps a defining moment in India’s history - that of Indian Army soldiers dancing upon a tank post the Laungewalla victory, celebrating. An epiphany rose within me. I immediately purchased it for 20 rupees.”
“I came back home after having a surreal Rajasthan road trip of 10 days. But amongst all the random souvenirs, the Laungewalla sticker was the one that made me the most nostalgic. I stuck it upon my new notebook - the one I would use for my new semester in college. Today, every time I am bored in class, my eyes invariably wander over my notebook, glancing at the sticker. That moment of glory inspires me, reminding me of the privilege I have and often forget about.”
IV. Sanket Jain, 21
Independent Journalist From Kolhapur
Souvenir: A wooden Musical Instrument from Sawantawadi
The last few pieces from a dying art form.
“I keep travelling remote places of the country and I always look for the traditional art forms and the artists. I found one such gem while traversing the villages of Sindhudurg belt, in the town of Sawantwadi. Turned out this place has a 400-year-old legacy of handcrafted wooden toys. Habitual of meeting the traditional artists across the countryside, I set out to search for these toy-makers and chanced upon a lovely man called Subhash, a fifth-generation craftsman of the Chitari family.”
“When I met him, Subhash was in the process of carving some miniature toys shaped like fruits. Even though they were quite appealing, my heart was set upon an elegant Sitar-like musical instrument that lay beside him. Following my gaze, he handed it over to me. The 75-year-old’s hard work of months reflected well in the masterpiece.”
“Though I do not know how to play the instrument, it finds a place in my house. It reminds me of not just the little joys of life but symbolises a legacy on the brink of extinction. As mass industrial toys make their way in the country, our indigenous toy makers who perhaps offer sturdier and more unique toys struggle to make their ends meet. This souvenir is part of my archive of things that reminds me of the passionate artists who all in their 70s and 80s and are trying to keep the art form alive. This musical instrument is a remnant of more than a quarter million hours of toy making by Subhash.”
V. Sayali Goyal, 27
Visual Artist From Delhi
Souvenir: Leaves from various parts of the world.
Fallen Dried Memories.
“Nature has always been a big inspiration in whatever I do hence I started a little project in 2013 of collecting leaves from whichever country I visited. Each leaf has a unique story, almost like a moment captured from that journey.”
“My last days in London were very special to me. I travelled a lot in the country and English countryside. When I look at the London leaf even today, I imagine myself sitting on a train on a window seat looking at the vast fields outside.
I picked up a small stout leaf in Napa Valley. I had gone on a road trip with a couple of friends from San Francisco. On returning from a wine tour I picked it up and kept it on the little shelf in front of the seat. I thought my friend threw it while cleaning the car and was very disappointed that I hadn’t kept it safely. Two weeks after I returned home, I found it in a journal. I can’t remember when I put it there, but I was so pleasantly surprised about it being there all this while. I felt like it wanted to be with me as much as I wanted it to be with me.
In Cognac, I had met a friend who lived in the middle of a vineyard in a house that was 300 years old. As she took us around her garden where she grew fresh vegetables and flowers, my eyes suddenly caught attention of fully bloomed lavenders. I picked up some for my potpourri sachets and one to stick inside my journal. When I look at it, I think of my friend, her perfect family and life on the countryside, just like out of an old book.
Between Newcastle and York in the North of England lies a small town called Durham. It’s a little bit like a fairytale as the town is on a hill with small cobbled streets. The city centre is surrounded by a lake and a castle. I picked up a long slender leaf, just outside the castle. I entered a small vintage bookshop and picked a copy of Jane Austen and used this as a bookmark on the train back. It’s difficult to express the emotions this evokes. When I see it I can still feel the wind in my hair, the sunshine on my face. I can hear the Ludovico Einaudi song I was listening to. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I know I can’t really have those moments back.
New York had been very cold. I visited the city in December and stayed for about 5 weeks. I took long walks in prospect park in Brooklyn and central park. All my photos were shades of gold and mustard. The fifth leaf, a withering golden one is from Prospect park. I remember I plucked it while I was sitting by a lake. It reminds me of the despair I felt - How cold it had been and how healing was the sunshine that crept in through the canopy of trees.”
“Now and then when I open my journal and look at these dried leaves, they not only remind me of the joyous times but also about the sadness I felt during my solo trips. These leaves are remnants of my little moments in the big places. These tiny pieces of nature always inculcate a sense of freedom and belonging - that wherever I go, I will find my dried memories.”
If you have an interesting story about a cherished travel souvenir, write in to [email protected] We would love to feature them in our second volume.
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