“God’s own country” – Kerala – is literally a shopper’s paradise. With it’s rich history of trading, dating to more than 3000 years ago, Kerala has one of the most evolved markets in India, actually anywhere in the world. Kochi , especially was a famous center of spice trade since the times of the Greeks and Romans (Ref: Wikipedia). Since you are reading this post we assume you are looking for the off-beat kind of stuff. Here are some things that you must shop, and also must NOT shop when you visit Kerala.
Must-Buy’s in Kochi
Kerala is known for spices, with spice trade in Kerala dating back as old as 3000 BC. And if you are on a short trip to Kerala, with only Kochi on your itinerary, then you have to pick up your share of spices here. Cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, peppers (the green, white and black varieties), nutmegs and vanilla beans are only some of the spices that you can buy. Each of these spices has its own medicinal properties and most are used for flavoring food and drinks.
In case you are traveling to Munnar or Periyar, you can buy spices at the plantations directly.
Aromatic Oils / Essential Oils
If you have never experienced aromatherapy, then Kerala is the place to explore it. Essential oils are manufactured in Kerala and exported world over. With over 300 varieties of aroma oils available, you will be spoilt for choice. Each oil carries separate properties – anti-depressant, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac and digestive.
As with spices, you would be better off buying aromatic oils from Munnar or Periyar, unless you are specifically visiting Kochi only.
Coir and Coconut Shell Products
The first thing that strikes you about Kerala is the sheer abundance of coconut trees. Needless to say, coir products such as mats, carpets, lamp shades and home decor items are a must-buy. Coconut shell products, including trendy jewelry like earrings and bangles made of coconut shells, in addition to the usual home decor items like the traditional boats (Chundan Vallam – the beaked boat and Uru – the fat ‘dhow’ boats), coasters and photoframes, are unique to Kerala. Head to Bazaar Road for great bargains on coir and coconut shell products. If you have some time on your hands, head to Alleppey to see coir-makers in action and buy authentic coir products straight at the source.
Kerala specializes in teak woodwork and masks and betel boxes are popular choices for souvenirs. However, for a real touch of Kerala, go in for the Nettur boxes. Specially created to store jewelry, the Nettur caskets are traditionally a part of wedding trousseau. Originally designed in Nettur, they are made of rosewood and often colored using earthy lac colors in red, green and black. For the less daring, there are the sandalwood and rosewood figurines of elephants and religious figures.
Traditional metal craft
The Nilavilakke – a standing lamp with a parrot at the top, resting on a turtle at the bottom and comprising of seven tiers – is an easily recognized souvenir from Kerala. The gajalakshmi lamp – a hanging lamp – and the changalavattam – a many-layered heavy lamp – are other metal souvenirs. For those looking for something really unique, try the Aranmula Kannadi (Aranmula mirror) which is a hand-made, hand-polished metal hand mirror.
Like all other states, Kerala has its own rituals and items created specially for the occasion. A Nettipattam – cloth and brass covering placed on an elephant’s head during processions, and masks used in Kathakali and theyyam performances make for excellent signature wall decor.
What Not To Buy in Kochi
Fort Kochi and Bazaar Road are great places to shop, and most shops provide a reasonably good bargain.
However, be careful while in Fort Kochi, since the streets around the Synagogue also have many stores that sell shawls, stoles, Rajasthani decor, semi-precious stone jewelry and beads – stuff that has nothing to do with Kerala.
Also be careful if you buy anything made of horn, since there is a ban on ivory trade. Ensure it is made with buffalo horn before you purchase.
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