Delhi is rife with souvenirs that travellers can carry back home to serve as reminders of their time spent in this colourful city. There are colourful glass bangles, carved marble miniatures of elephants, fabulously detailed textiles – the list just goes on and on. However, for a souvenir that’s a little more unique, one should consider picking up a few ‘Ittars’, or natural perfumes.
My first ittar-buying experience was at a shop called Gulab Singh Johrimal; in Dariba Kalan, Old Delhi (they also have another location in Chandni Chowk). This is one of the oldest and the best known perfume shops in Delhi, though by no means the only one! (There are also several ittar shops in the Nizamuddin West area). On that morning, a friend and I drove into Old Delhi and parked near the Jama Masjid area. From there, we grabbed a cycle rickshaw and asked to be taken to Dariba Kalan. Once we got there, the shop wasn't difficult to find – the lovely fragrance of perfumes, soaps, and incense let us know we had reached our destination!
The shop had an open storefront and was lined with display cases full of beautiful glass and crystal-cut vials of all sizes and shapes. Inside, there were several men sitting on white cushions on the floor, mixing and bottling various fragrance concoctions. Sitting at the main counter along the roadside were two men, both of whom spoke good English. We told them that we were interested in buying perfumes, and they began to pull out dozens of small vials for us to sample.
There were so many different fragrances to choose from, it was almost overwhelming! They had everything from jasmine to saffron, to sandalwood, to musk, and many many more. To sample the perfumes, the shopkeepers dabbed small amounts on our hands, wrists, and arms for us to smell and as an added perk, after all the sampling, we smelt great for the rest of the day!
After trying about a dozen or so of different scents, we chose two perfumes each and we both picked up some incense and soap, also available for sale. The prices were all listed and fixed – nice for those who are too timid to haggle. They were all very reasonable, too.
A small bottle of concentrated ittar, which will last for months, if not years, is usually no more than Rs 200, although some of the mixed scents may run as high as Rs 500-600. Still, that’s quite a bargain compared to the cost of most designer fragrances.
Unlike other souvenirs, which may just sit on a shelf gathering dust, ittars can be used daily on oneself or in the home, and will serve as a reminder of the rich history and elegant luxury embodied by Delhi.
Come on over and pick up a glass vial for yourself and your friends - they make for great gifts too!
This article has been written by Katherine Ernst Mehta. Katherine has been living in Delhi since the summer of 2010. She grew up in the United States, in the Midwest, and originally came to India as a student, which is how she met her Indian husband. She now lives with her husband & in-laws and works for an American university programme based in Delhi.
Where | 320, Dariba Kalan, Chandni Chowk
Call Them Up | +91 11 2327 1345
Check Out Their Website | www.gulabsinghjohrimal.com