Travel Diary: Attars & Incense in Chandini Chowk

Indian Attars – Gulab Singh Johri Mal, Old Delhi

We ventured forth into the dirty, narrow streets of Old Delhi on the back seat of a cycle-rickshaw. My mission – Gulab Singh Johri Mal – an attar manufacturer founded during Mughal rule.

Attar is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources through water or steam distillation. The oils obtained from the herbs flowers and wood are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired.

Oud from Cambodia and India

In the Eastern world it is an ancient tradition to offer attars to guests. The perfumes are stored in ornate tiny crystal bottles called as itardans. Some of the first lovers of attar, were the Mughals of India. In fact I read that an Indian princess’s bath was considered incomplete without incense and attars.

Established in 1816 by Gulab Singh, Gulab Singh Johri Mal is now run by the seventh generation owner – Ram Singh. We stepped inside and removed our shoes. I started by asking what were their more popular Indian attars.  Before I knew it, I was literally up to my elbows in scented oils.

In particular I liked Attar Gil – an “after the monsoon” scent made from sandalwood oil and dirt. Yes, dirt! It has an intoxicating earthy scent that captivated my imagination. I was also entranced by Attar Gulab which is made from rose and sandalwood oils. I had visions of veiled harems bathed in heavenly fragrances for their visiting Raj…

Besides traditional Indian attars, Gulab Singh Johri Mal carries essential oils – Patchouli, Ylang-Ylang, Cypress, Oud, Cardamom, Rosewood, Jasmine, Tuberose, Cedarwood and many more. They also produce perfumed incenses of many varieties – including Oud, which I particularly love. Visiting Gulab Singh Johrimal was truly a treat for the senses.

Gulab Singh Johri Mal – 320, Dariba Kalan
Chandni Chowk, Delhi – 110006, India
Ph#: 23271345 Email:


3 thoughts on “Travel Diary: Attars & Incense in Chandini Chowk

  1. Hey! Am documenting this legendary shop/ perfumers for an institute in India called IIT Bombay. Would like to use couple of your images, with credit ofcourse. If you’re okay with that, please let me know your email id – would prefer high res images, please. Thanks! Regards, Sakshi.

  2. That shop seems like a piece of heaven. How exotic! I would love to spend time smelling those bottles. Thank you for posting!

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