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:


Photo Diary: Delhi, India June 2012

Jama Masjid – India’s largest Muslim temple.

We took our first trip to India in June to visit one of our suppliers in Jodhpur. Our first stop was Delhi.

Thali meal – yum!

India is a riot of contradictions – beautiful colors, squalor and poverty, heady scents of incense and spices and the stench of the sewer. It has many religions and just as many opinions. It isn’t an easy country to wrap your head around, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting. And Delhi is no different.

Old fragrance bottles – Gulab Attars, Old Delhi

Here are some of the images of Delhi that captured my imagination. Enjoy!

Shish Ganj Gurudwara Sikh Temple, Old Delhi
Spice merchant – Old Delhi
Red Fort (Lal Qil’ah) – palace fortress contructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Bicycle wallah transportation in Old Delhi.
Nuts and spices – Old Delhi
Need a sex specialist? Old Delhi.
Holy water – Jama Masjid
Mutton kebabs and Afghani chicken.
Red Fort
Stack of Korans – Jama Masjid
Gandhi’s final steps – Gandhi Smriti
Ambassador car.
The Embassy – Connaught Place
Birla Hindu Temple
Dressing baby Krishna.
Gandhi’s room.
Jama Masjid
Boy at entrance to Jama Masjid.
Connaught Place