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Walk through the City of scents

Shelves in malls may be loaded with fragrances from Chanel to Dior and Gucci, but there’s something about the humble ittar that still makes Delhi heady. This age-old scent of the maharajas is now an iconic part of Delhi— available in the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, in Nizamuddin and gift shops across the city.

art and culture Updated: Sep 21, 2011 01:06 IST
Saudamini Jain

Shelves in malls may be loaded with fragrances from Chanel to Dior and Gucci, but there’s something about the humble ittar that still makes Delhi heady. This age-old scent of the maharajas is now an iconic part of Delhi— available in the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, in Nizamuddin and gift shops across the city.

“Traditionally, only a pure fragrance mixed with sandalwood oil was called ittar. But now, every Indian perfume without alcohol is passed off as ittar,” says Mukul Gundhi, of the Gulabsingh Johrimal in Dariba Kalan, which, dating back to 1816, is one of the oldest perfumeries in the city. The shop makes synthetic and natural ittar — ranging from Rs30 to Rs10,000 for 10ml. Their costliest scent is the Ruh-Gulab ittar, which costs Rs10,000 for 10 ml.

Go scent shopping
To shop for ittar, you can head to the Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin, where you can find a variety of scents in a number of shops. Just outside the Ghalib Academy here, you will spot many streetside vendors selling synthetic scents too. Right opposite Karim’s restaurant in Nizamuddin is Zam Zam — a well-known ittar shop. Here, Mohd Salman, a self-taught perfumer, blends different fragrances to suit his clientele. Go for the Fawakeh scent (Rs25 for 2.5ml), a sweet blend of fruity notes, popular among Indians. Foreigners prefer lighter tones, and Salman says he captures Westernesque scents in tiny glass bottles for them.

Another place to shop for ittar is the Paharganj area. When here, do visit The Mathurs, who have been in the scent business since 1932.

You can also visit Janpath, as it houses many ittar shops, the most famous being Arihant Fragrance. Here, a tola (11 gms) of rose, Mogra (Arabian Jasmine) or Rajnigandha (Tuberose) ittar is priced at Rs300, while the Khus and Hina ittar are priced at Rs800.

Exotic and in demand
These little bottles of scent are popular with youngsters looking for something different. “There’s an ittar called Mausam which I gift most of my friends on their birthdays. It’s exotic and feels lot more special than a simple deodorant,” says Vani Rao, 21. “On my friend’s wedding, we added pretty ittar bottles in all the gifts, they were a big hit,” says Naina Singh, 24.

Choose your ittar
“Ittar should be chosen on the basis of the temperature of a place and wearer’s temperament,” says Mohd Salman, the owner of Zam Zam Perfumers. Syed Tahir, from Mehboob Perfumery Works says unlike modern perfumes, ittar is worn differently. “A piece of cotton with a few drops, is tucked in the ridge of the earlobe,” says Tahir.

What is ittar?
The word ittar is derived from the Persian word atr, which means fragrance. Its history dates back to the Mughal era, as nobles in the royal court would apply ittar. Ittarwallahs boast of selling their perfumes to the erstwhile Mughal princesses, nobles, and the British colonists. In the city of Delhi, there are shops that have been selling ittar for centuries now. The love for ittar is still alive with the residents of the city.

Buy ittar here
Mehboob Perfumery Works, Shop No 969 Jama Masjid
Ph: 9818836742
R. Expo, 1115, Main bazaar, Paharganj
Ph: 23588456
Zam Zam Perfumers, 4/1, Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin
Ph: 20087483, 24357368
Gulabsingh Johrimal, 320, Dariba Kalan
Ph: 23271345, 23281345
Arihant Fragrances,
17, MM, Janpath,
Ph: 3353949
Al Haram Perfumers, 9, Abdul Aziz Market, Nizamuddin
Al-Madina perfumes, 5, Basement, Aziza Market, Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin
Ph: 9899413512
Jain Super Store, 172 Palika Bazar, Gate No 6
Ph: 3321031