NEW DELHI – A heady mix of fragrances lingered in the chaotic Old Delhi several yards in front of the entrance of Gulab Singh Johrimal, an establishment dedicated to traditional Indian perfumes for the past 200 years.
An ancient pendulum clock welcomes potential clients to the premises whose walls are lined up with stacks of golden bottles with tassels and colorful stones, and jars made of colored glass and decorated with floral patterns, sourced directly from the north Indian city of Firozabad, which bears the sobriquet of the “Glass City of India.”
One of the owners, Praful Gundhi, a seventh-generation perfume maker, told EFE that their perfume manufacturing business was the oldest in the city.
Although no records exist from that period, the family believes that two centuries ago their business catered to members of the Mughal dynasty.
In that period, Gundhi explained, very few could afford perfumes, while the shop is on the route that the emperor took to travel to the Jama Masjid to pray, from his residence in the Red Fort.
He assured that all of the perfumes that they sell are manufactured at their factory in Sikatra, a village some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from New Delhi.
Gandhi explained that the process of creating “ittar,” or perfumes, involves putting flowers in a large copper bowl filled with water and heating it over a cow dung flame.
The vapor is then collected through bamboo pipes and passed through a base of sandalwood oil.
He added that when the vapor is passed through sandalwood oil, the fragrance of the flowers is imbibed by the oil and the water separates itself, and the process is repeated several times.
With prices going up to $437 for 10 milliliters (0.34 fluid ounces) of pure rose extract – without a sandalwood oil base – the most popular fragrance are rose and jasmine, says Gundhi.
Unsurprisingly his clients feature the likes of musician AR Rahman and during a trip to India by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Indian foreign minister visited the shop sourcing perfumes for the general.
Akash Sharma, 25, who had come to buy a perfume for his girlfriend, told EFE that he has been a client for 10 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
He said that the fragrance is lasting and gives a feeling of luxury.
Ruchi Mehta, a 28-year old astrologer, visited the shop for its unique incenses and essential oils that cannot be found in other places.
Perfume maker Hari Singh – 32 years old and with more than a decade of experience in making perfumes for the Gundhi family, just like his father did during 40 years – told EFE that the process of choosing perfumes is simple.
The habitual patrons, he says, already know the fragrances and come knowing what they want, while newcomers try several scents in search of their favorite.
Gundhi explains the secret to surviving in an age of alcohol-based perfumes – when they sell perfumes, people buy what they would like to wear.