NEW DELHI (DPA) - At a time when air pollution in Delhi has been hitting dangerous levels, an oxygen bar in the Indian capital is offering customers a burst of fragrant, purified oxygen, for a price.
Over the past fortnight, Delhi has seen a public health crisis, with authorities twice declaring a pollution emergency and shutting schools while advising the elderly and infants to stay indoors.
On Saturday (Nov 16), Delhi was shrouded in a pale yellow haze as an official air quality index ranged between "very poor" to "severe" levels of up to 470 on a scale reaching 500 at several monitoring centres.
At Oxy Pure, customers can inhale oxygen infused with essential oils such as lavender and lemongrass through tubes strapped to their noses, with a 15-minute session costing 299 rupees (S$5.68).
"There is a tremendous response to this first-of-its-kind oxygen bar in Delhi," said owner Ayavir Kumar, 26, who opened Oxy Pure in May, adding that the purified oxygen can offer people relief from toxic air, fatigue, sleep disorders, hangovers and even depression.
An oxygen bar had opened in Delhi in 2015, but closed shortly after.
"We get 30-40 people who come in to take in oxygenated air everyday. We are also providing portable cans to customers who can carry it where they want," he added.
Some customers, who suffer the ill effects of pollution - itchy eyes, runny nose and throat infections - say they were unsure if the therapy had a psychological effect, but did make them feel refreshed.
"There is a good fragrance in my nose and my body feels light," businessman Aman Batra, who tried the therapy at the oxygen bar in a south Delhi mall, told the news website Scroll.
Other customers also told other news outlets that the therapy energises the body, calms the nerves and helps with sleep.
Ms Saloni, 29, came to the bar to give a dose of oxygen to her skin cells before her cousin's wedding.
"People may have different reasons ... but yes, when pollution is literally choking us, 15 minutes of oxygen is pure bliss," she said.
Many Indians were stupefied by the bar's concept, taking to social media, with one remarking: "This city has officially gone mad."
Doctors say taking oxygen for a short while, even in high concentrations, has no benefit, adding it has no scientific basis.
Several Delhi residents, like Mr Kapil Gulliya, who works with a financial services firm, described the oxygen bar a gimmick, misusing the alarm over pollution for commercial purposes.
"What use is 15 minutes of oxygen when pollution is many times the international safe limits here, equal to smoking 30 cigarettes a day?"
Besides rejuvenating Delhi residents overwhelmed by pollution, Mr Kumar said the oxygen bar was also aimed at athletes, since oxygen therapy helps in muscle recovery. He says he got the idea when he first saw an oxygen bar at a hotel in Los Angeles some three years ago.
Oxygen bars are not uncommon in countries like Canada and France, but unlike Delhi, those countries do not have hazardous pollution levels.
Mr Kumar brushes off the criticism, saying he is looking to make profits and planning to open another oxygen bar at Delhi's international airport to help passengers deal with jet lag and travel fatigue.
Under normal circumstances, the air humans breathe contains only about 20 per cent oxygen. Extremely high levels of oxygen can be actually harmful, including causing lung damage. Sessions at the Oxy Pure are limited to only 15 minutes to minimise risk to customers.
"I would like to stress that Oxy Pure does not cure any diseases. It is not for medical purposes. It is for rejuvenation, like a spa, or massage centre," said Mr Kumar.
Delhi, a city with a population of 25 million, has been ranked among the world's most polluted cities in recent years.
"It is embarrassing," said Mr Kumar, adding: "Our governments have not been able to ensure even clean air for people to breathe."
Crop stubble burning by farmers in areas surrounding Delhi, along with climate factors such as lack of winds, add to emissions produced by heavy traffic and the burning of garbage and fuel.