Highland Incense

Incense enthusiasts will undoubtedly have come across Tibetan Musk incenses, however if you’re like me most of them don’t really come up to snuff, particularly given how variant musk can be. With today’s ecological concerns, most musky incenses are created by the use of plants or even synthetic materials, and they vary widely in scent, but one aspect they don’t vary all that widely on is depth. And that’s really the major aspect of real musk that can not be imitated, an organic scent that is much a stamp on the nearby environment as it is an aroma. Moving from incenses with herbal musk to those with the real thing means you really don’t even need an ingredient list to tell. That is, when it comes to the description, you’re rarely if ever going to be told your incense has animal-derived musk, but an incense like Highland, even without the word musk brought up, will make the issue really clear.

Ecological issues aside, musk is the dominant aroma of Highland incense stick and it’s an astonishing musk, with the staying power of a skunk spray but with the aroma of paradise. From the ingredients list you also get white sandalwood, purple sandalwood, agarwood, saffron and pangolin scales along with 20 other medicinal ingredients. All of these ingredients are among the most pricy in incense and they make Highland one of the most richest, indulgent incense experiences available. Fragments of sticks will not only scent your living space but your memory as well, and I’ve carried this deep, musky, aroma in my mind to places far away from an incense burner.

As much as I can talk about this being a prime example of a great Tibetan musk incense, part of the reason is the richness of materials being used, a spicy and multi-faceted base that plays behind the initial aromatic impact and adds character and definition. It’s a great incense from top to bottom, the musk hitting you first, the spices through much of the middle (the musk lingering along; possibly some benzoin or amber) and then slight woody hints that lift it even more. Like the Tibetan Medical College scents (apparently Highland is created by a retired doctor from this college) and Samye Monastery Samathabadra, Highland sits in the very top echelon of world incenses. If you ever wondered why companys go to such ends to imitate this sort of musk, this is the incense to try. I can’t say if it will eliminate bacteria or cure the flu, but based on my mood after a burn, there probably won’t be any evil spirits left when you’re done.

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24 Comments

  1. Josh said,

    September 11, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I just received and have been burning this one – and can not tell if what I’m smelling is animal (civet?) musk or not. I read the initial review, and then I read the poor reviews that followed – from either a bad batch or a reformulation.

    What I have here has what I’ve seen written as a “barnyard” smell when unlit – and once burning has a piercing, pungent, non-sweet type aroma – a sort of burnt and almost sour smell, like type of wood burning, or like someone set fire to a barnyard and hay and such, but not exactly like that – and for some reason this scent is very enjoyable to me.

    Very intense smell, remarkably pungent – it goes right to the center of my brain it feels like.. But this does not smell like “egyptian musk” incenses I’ve tried – much more earthy/woody..

    The packaging is interesting – it’s in a cardboard type box with no glossy coating or wax paper or anything else on the inside – how do the materials not lose their scent? If it’s musk we’re talking about, and an animal sprayed in the wild, that smell will fade away – same here no? Maybe I should go get some wax paper at the store and wrap it in that?

    • Alan said,

      September 13, 2014 at 12:42 am

      You should read “Incense Storage” in the Pages box at the top of the left hand column.

    • Mike said,

      September 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Its more a reformulation I think, but it’s very noticeably different from the original which was far more animalistic. As to scent, if you can smell it something is being emitted and therefore over time an incense will start to lose its strength, but in terms of how long it really depends if the scent is from something that has to be burned to be let loose or if it’s a perfume oil or resin and so already has some sort of scent. I’ve been into incense for a long time now and generally speaking I think most incenses lose a bit of punch really fast but then after that it’s much more gradual and you can usually enjoy something you buy years after it was made. Lots of Tibetan incenses only come in cardboard boxes and not much else and I think the decay issues tend to be very mild with them overall.

      • Josh said,

        September 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

        Ah I see – do you know of any Tibetan types that still retain a strong musk element?

        Lol, I figure it’s a win-win – either I can find a nice animal musk incense or I can have a clean conscience about not supporting the hunting of the poor little endangered musk animals.. Upon consideration though, the Highland still has some musk probably, so I’m supporting the hunting of the musk animals anyhow.. Dang it then, I may as well just find a very musky incense :)

        I got some of the Samye Monastery incense and that one smells more to me like herbs and such – I like it a lot, but it seems much different than the Highland..

        • Mike said,

          September 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

          Josh, the musk thing is pretty complicated. Most of the incenses that have the real thing in them often evolve and change and since we can really only guess at the ingredients it’s hard to be sure. Most of the high end true Tibetan incenses do tend to have musk, if only for the reason that most countries wouldn’t allow such a thing due to CITES. And yes I think your reasoning is pretty sound in terms of the ethical and ecological ramifications of these things. I’d guess there’s musk in Samye too but it’s not a dominant note.

  2. September 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    [...] Highland Incense – Highland’s the trusty #2 Tibetan brand for me as I wait for more Holy Land, a combination of animal (musk, civet?) and herbal spice that is incredibly comforting and relaxing right before sleep (I often burn about 2 inches of a stick as I drift off). Becoming a standard around here, don’t let this one go out of stock before you try it! [...]

  3. August 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    [...] August 21, 2008 at 8:37 am (Crocus, Incense, Mike, Musk, Pangolin Scales / Nagi, Red Sandalwood, Samye Monastery, Sandalwood, Tibet (Unspecific), Woods) I’ve written about this venerable monastery’s amazing incense in the past, but never really tried for a more descriptive review as my relationship with this incense has really developed since I tried my first sample 6 months ago or so. It was really my first encounter with a high end Tibetan incense and my first reaction was how strange and unusual it was, with an aromatic strength that was perhaps a little unsettling. But since then it’s grown on me to the point where I see it as one of the three Tibetan supernals, along with Tibetan Medical College Holy Land and Highland Incense. [...]

  4. Robert said,

    November 2, 2009 at 9:57 am

    “Using this incense every morning will help to relieve a blocked nose, gain merits, drive away evil spirits, improve energy, eliminate bacteria, purify the body and mind, and purify the air.”

    LOL. I am sticking to the “saturate the room with pleasant aroma” type of incense least people think I am concerned with the evil spirits.

  5. Mike said,

    October 16, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Hope you all have a great time!

  6. Steve said,

    October 15, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Mike:

    “…my entire incense pattern has moved to about 60% Tibetan 35% Japanese…” – EXACTLY!

    “…done a lot for my appreciation of the more inexpensive sticks in the same style.” – EXACTLY AGAIN! Yog, Himalayan Herbal & Tibetan Monestary are giving up new facets with current burns and have become even more endearing.

    Will add Blue Sky to my next purchase list, as well as Highland powder. Am really excited about the possibilities opened with the purchase of an electric heater. (Might as well put my mutual fund portfolio on the burner – ugh…)

    BTW – out for the next 5 days – taking the wife to the beach for her fall break from nursing school…

    Steve

  7. Mike said,

    October 15, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Steve, I couldn’t agree more. Highland just gets more and more addictive as it goes, I burn a fragment nearly every day if not much more (could even be the #1 for me this month). And yeah, the Highland Powder seems to be just as good, I just got in the 100g bag of it yesterday. I’m going to try and get back to it tonight to cover up the smell of the presidential debate lol. But the couple times I’ve tried it I thought it was just as good as the stick. Not even sure how different they are yet, although they seem to be.

    I’ve found that since I discovered these apex Tibetans that my entire incense pattern has moved to about 60% Tibetan 35% Japanese, from something like 80% Japanese at one point. Not only are these Tibetans great but they’ve done a lot for my appreciation of the more inexpensive sticks in the same style.

    You may have noticed I added Heritage to the Hall of Fame. With both that and Yog Sadhana it’s instructive to be fully non-fatigued and burn one of them as your first stick of a session. I was marvelling at just how much complexity I missed in my reviews, they’re really something special. Yog Sadhana is definitely top 10 for me now.

    I’d also be curious Steve, what you think of the Blue Sky I mentioned in my coming soon write up today. I think it’s on the first Tibetan Various page at Essence. Could be a top 10 or certainly a top 20 Tibetan from my initial burns. Definitely on the special fence. :)

  8. Steve said,

    October 15, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Having sat with Highland on a number of occasions now, I have truly come to appreciate what a wonderful, refined Tibetan it is. Not just on the restock list, but on the “must hoard large quantities” list! What is of particular notice is its long burn time – easily over an hour per stick. That’s goodness that keeps on going and feels longer than the other Tibetans I regularly burn.

    Mike – are you still enamored with the Highland powder? Finally broke down and ordered an electric incense heater (and some Mermade Magickal to go with it!), so am thinking of giving it a try.

    Steve

  9. Mike said,

    October 1, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I’ve only managed in the last few weeks for one session with the Highland Powder, but it was enough for me to order 100g. It’s different than the stick but no less amazing. My latest incense order again was heavily canted to the Tibetan.

  10. Mike said,

    September 12, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Hmm, not that I’ve noticed. Obviously it’s hard to be sure when every incense has that “and other spices” disclaimer added, but I wouldn’t think Guiding Light would have any animal ingredients at all. Then again with that many woods and oils who know what sort of alchemy is happening here… Of course now that you mentioned it I’ll probably staty noticing it now. :)

  11. Steve said,

    September 11, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    There is a sweet, rich musk-like cologne-like element to Highland, Holy Land and Nectar as we’re discussing here. I wish I could better describe it – maybe it’s Civet as you guys are mentioning. Anyway, I lit Le Encens du Monde’s Guiding Light and it seems to be a very similar smell. I wouldn’t describe it as musk (I don’t think), but I would swear I’m getting the same rich almost sweet aroma (without the other spicy Tibetan trappings around it). Mike, I know you like Guiding Light – do you get a similar note between it and, say, Nectar like I’m trying to describe?

    Steve

  12. Mike said,

    September 10, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Hey Mark, I’ve possibly mentioned it before, but before life went into a different direction, I used to be a viticulture and enology major and I credit one particular class for having a distinct effect on my nose, which was basically sort of a wine testing/sampling/tasting course. In one lab, the teacher placed about 50 or so different foil covered bowls and we were asked to try and sniff out what was in each of them. Due to this, I often notice the wine and incense similarities, in particular the three high end Shoyeido kyaras are all wine-like in some way.

    Good to hear your comments on the Highland powder (did you try the stick too?), which are timely as I just received my sample in the mail. I hope to get to it soon as it seems kinda different from the stick in some way based on the fresh smell (thanks to Steve I’m thinking barn every time now lol). As to the musk, it’s definitely guessing for sure as it wouldn’t at all surprise me that civet was involved in some way, and would lean to the combo theory. I’d guess that if the boxes were to say Contains Real Civet! that they’d probably eventually disappear from the US market.

  13. Mark said,

    September 10, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Oops, have confused my terms: nagi = pangolin scales. What I’m talking about above is the musk note we’ve been discussing; whether it comes from pangolin, musk, civet, a combo, or something else.

    Mark

  14. Mark said,

    September 10, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Hey Mike, I got to try out the Highland powder on the heater for the first time last night. It’s truly sublime. So complex, but each ingredient seems to exert itself in a way that I can distinctly pick out individual sources, or so I think. I would love to know what is the source of the ‘nagi’. I really don’t think it’s deer musk. It has a totally different quality to me. Am betting that it’s civet. It isn’t that my nose is that sophisticated, but I have this awesome tool called Le Nez du Vin that my French ex gifted me with. It’s a kit containing 100 ‘essences’ that naturally occur in different types of wine. It’s really cool, and I’m amazed that many of these smells also occur in incense. I shouldn’t be so amazed though since florals, woods, herbs, minerals, etc. all occur in incense as well. I really wish some of you were nearby so we could have a ‘Guess the Smell’ party, LOL. Anyway, the essence of civet, included in the kit, is EXACTLY the musk smell I get from Highland–not deer, but more cat-like (but in a good way). Am curious to hear your thoughts, and thank so much for recommending Highland. It’s truly an instant favorite.

    Mark

  15. Mike said,

    September 8, 2008 at 10:38 am

    :D I only wish I had this sort of hit rate with investments.

    I get the impression that the whole animal/musk/nagi thing is intentionally kept somewhat obscure given the ecological issues that tend to arise. That is, if the company doesn’t explicitly provide that info (which it might not be required to at origin) it may not be passed on, even if what we’re smelling is so, well, obvious. Nagi/pangolin scales seems to show up as an ingredient in far more than just premium incenses so I wonder, like with musk, if there’s a non-animal equivalent that’s used in the more affordable blends. It can, indeed be difficult to tell…

  16. Steve said,

    September 8, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Hey Mike! Yup, Samye Monastery Samanthabadra is on my next order list. I know you’ve recommended this one highly in the past so I immediately added it. BTW, is Samanthabadra the only one with “animal extracts”? I thought the TMC and Highland had musk (which I assumed to be animal), but only Samye has the note/disclaimer on EotA.

    So, how are you at picking stocks, Mike? If you’re as consistent as you are picking fabulous incense, I’m gonna let you be my investment manager :grin:

    Steve

  17. Mike said,

    September 8, 2008 at 8:45 am

    And Steve, be sure to check out the Samye Monastery Samanthabadra too while it’s available. It’s different than the rest of these but I still consider it a pretty high level premium due to its richness.

  18. Mike said,

    September 8, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I’d probably slot Highland in between Holy Land and Nectar. It’s definitely much stronger in the muskier areas and doesn’t have that really profound floral center both the TMCs do. It’s interesting you like the Nectar better as I’m having that same sort of conundrum with Mindroling Grade 1 and 2. 2 is inferior ingredients wise but I really like how the juniper berry blends with the other spices and might like it better. The learning curves are pretty crazy with these. :)

  19. Steve said,

    September 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Tibetan Highland was the 3rd Tibetan incense in my latest order, which also included Nectar and Holy Land by Tibetan Medical College. My glowing comments for those latter two scents are under the appropriate review by Mike. Having sampled those, Highland immediately registered as being in the same “premium” Tibetan league. It’s creator is/was a Dr. from Tibetan Medical College, so it’s easy to believe this may have some similar basis in the recipe. I have only had 1 stick of Highland. I suspect I may have some aroma fatigue going on, but I wasn’t as floored by this one as I was the TMC offerings. Perhaps I’m already jaded by the “premium Tibetans” and this was just more of the same. I think this is more smoky/ashy smelling with a less concentrated, focused intensity I found in Nectar and Holy Land. It was also less cologne-like and perhaps had more of a slight funk punch – maybe this is the musk coming through? Again, there is a real similarity between this blend and the 2 from Holy Land but I just don’t have the same desire to sell plasma and buy more boxes of this like I did with the other two. This is by no means meant to be a negative review of Highland as it’s an awesome Tibetan incense – but I think it may be redundant and 3rd-ranking if lined up against TMC’s Nectar and Holy Land. It is, however, the most expensive of the three when looked at price per stick: Nectar is $.49/stick, Holy Land $.83 and Highland $1.06. Bang for the buck, I think Nectar is my current favorite. Thankfully I have a full box of all three to continue the comparison in smoky Tibetan bliss :grin:

    Steve

  20. August 26, 2008 at 9:56 am

    [...] Highland Incense – …is anywhere close to how I feel about it. In fact Highland here comes pretty darn close as a #2 and as the product of a retired Tibetan Medical College doctor, it’s not difficult to think about these two in the same breath. But where Holy Land gets the step due to its unbelieavable floral middle, which comes out the most when you’re not looking for it, Highland has such a balanced muskiness with a nice sweetness that it also constantly compels me to return to the box. [...]


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