Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land, Nectar

I’m so used to seeing Tibetan incense packages from $5 to $10 that when I started coming across packages more in the $15-20 range and even higher, I was very curious. Perhaps in the incense world more than anywhere else, the cost of an incense is quite reflective of its (rare, precious) contents and although there are a few exceptions, I’ve rarely been disappointed with high end Japanese incenses, so I wondered if the same theme would carry over with high end Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese incenses.

I’ve noticed that with some of the lower end Tibetan incenses that seem to have a large content of inexpensive wood, the ash is almost a dark, bluish gray. Many of these incenses smell like wood with flavoring in a manner that implies that the percentage of original aromatic ingredients is actually fairly low. While this type of ash isn’t particularly common overall (the Paljor incenses, Sonam and the Drepul Loseling incenses are three brands that do leave this sort of ash), it does seem to indicate what I’m calling a “leavened” incense and if it doesn’t imply a low quality base, it does imply a small portion of quality ingredients.

Moving to high-end Tibetan incenses is as shocking and revelationary as moving to high-end Japanese incenses, although the effects on the pocket book will fortunately be less severe. Even if you’re familiar with Mandala Trading, Dhoop Factory, Himalayan Herbal Company and other excellent and affordable Tibetan incense companies, moving to some of the more independent monastery incenses with price tags well into the $15-$40 range, will be a big surprise. Not only are the contents relatively unleavened, but you’re also dealing with ingredients that are likely to be considered transgressive from a Western green-minded perspective. It’s perhaps fortunate that these ingredients, generally real musk and real nagi/pangolin scales, are left obscure. For example if you list nagi, most Westerners are likely to consider it one of a number of unidentified, transliterated ingredients that are basically unknown. And if you list musk, the reader’s likely going to be trained to assume it’s vegetable musk. In many of these high end Tibetan blends, at the very least your nose is going to be telling you quite a bit more. There’s an unparalleled intensity in incenses from Tibetan Medical College, Highland Monastery, Samye Monastery and others that likely can be both accounted for by these ingredients as well as concentration.

As discussed here, there’s an intuitive aspect to burning incense. As with anything intuitive, approaching the subject with words is somewhat counterproductive as words can really never broach this area with any ease. From a personal perspective, the first time I lit a stick of Tibetan Medical College Nectar, the effect was like electricity, a charge of energy similar to the first time one experiences a quality aloeswood. The aroma penetrates like a knife, a combination of woods, herbs and spices that’s almost difficult to discuss due to the aromatic power and consistency. And like any great intuitive experiences, it was followed by a passionate response, an almost disbelief that a scent like this exists. It was as if the coils of smoke totally arrested me. I’ve since started calling this effect Tibetan or incense juju (a creative license) and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying these incenses have medical efficacy in the way Westerners consider it, there’s no question that these scents have an intuitive power that really sets them apart from 95% of the available imported Tibetan incenses.

Holy Land is Tibetan Medical College’s top grade incense and it very well might be the finest Tibetan-style incense available. Having started with the Nectar and moved to this one, I found this to be a step up and I was already over the moon with the Nectar. The central scent to this incense (and very close to the central scent for Nectar) is one of a big bowl of salted pistachio nuts, particularly the ones that used to be more frequently available that were red-dyed. But this is only the beginning. This intensity is mixed through out with a plethora of woods, florals, herbs and spices, not to mention a distinct musk that while not a central aspect to the overall scent, creates a give and take in the aroma that affords it greater complexity. The floral thread is like lily or jasmine, very subtle, but it manifests in the most incredible ways. Outside of aloeswood, I’ve experienced no other incense other than the Highland to continue to invoke scent memories no matter where I am. An experience like no other, this is a hall of fame incense whose relative affordability compared to Japanese sticks makes it an excellent buy.

One session I decided to light a stick of Nectar after the Holy Land and realized I could actually barely smell it. But that’s an observation more on the strength of Holy Land, as Nectar’s as likely to do the same to other Tibetan incenses even if the central pistachio-like center has been leavened with even more floral notes. The reddish color does imply this may be Tibetan Medical College’s “B” grade in some way, with the addition of juniper berries being fairly obvious. But like with the Mindroling Grade B this move doesn’t create a B grade so much as a different incense, with the berries and floral notes imparting rose-like scents to the mix. The ingredients noted in the Holy Land do seem to be here in smaller quantities but that mix was so powerful that it’s still heavily aromatic even here and thus I’d suggest starting here with the College incenses as Holy Land will only seem like another step up in comparison.

Overall these two blends are at the apex of Tibetan incense art. The ingredients are top class, the blends totally original and unlike no other company’s incenses and the intuitive impact, possibly as a result, is heavily subconscious. There be magic here…

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29 Comments

  1. AG said,

    November 16, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Holy Land is *the* meditation incense for those who like strong scents. (As in, stronger than the more classically subtle Japanese incenses.)

    Holy Land is too powerful for aromatic fatigue to be a factor. You’ll smell it with every breath, without trying to. Something about that smell just cuts through fatigue, laziness, distraction, desire, aversion, fogginess… all the obstructions to clarity are chopped down.

    I don’t get a pistachio smell from it personally, but it’s salty, sweet, sour, bitter, floral, pungent, woody, musky, resinous, green — in short, it’s a little bit of everything!

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “pleasant” but it’s very powerful and I have no intention of ever letting myself run out of it. (At least, until they switch to plant musk.)

  2. Terra Renee said,

    September 16, 2015 at 9:19 am

    For those interested, I found another site that seems to provide Holy Land grade 1. It seems Canadian based, which might be of some help to Canadian customers: https://incense-traditions.ca/shop/tibet/holy-land-incense/

  3. Paul W. said,

    December 10, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Just tried a few sticks of Nectar, it seems to lack that intense drive that Holy Land exhibits, smells grassy and too floral for my tastes, compared to Holy Land. It seemed more in line with some of the less expensive Tibetans especially Dhoop factory, which seems more berry/grassy, but lacks that deep rich musky scent. Unlike Holy Land I don’t think this one will “bring me in” in the same way.

    • Dead Crow said,

      December 11, 2014 at 12:17 am

      Nectar is for me, one of those incenses that, depending upon the time of year, I either like a lot, or find a tone to it that I really don’t like. Very odd to find that in the same incense, and maybe give the Nectar another chance when the weather changes again to see if you find that the same is true for you. The Holy Land is an entirely different beast for me, great all of the time, and something that I keep 20 boxes of always on hand, just in case 🙂 Only wish that EoTA still carried the Holy Land Grade 2 sticks, only a wee bit short in per inch power of Grade 1, but the size!! Still have 2 rolls of that monster sized stick unopened, and one half used, hard to argue with a stick that burns for 2 hours or so and smells that good.

  4. Diep Nguyen said,

    August 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I am from South East Asia and wonder how I can get this incense? Is it from Tibet or India or Nepal? Thank you very much!

  5. Ben H said,

    March 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    The element in Holy Land that some people identify as “barnyard” smells to me like Valerian root, which is popular as an herbal muscle relaxant and sleep-inducing bedtime brew.

    Valerian root is sometimes used as an “other natural flavor” in raspberry flavored products.

    To make a Valerian beverage, the root should be gentlly simmered.(Decoction as opposed to infusion.) The pot should be covered during the simmering, because the active principle will evaporate if the pot is not covered while simmering.

  6. echoes22 said,

    September 16, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I got some of this yesterday and tried burning it twice… really not understanding what everyone is on about here… kind of smells like an animal barn and cat urine to me… is this what everyone experiences at first? learning curve issue?

    • Mike said,

      September 19, 2011 at 7:17 am

      If you read below I think you’ll find that everyone has a different story on this one. Personally I loved it right off the bat, but others have learned to love it over time and others just couldn’t love it at all. Having run this place for a while I’ve noticed that for those for who juniper reminds them of cat urine won’t often take to a lot of Tibetan incenses.

    • Carrie said,

      September 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      When I got my first pack of Holy Land in the mail, I opened it and immediately scolded myself for spending that much money on something that smelled so awful.

      By the time I had burned maybe 6 or 7 sticks, I was ordering another 2 boxes to have on hand “just in case”.

      Now I’m wondering if I can crush up some sticks and infuse them in fractionated coconut or olive oil and wear it as perfume.

      So yeah, for me it was a learning curve. 🙂

  7. Marwan said,

    February 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I ordered lately Tibetan Medical College Holy Land Sticks and the first time i smelled it i had the impression it is strong and weird. Now i can’t wait to get home to light a chunk, it brings me in a state of peace , very addictive. I stopped using even Translucent Path from Shoyeido on its behalf, i can’t smell anything else now. We are becoming one.

    • Mike said,

      February 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

      Yeah it definitely gets under your skin if you let it. Very powerful juju this incense.

  8. Michael said,

    September 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Perhaps the most provocative incense experienced to date, and I had all but written off Tibetan incense. Although the scent profile is unique, it is consistent from stick to stick. The sense of relaxation experienced from burning this is absolutely incredible. Top Notch all the way around!

  9. September 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

    […] Holy Land – this Tibetan offering from Tibetan Medical College is finally back in stock at Essence of the […]

  10. August 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    […] 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 […]

  11. August 6, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I have been trying very hard to buy some Tibetan Medical college-Holy Land incense for almost a year now but it seems like its not available. If any one know where to get this Holy Land from Tibetan or online or anyone who have stock and would like to sell some please let me know.
    Many many thanks

    • Steve said,

      August 6, 2010 at 5:27 pm

      Hey LHL – I commiserate with you about Holy Land. My personal stock has gotten low and I’m much more hesitant about burning it now. Hopefully supplies will find their way here soon. I notice that Essence of the Ages still has Holy Land Grade 2:

      http://www.essenceoftheages.com/tibmed/tib1.html

      If you are a fan of Holy Land, the Grade 2 will certainly get you very close and it is my go-to burn now to scratch that itch. If you haven’t tried it, I certainly recommend it as a substitute. Just slightly rougher around the edges, but essentially the same thing.

      Another option is Highland:

      http://www.essenceoftheages.com/highland/hi1.html

      which is made by someone who came from Tibetan Medical College (makers of Holy Land). It is also similar and a high recommendation.

  12. April 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

    […] Tibetan Medical College/Holy Land – The ultimate Tibetan revelation, one of the most potent, electric and transcendent incenses on the planet. Woody, stately and created from unusual extracts and medicinal substances, this is a scent you will not soon forget and will haunt your memory and become an obsession. Tremendous mojo here. (Mike) […]

  13. Mike said,

    October 2, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Fantastic work Claire! I noticed a bit late that at least Holy Land is in part created by extracts, which would go a long way to explaining the richness of these sticks. It’s funny though, I often look at the medicinal descriptions of these incenses and chuckle, you know they end world war, save the children, eliminate bacteria and germs etc etc. And then I remember relaxing to Holy Land and being on cloud 9 and realized their description and laughed. I think I now buy that it brings joy, although I agree it’s more in the way you expressed.

    The barnyard description is truly excellent. I remember a while back when I was burning Sai Flora/Golden Champa several of my friends would note that it had a very earthy, manure like element to it. I seem to remember reading that part of this is the indole content, it’s the same thing that gives jasmine its wonderful smell (a very slight amount) but it’s also the same thing that gives manure/feces its stink (a very high content). I suspect that the indole contents in some of these incenses is pretty high to the point where the sweetness turns to funk.

    I also think you may be dead on on the tube rose. While Holy Land isn’t an incense I’d describe as floral, it still does have enough of a content to it that at times it’s like being in the middle of a garden. But it’s definitely an incense that is extraordinarily complex, with more and more revealing itself over time. I can’t wait until I can stock heavily on this one!

  14. Claire said,

    October 2, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Nectar – Tibetan Medical College

    The most noticeable thing about this one was that it had that underlying sour note / tang that is present in many Tibetan incenses but it was a lot smoother and mellower than in the lower cost blends and as a result it didn’t upset my stomach at all (as sour notes tend to) and I found it more pleasing.

    I could totally relate to that “bowl of pistachio nuts” aroma that Mike describes AND to that earthy / animal barn like aroma that Steve alludes to in “Holy Land” (also by Tibetan Medical College). Barn yard doesn’t really sound all that pleasant but it really does work here – it gives you that calm, centred feeling that you only truly experience when you are deep in the countryside, reconnecting with nature. Does it make sense to say that I could actually “feel” this incense right down into the pit of my stomach, weaving its way to my very core?

    The description on Essence of the Ages says that it makes you feel energetic and joyful – I’m inclined to disagree. Not joyful, but deeply content… and I could feel my eyes becoming quite heavy, my breathing becoming sluggish and my brain just drifting off to somewhere-else. As such, I would say it would be a great incense to get you into that alpha state for visualisations in meditation or for lulling you into a thoroughly relaxing sleep.

    In terms of strength of aroma, I thought it was on a par with “Shing Kham Kun Khyab” (by Tashi Lhunpo Monastery).

    Holy Land – Tibetan Medical College

    This one has a stronger aroma than the other Tibetan Medical College blend (i.e. “Nectar”). I lit this before popping to a room upstairs and when I exited the room, I could smell this at the top of the stairs and it was only about 1 or 2 minutes later. This is definitely the strongest Tibetan medical style incense that I have ever smelled. (I have tried a floral Tibetan / Nepali incense called “Tuberose” that is very strong but I suspect that it contains a substantial amount of Tuberose Absolute essential oil).

    As with “Nectar” this one seems to slow the pace down but I wouldn’t personally be able to use this one to aid meditation as I get a headache using it, which I presume is down to the strength of the aroma.

    In terms of the composition of the aroma, it reminded me a bit of the “Tibetan Monastery Incense” (by Mandala Trading Company) in so much as it has that underlying sour note / tang (though considerably smoother and more mellow, thus not upsetting my stomach as sour notes seem to do) combined with a floral top note that came through in wafts. Interestingly that floral note was neither as strong nor as expensive smelling to me as the one that came through on the “Tibetan Monastery Incense” which is about a third of the price to purchase. The only strong floral note was quite literally from the last puff of smoke as the incense finished burning.

    On leaving and re-entering the room where this is burning, I noticed a fruity edge to the floral note and also noticed what smelled like a hint of smoky bacon cooking over an open camp fire – quite an unusual combination!

  15. Mike said,

    September 8, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Glad you like the incenses Steve, I can barely get my hands off of them, they’re so addictive. Especially with Holy Land, I’m constantly comparing my decreasing stick number with the EofA Temporarily Out of Stock message. I still think Nectar is probably a juniper berry “diluted” version of Holy Land at heart, it always seems like the Holy Land smell floats as if it was more at a distance. The nice thing about Nectar is it still compares really well to other Tibetans even if Holy Land is really the more deluxe of the two.

  16. Steve said,

    September 6, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Decided to snuff the Nectar for now and try the Holy Land – of course this is going to be a real seat-of-the-pants, little-time-spent impression that may change over time. A berry brightness in there with the Holy Land, drier than Nectar – perhaps even less wet though still similar (Himalayan Herbal Incense comes to mind). The smell in the Holy Land box was again of horse saddle, though more hay-like. I’ve noticed with many Tibetan incenses that I generally am reminded of a barn-like smell. Sometimes it is more leather, sometimes more animal/musk, sometimes more wood or hay, but all smells associated with the barn. It seems that TMC takes the fundamental Tibetan spicy sweet musky smells and distills them to laser-light intensity and sharpness, losing some of the heaviness/wetness/foginess of many other Tibetans. I keep coming back to the word focused to describe these scents – a direct olfactory punch and no filler or fog. I fully appreciate these as being top tier among Tibetan incense as Mike describes. I haven’t had much time with Nectar or Holy Land – ironically, having started with Nectar first, I find Holy Land a little hard to smell at the moment. I think they both hint at the same story, and having glimpsed the punchline, the latter one tried loses it’s upfront shock appeal. Tonight, I’m even hard pressed to say which I prefer though to follow my mention of focus, if Nectar is more focused than many/most other Tibetans, I can say that Holy Land seems yet further focused (and drier). Perhaps with the exception of my Mandala Trading Co. stock, I may put the remainder of my Tibetan incense on eBay. With those proceeds and whatever additional funding I can muster, I will buy cases of Nectar and Holy Land 😀

    As wafts of Holy Land drift by me towards the window on a lovely late afternoon sunset, I am thankful for the entrepreneurs who make my enjoyment possible by bringing these scents to the states from far off places – I’m sure this luxury was non-existent even a few years ago!

    Steve

  17. Steve said,

    September 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    My latest order arrived today from Essence of the Ages, which included Tibetan Medical College Nectar and Holy Land. Opted to try the Nectar first and all I can say is 1) WOW! and 2) thanks Mike for pointing me towards TMC. I cannot really describe Nectar’s scent directly, but it immediately felt familiar to me and induced deja vu. If you are a fan of Tibetan incense, especially Tibetan Monestary Incense, the fundamental tones won’t be unfamiliar to you, but I still don’t seem to have the vocabulary to describe these foreign aromas. But for what it’s worth, I will agree that TMC Nectar seems premium – the aroma is rich, sharp and bright yet dry and not wet or heavy as Tibetans go. After burning many many Tibetan sticks with voluminous smoke and less direct, less focused and less defined aroma, Nectar really strikes me as hitting a real tight target that is both rich, comforting and exotic at the same time. And as odd as this may sound, I can’t avoid mentioning the first thing that crossed my mind when I opened the box and smelled the unburnt sticks – horse saddle. This warm smell carries through to the burning, and is very very pleasant and approaches cologne-like at times. A spicy, leather-sweet wonderful experience. I rather expect this is what John Wayne would smell like after riding the range, grabbing a shave, splashing on aftershave, downing a snort or two of bourbon and lighting a cigar! I can only imagine what Holy Land is like and will likely try it later tonight – after I finish the dozen Nectar sticks I just lit in my living room 😀

    I kinda hope the Tibetan Medical College folks don’t read this 🙂

    Steve

  18. Mike said,

    August 14, 2008 at 9:50 am

    LOL It’s weird because it smells very floral, at times like cheap perfume. Only shows up occasionally. If I had a lot of fragrant plants nearby, I’d think differently. I thought maybe the Angel of Perfume was marking my door for later. 🙂

  19. Mark said,

    August 14, 2008 at 9:33 am

    I wonder if DEA agents are trained to sniff for that outside doors Mike? 🙂

  20. Mike said,

    August 14, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I’ve noticed that sometimes essential oils or the perfume parts of the incense sometimes congregate right outside my front door. I used to think a neighbor of mine was trying to send me a message until it continued to happen after she moved out.

  21. Mark said,

    August 14, 2008 at 9:23 am

    I love it when a home sort of macerates in the glow of an especially appreciated stick. Sometimes I notice a ‘lingering’ on linens and in the air when I come home after being out of the house for a few hours.

  22. Mike said,

    August 14, 2008 at 7:49 am

    I’d have been very jealous Mark lol. Given its apparent scarcity it seems like one I might want to back stock a couple boxes on. Coming downstairs this morning, even though I had actually burned a half stick of Nectar before I dozed off last night, it felt like I could smell it in my living room. Two truly magnificent incenses here…

  23. Mark said,

    August 14, 2008 at 6:02 am

    Well I thought I had made a huge find when I realized that Samye Ling Monastery was selling the 30 pack of Holy Land for 2.50GBP. I placed a huge order and was delighted to see that shipping from Britain was minuscule. But then I got an email saying they were out of stock, and they couldn’t get anymore from their supplier :-(. Psych!


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