Dzongsar Incense

Many Tibetan monasteries run out of China by the government are now exiled to India, Bhutan and Nepal; however, Dzongsar Gonpa still appears to be based in China. They’re the creator of one of Tibet’s most arcane and unusual incenses, the eponymous Dzongsar incense.

Dzongsar Incense doesn’t come with an ingredients list per se but is clearly a complicated polyherbal blend. It’s almost impossible to compare it to other incenses. The sticks are quite thick and the consistency of the sticks appear to be a bit denser than the normal Tibetan-style format. The ends of the sticks flatten out to make them look a bit like extended bows, something a bit problematic in removing the sticks from the otherwise useful container, my cylinder came with a few broken fragments. However, Dzongsar’s such a powerful and intense incense that even these fragments feel an awful lot like you’d just got done burning a full stick.

Dzongsar’s something of a conundrum, it’s a very difficult incense but it’s also a powerfully intuitive one, like the Tibetan Medical College incenses, Samye Monastery and Highland. This intuitive element is one I highly prize and was responsible for its showing in our Hall of Fame for about a week, until I started to feel that the combination of elements here might not be universally friendly among Western noses. It has similar elements in it to incenses like Essence of the Ages’ White Pigeon and Ayurvedic ropes, that is herbs and spices that are likely to remind one of funk, yeast and cheese at times. Combining these difficult blends with the massive intuitive power may even make these more difficult to swallow for Westerners, as this is a blend that has severe staying power.

Personally I find this sort of difficulty livens up a blend and in Dzongsar’s case there’s a real depth to it. There are hints of both the vegetable and animal here and the sorts of tangy smells that tend to be associated with some Chinese medicinal herbs. Like any incense that seems to have natural musk to it, there’s that staying power that’s similar to what it would be like if skunks had musk glands. An inch or two of this will scent a room for a surprisingly long time, with the difficulty a strong part of this.

Do we call these “expert” incenses? The concept in Japanese incense seems to relate to aloeswood depth, especially aloeswoods that aren’t as sweet and friendly. Dzongsar is one of those rare incenses that (even if aloeswood is here it’s submerged) does indeed bring a similar depth that’s quite resonant with the subconscious. Like all great high end incenses it’s evocative and memory image-retrieving. But it’s also ripe, weird, and perhaps a little dangerous.



  1. C.J. said,

    December 22, 2009 at 12:04 am

    This is a blended including asofedita, without too much of the nasty Cheeeeeez scent–you know what I mean! I enjoy burning this along with 2008 “A” and “B” grade Nado Poizhang when I’m planting blue corn, beans, squash, tomatoes etc outdoors in spring…any food of the stalk or vine I’ll eat.

    I have ~Never~ had problems with wierd dreams, funny feelings, etc. Dzongsar is balanced a lot better than say, “Dolma Asafoedita Healing”, which offers a definate healthy and distinctive liver-n-onions scent (not bad–just need the right setting or occasion for comfort). Dzongsar is subtle for what it is, lingers nicely in a partially ventilated home, and seems something special which should last a while used judiciously.


    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2010 at 10:29 am

      Excellent point on the asafoetida, that’s exactly the weird note in the Dzongsar, I’m kicking myself I didn’t realize that earlier, but i was probably trying to block the asafoetida experience from my mind. 🙂

  2. Mike said,

    October 14, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Yeah it’s about as dangerous an incense as is out there. It’s as higher mind triggering as most aloeswoods are, yet very disconcerting. The beer comparisons remind me of the real Belgian lambics, not the ones that are usually sweetened with fruit juice, but the ones reminiscent of funky blue cheese and all that. I like its juju, but not its scent so much and agree that the more I use it, the harder it is to really get into. I’m still terribly intrigued by it though.

  3. Steve said,

    October 12, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Mike – I understand your love/hate comment now. Well, it seems the more I burn this one, the less I like it. The beer-like tartness certainly overstays its welcome by the end of a full stick. I don’t find it to be a settling aroma – it seems to induce a heightened awareness or sensitivity that isn’t altogether pleasant. It scores a point for uniqueness, but I may have to limit burns to half sticks or less. Given the price of Dzongsar, it probably won’t be on my permanent restock list.


  4. Mike said,

    October 3, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Glad to hear you liked it, I’ve managed to come to a love/hate relationship with this incense. Generally I found most of the brittleness of the sticks to be towards the ends. They taper out so much that I think they tend to snag on each other in the tube and break.

  5. hmansion said,

    October 3, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Have had a few burnings with Dzongsar now. The sticks are odd – their appearance is of grayish-brown clay sticks and, based on how fragmented they end up in the packaging, their consistency must be equally as brittle. I did not have an immediate strong reaction to Dzongsar, but I do like it very much. Smoky, as most Tibetans are, and dry. I was surprised by the yeast smell, as Mike describes. It really reminds me of beer (hops?) and is quite pleasant. I didn’t find it hard to warm up to Dzongsar and have certainly tried other Tibetans that offended my Western olfactory sensibilities 😀

    Dzongsar does not have the same rich, velvety “red” quality found in other premiums like Holy Land, Nectar or Tibetan Highland, being somewhat more arid and almost acidic/alkaline (“yellow” in my mind), but there is still a hint of the animal/barn mojo there. Pricewise, $ per inch at least, Dzongsar is at the same pricepoint as Tibetan Highland, so it’s not inexpensive. Jury is still out for me on the enjoyment-to-price ratio, but I could see possibly replenishing the tube once its contents has been depleted…


  6. Mike said,

    August 15, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Hi Jacky thanks for writing…

    You can find my review on (some of) the Nado Poizokhang incenses here:

    You can find my review on the Tibetan Medical College Holy Land and Nectar here:

    I haven’t tried incenses from Shechen or KhangDru that I know of, but I will be looking out for them based on the company they’re keeping on your list. 🙂

  7. Jacky said,

    August 15, 2008 at 1:49 am

    I have tried some Tibetan, Nepal & Bhutan incenses. Some of them are very special and the smell cannot be resisted. The following kinds (1-3) are among my favourites. I’d really like to see the good and bad side of them. May you have a comment on them?
    1. Nado incense (bamboo, orange box, yellow, box, green box, etc. They are very fragrant, but smell quite different from Mindrolling incense, although said to be similar tradition);
    2. Shechen monastery incense (both red and blue box);
    3. The Holy Land incense (Made in the medicine factory of the Tibetan Traditional Medical College);
    4. KhangDru Tibetan incense (peaceful-yellow; wrathful-red; mix between peaceful & wrathful-a small box of short incense)

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