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.