Triloka / Bulk / Jamaican Coconut, Lemongrass, Mystic Ambrosia, Nepali Musk, Tropical Garden, Vanilla, Vanilla Rose, Vanilla Sandalwood

[This line has been discontinued – Mike 1/22/09]

As long as I can remember, Triloka has been around distributing a large number of incenses and incense styles. In fact one of my most prevalent memories of the company’s incense is that it seemed to change almost every time I would shop for it, making it difficult if not problematic to restock something you liked. So it was no surprise in finishing up this article that most of the incenses here, which I bought less than three years ago, if not sooner, aren’t all that easy to find, being part of their “bulk” incense line, and thus not carried by many of the suppliers who offer Triloka incense, including Sensia and Incense Warehouse.  Based on the scents here, the choice not to stock these aromas is somewhat justified.

While I haven’t tried any of Triloka’s durbar styles in quite some time, my memory of many of them is good, although I wouldn’t put them on quite the same pedestal as those from Shroff Channabasappa, Ramakrishnanda, Mystic Temple, etc. They were always a little drier, implying a relative lack of halmaddi in the center, but this is probably the same trend that’s affected Shrinivas and other suppliers given the rising costs of halmaddi itself. These bulk incenses, however, are a step down and in the realms of the generic masala, incenses that, while not unpleasant, are unnecessary given the number of quality masalas and durbars that can be found these days. It will generally be impossible for me to recommend any of these, as not only are they attuned to modern rather than traditional tastes, but they don’t really hit the bullseye on any particular scent. Almost all of these incenses also share a very similar base, one slightly sweet and gummy but lacking character.

Jamaican Coconut, for example, isn’t an incense that really hits the smell people will usually associate with the coconut. It’s much more of a floral in many ways, with a green, and slightly spicy patchouli base that moves the coconut in certain directions one might find in suntan lotions. The coconut aroma is thus relatively mild and like most of the incenses in this list, somewhat halfhearted and thin. In my opinion an incense must commit to its direction and this one fails to do so.

Lemongrass is a difficult aroma to mess up due to the high strength and pungency of its oil, a favorite in Vietnamese cooking. However in this case it clashes with its base to some extent, the sweetness of the gums not contrasting particularly well with the lemongrass scent. It’s as if the stick has some durbarish qualities without going the whole way. In fact it’s somewhat fortunate that the oil isn’t all that heavy in the incense. Overall, though, it wouldn’t be a bad stick for someone who finds the average lemongrass incenses a little too powerful as it is not unpleasant, perhaps one of the few aromas in this batch that benefits from its halfhearted attempt at merging a strong oil with sweeter gums.

Mystic Ambrosia is basically the one true durbar in the group, or it would be if it wasn’t so dry, with an obviously different base from the usual style. But it strikes that sweet gum sort of champa smell that’s similar, if inferior, to, say, Surya’s Forest Champa. That is, there’s a thinness in the scent you won’t tend to find in most durbars. It has some resin (most likely inexpensive frankincense) and sandalwood mixed with a somewhat generic floral oil to give it presence, and the results are a little on the harsh side in the final burn. However with so many quality durbars to choose from, this is something of a wash.

Appreciators of some of the true Tibetan musk incenses will likely chuckle seeing a masala incense named Nepali Musk, like I did, despite the credit to Triloka for keeping it herbal. This is a good example of why this is a difficult scent to nail without the real thing, and like with the Lemongrass, the typically sweet gum base of these Trilokas doesn’t assist all that much in getting the aroma right. Like many herbal musks this is less musky and more dusky or dark with a somewhat harsh finish. Like many incenses that don’t hit the right target, one wonders if you’d enjoy it under a different name; personally I find it difficult to even consider this a true musk even for a masala.

Continuing the generic formula of this line, Tropical Garden also seems to suffer from having an identity crisis due to the base. Like most cheap floral incenses, the perfume here is quite harsh while not being distinct in any way, nor particularly tropical in the sense I think of it (orchids, mango, pineapple etc). Fortunately for the incense’s harshness, the stick is still relatively generic meaning the “aftertaste” is more blunt than unpleasant. That is, unlike most rose incenses in this format, things never get too bitter, also probably a byproduct of having a gum and wood base. It’s like a long sum adding up to zero.

Vanilla and Vanilla Sandalwood are similar enough to be nearly redundant and thus worth comparing and contrasting rather than treating separately. Both are very woody at heart, with the typical gum content seemingly reduced as a result. Strangely enough it’s the Vanilla Sandalwood that hits the true vanilla notes, possibly due to the wood being a little better quality. The Vanilla itself seems lighter and drier without the buttery sandalwood as a base and the vanilla itself isn’t quite as rich on its own, so to speak. As a contrast, the Vanilla Sandalwood isn’t bad at all and is perhaps the best stick among the eight in this review, thin yes, but at least reasonably balanced and successful in its mix.

Vanilla Rose is almost like crossing the Vanilla and Tropical Garden scents. It’s surprisingly delicate overall and seems to have quite a bit of benzoin in the mix, which might be responsible for the light vanilla scent. There’s also some slight spice and cinnamon here, reminding me that this isn’t much of a group for spicier scents. The vanilla and gum base does help to mitigate any of the more bitter rose qualities found in masalas of this type, but like with Tropical Garden it seems like this incense is trying to do too much with out the requisite ingredients.

Triloka does much better incense than what can be found in their bulk line, a line that just really can’t compete with so many fine masalas and durbars to choose from, all of which will be so close in price as to render any differences irrelevant. At the same time, for extremely inexpensive incense (per stick), none of these are particularly offensive and avoid the harsher qualities found in charcoal sticks and cheap masalas, which, while still damning with faint praise, is somewhat impressive. But overall they all fall under my threshold for keeping in stock.


1 Comment

  1. Nancy said,

    December 13, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    I used to order this stuff when I worked at Whole Foods in Atlanta. We sold TONS of it every month! It seems like they’ve taken a very sweet and benign sandalwood mix and added a bit of aromatics to each variety. The result, unfortunately, is that the non-descript base seems to be the defining and even overpowering note of each selection. Inexpensive and definitely not saturated with synthetic perfumes, but still not very interesting. A move in the right direction away from Gonesh, Hem and the like, but still leagues away from a Shoyeido or Baieido.

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