Dzongsar / Be Dur Ya, Offering Incense of Concentration, Relaxing Incense, Tibetan Incense (Slight Return)

I was first introduced to Dzongsar Monastery’s Tibetan Incense many years ago. To my nose it still remains the ultimate enigma, as deep and rich a monastery incense that’s available but with such a funky main note that it’s often the very definition of a difficult incense. In that sense it can be fascinating to return to it, to see what my nose thinks of it all these years later with the experience of other monastery incenses to inform a new visit. But before I revisit it, I wanted to go over the monastery’s other three incenses (two pictured), all of which are much more friendly and approachable scents without the major learning curve. The neat thing about these is that all but one feel like Dzongsar incenses in that some of the bouquet of the flagship brand crossover into them, but they do not have as many of the issues that could be a lot more difficult to Western noses.

Be Dur Ya, the incense in the elegant black (or sometimes white) cylinder, takes the flagship scent and pushes most of the intensity and pungency in the background more, letting most of the aroma ride on a sort of elegant, smooth woodiness. This central scent is deeply interesting because while it seems to hold a surface, glossy sort of unity, like a mix of sandalwood, juniper and camphor, it also seems to pop out a lot of other notes through the burn, all while sitting on top of the previously mentioned base scent. This really gives a nose a lot to work with as it goes. At separate times, you get the high altitude scent, a bit of the autumnal herby-tobacco like vibe, and then the mild funk will ride underneath it all and that interplay of all the different elements really makes it a very interesting incense indeed. One of the things I really like about it is it’s both kind of dry and sophisticated while not really losing any depth and that’s an interesting tightrope to walk. Oh and occasionally the spice can be really impressive, as if the cinnamon and clove notes come out as an afterthought. And for about $13 for a “roll” it’s actually a very good deal, certainly an equal to many incenses a $10 spot or more above it (not to mention you can get a shorter stick version of it as well). I really enjoyed being reintroduced to the monastery in such a fashion.

Dzongsar Offering Incense of Concentration is something of a more traditional, perhaps more basic incense, although, like with the Be Dur Ya, this also has something of a woody contour. I don’t sense the usual Dzongsar note in this one so much, in fact at times it reminds me a lot of the aromatic maps of more inexpensive Nepalese incenses, except with deeper more resonant materials. I sense quite a bit of camphor in this one as well, it seems to ping off the juniper-evergreen scent quite nicely. I want to point out that it’s a very fresh smelling incense, but these evergreen qualities are actually fairly mild overall, which lets the sandalwood play through quite a bit. In fact sampling all of the Dzongsar incenses will really give one something of a masterclass in how to balance ingredients in a way that almost distracts you from any specific one, almost as if in analyzing the aroma, it sort of shifts your perspective as you go. And just like with the Be Dur Ya, walking out and back into the space the incense is burning will highlight the spice content in the incense in a way that sitting in front of it may make you miss. The overall effects leave this as a sort of gentle cooling aroma that sort of belies that this is also a surprisingly complex and involved incense. Oh and it’s worth noting that this too has a shorter stick bundle.

So I am going to switch over to Dzongsar Relieving Incense now. As of the writing of this I hadn’t decided to purchase a full roll, which is why there is no picture here. I started with one of the Dzongsar Monastery Collections that incense-traditions.ca has so kindly collated, in part to try the original again, but mostly to get a preview of the monastery’s other incenses. Of course as I burn new sticks, I am reminded that the learning curve of many Tibetan incenses often means by the time I get around to writing about them my initial impressions have shifted quite a bit. But if you were to slot in Relieving Incense in terms of the funky (or perhaps “pungent”) note, I think it’s probably closer to the flagship line than these other two incenses. Relieving is a bit drier nor quite as tangy and nor is that funky note really going into the sort of I dunno, what would you call it, cheesy or yeasty territories. Here it does kind of smell like wormwood or other perhaps less aromatically Western friendly herbs, but it’s also blended in with the kind of strong woody and “alpine” notes that you might find in a Dhoop Factory stick. It has similar sort of campfire vibes to it and yet a bit of the woody polish of the previous two incenses. But there is no doubt that overall this is for those who want to get a bit dangerous. It is a powerfully strong incense just like this next one.

And finally, I’m not sure I have much to add to my original review of the flagship Dzongsar Tibetan Incense. It is still the model of the pungent incense and to this day I have never run across a Tibetan that is harder to process. But I always wanted to make the point that despite its inherent funkiness, it’s really a deep monastery incense, certainly on the same level of depth as the Holy Lands, Samye Monastery or Wara. In burning a half stick of it as I write this, I’m reminded that the Relieving incense is actually fairly close in style this one, maybe close enough they are roughly duplicative. But here the pungency overwhelms any of the more campfire notes. There is a smell that kind of reminds me a bit of a dry Italian cheese close to parmesan or the sort of yeast you might smell whipping up fresh pizza dough. It has been described as “sweaty sock” before as well and it’s hard to argue against that take as well. So as always, buyer beware and I’d highly recommend checking out a sample first. But make no mistake as a lesson on perhaps the way aromatic appreciation differs across cultures, this incense might teach you something as well.

2 Comments

  1. william273 said,

    December 3, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Hope this doesn’t sound like blasphamy but I have a sample of the Dzongsar Tibetan Incense and I find it smells a lot like the cheaper Milarepa Incense we see everywhere. Not saying it’s a cheap incense at all…it’s not…it does lift the Milarepa up the ladder a bit and does NOT lower the Dzongsar at all…I just notice something similar between the two.

    • william273 said,

      December 11, 2021 at 2:28 am

      UPDATE: My sample sticks of the Dzongsar Tibetan Incense were a few years old and had to have lost some of it’s punch. I just recieved a new tube a few days ago and it’s nothing like Milarepa as I mentioned so I’m here to correct that. If I could I would delete my comment but I can’t so this is the next best thing. The new sticks are very potent, pungent and earthy…very nice and sits at the top.


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