Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Kaar Sur-Poe, Maar Sur-Poe

So after so many Bhutanese incense reviews of red/purple incenses it feels like a bit of a relief to get incenses that are tan colored. Honestly I wondered right away if Kaar Sur-Poe and Maar Sur-Poe were the same incense because only the K/M and the white/pink wrappers were really different. They appear to be the same shade of tan as well, but I had to move them around a bunch in the light to confirm that. In a previous review I was also comparing an incense to a deleted one from long ago and it feels like I need to do that again. Kaar Sur-Poe is described as containing “a special blend of fruits, cereals and medicinal plants with an aroma both woody and spicy and not at all overpowering.” Maar Sur-Poe is described a bit more in detail as containing “an important blend of fruits, cereals, edible medicinal plants, milk, butter, honey,  juice, alcohol and animal fats.” Both blends remind me a lot of the long deleted or unavailable Lung Ta line. The use of food ingredients in these blends give these incenses a rather unique sort of sour and thick scent that I can sense in these incenses as well. So with that said, these are actually quite a bit different than most Bhutanese traditional incenses.

However I started writing this with the possibility they may just be the same incense. And they are indeed so close you really only need one and perhaps so close that the variation I am sensing is tough to assign to either a different incense or just a variation. But I think we have to assume the different list of ingredients sets them apart. But they’re so close I’m going to review them as one and just try and explain how they’re different, As the tan color might imply, both incenses are heavy on the woods, more so than the pink and purple styles. However where the contrasting spice mix in the reds/and purples actually often draw out a distinct sandalwood note, you really don’t get that much in either one of these. The Kaar Sur-Poe seems to be the woodier of the two with some elements that reminds me a bit of cooking spice. The Maar-Sur seems to be a bit more spicy in the whole cinnamon/clove sense you tend to get in so many incenses. And so the latter seems to be a bit tangier, maybe a bit more full bodied of a mix where the former is woodier with perhaps a bit of campfire or reediness in the actual burn. Otherwise they seem to share a great deal more in common, with a base woodiness that leans to the kind of freshly cut smell you get in a woodshop, maybe a bit of a nutty flavor to them, as well as feeling a lot of the woody elements come from trees other than the sandalwood. Neither are perhaps the kind of incense I’d reach for, as they seem perhaps a bit closer to low end Nepalese styles, but they aren’t ultimately unpleasant, just perhaps somewhat unremarkable overall.


Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Soothing Incense

I’ve recently covered a couple, more conventional length Bhutanese incenses by Chimi Poe Jorkhang here, but they also do this incredibly wee bundle of incense called Soothing Incense. I am at first struck by the confidence in the length of the sticks, in the sense that these short sticks should absolutely do the trick with little to no fuss. Unsurprisingly this is an incense that is roughly in what I called the Agar 31 range (although this claims to have 21 ingredients), a type of incense that seems fairly common in Tibet. Other incenses in this range include a stick like say Long Du Relaxing Incense (also very short), TPN’s An Shen Tranquility Incense (less confident I guess), and Mindroling Soothing Incense. There’s a whole host of these types that have been reviewed here in the past and are now no longer available as well. They all have something of a low grade tangy aloeswood in front (although it’s probably just a touch on this one), are somewhat airy and mild, and as far as I can tell seem to have some mellowing effect that might be similar to, say, homeopathic medicine or perhaps suggestion. I do genuinely like this style although I find the Chimi to be a bit more evergreen than I’m used to in this sort of blend. Other ingredients listed also include red and white sandalwood, nutmeg and myrrh. This is quite spicy which at least to me tends to dilute the mellowness a bit but it does give it some nice aromatic qualities. But it is also a very adorable little bundle, just a few inches in length, and overall I think this one falls on the friendlier side of the fence.

Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Guru Chan Dreen Poejor, Na Gi Ma Bjor

Here’s a couple of Bhutanese incenses from the same creator that are both red/purple style with perhaps a slight shading difference. These are both solid representations of this classic style, somewhat picture perfect in fact. There are few (or no) ingredients listed on the package or at the site, but I think the question here depends on whether you are familiar with this style of incense as the range of them isn’t terribly vast. So I’m going to link a couple that do have ingredients list as a pointer, not because I really have any idea what’s in these two but because the style is so similar, it’s likely there is crossover. Take a look at Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods or Gelephu as pointers.

Guru Chan Dreen Poejer seems quite friendly and sweet. I’d liken that sweetness to the mix of sandalwoods, juniper and maybe a bit of resin, but to me the quality overall is kind of red berry like and it’s the sort of Bhutanese incense that I think is likely to be friendly to most Westerners. Unlike Nepali incenses you never get too harsh of a wood quality, that is it’s not campfire-like at all, and there’s a sort of soft puffiness to it almost like what a confectionary would smell like if it was made out of woods and spices. And while some Bhutanese red sticks might have some more dangerous ingredients as subnotes, this one seems to be missing them. Like most red stick Bhutanese incenses the spices do not dominate but play around the edges a little, complimenting the sweetness with a bit of cinnamon and clove. To recapitulate this entire style is to really say that nearly any red stick is a good entry into this Bhutanese style, and Guru Chan Dreen Poejar might be one of the most friendly to familiarize yourself with. But if you’ve tried a few, you might reconsider needing more unless you’re a real fan of the style.

Na Gi Ma Bjor isn’t a radical departure from Guru Chan Dreen Poejor but it’s not quite as sweet and it’s a bit more tangy. We’re given a couple more clues as to what’s going on with this, with Na Gi (a medicinal seed) and white sandalwood (unlikely to be shocking) and these new elements give this one some personality that makes it a bit different from other red sticks. However, unless you’re really paying attention to it, this one isn’t terrible distinguishable from the Guru Chan Dreen Poejor and is mostly just a slightly more original variation on the red stick formula. Even though it’s a bit less sweet, it’s really no less accessible. I might just add that if you’re familiar with the style, have surveyed the more tan-stick Jaju incenses and want something a bit different, this might very well fit the deal. But overall once you’ve dug into several Bhutanese incenses the one thing you notice is that they tend to fit into some tight ranges and are very similar.

Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Dri-zhem Poi Incense

Driz-zhem Poi incense is another Bhutanese standard and while it’s roughly in the typical Bhutanese red or purple style, it doesn’t have the lighter hue or the same sort of composition and tensile strength that many of those incenses do and seems perhaps a bit more traditionally Tibetan. However, it still has a lot of the same sort of berry and sweeter highlights and a touch of that almost tobacco-like herbal quality most of the style exhibits, but it seems like it has a bit more of a woody base. Like most of these incenses, Dri-zhem Poi is quite friendly and while this is perhaps not the most premium of the style, it has an overall gentle profile that makes it fairly perfect as a first-time Bhutanese entry, in fact it reminds me of the more common Tibetan imports you often find in the US at incense houses. I almost want to use the word generic, except such a term lends itself to mediocre and I don’t think that’s what you’ll find here. But it doesn’t quite have some of the wilder or denser qualities of some of the Bhutanese incenses we’ve covered over recent weeks. In fact it might even be instructive to try this one first before moving to those to get some idea of the gentle scaling of this type of scent. My experiences with Bhutanese incense still show most of them in a very similar range, so if I was to still pick one I might go for the Lhawang Driden first before moving laterally to a stick like this.