Drepung Loseling Monastery / Gold Seal, Zin-Poe

Drepung Loseling is a Tibetan monastery based in Karnataka State, South India, established there after the Chinese government forced many monasteries out of Tibet in 1959. Previously it had existed near Lhasa, where it was established in the 15th Century. Among several small cottage industries that support the students of the monastery is a small incense making project that produces these two exports, Gold Seal and Zin-Poe.

Both incenses are made from similar ingredients, over 40 different substances that include saffron, white and red sandalwood, juniper, cedar, fragrant arborescent and medicinal plants, ground conch and musk. Like many Tibetan incenses, the use of faunal ingredients may clash with Western ecological philosophies, although in the case of the Drepung Loseling incenses, the ingredients do tend to be leavened by the woody bases of the incense, meaning that the overt aromas these elements bring are quite mild. Despite the $16 price on the boxes, both contain enough sticks of incense to last you for a long time – in fact I’d say nearly every corner of each box was full with the reddish tones of the incenses.

Like other Tibetan incenses with grades, one gets the impression that the Gold Seal incense is Drepung Loseling’s A grade. The color of the stick is a darker, burgundy-ish red and the sticks are definitely quite thin. The aroma is more concentrated, tarter, crisper and more on the cherry or berry side. It’s a surprisingly gentle incense for a Tibetan high ender, definitely pleasant but not replete with the types of complex notes high enders often have. It’s even difficult with the ingredients list to call which notes are more in evidence.

On the other hand, Zin-Poe almost seems like a more leavened version of the same incense. It seems clear there’s a greater content of cedar and/or juniper wood along with the rest of the ingredients, not only are the sticks thicker but the color is definitely pinker and not quite as dense. The aroma is definitely quite a bit lighter and not terribly distinctive, although the red berry notes are still the dominant scent. In particular, the black ash left ofter does seem rather typical of incenses that have high quantities of cedar. However there are some interesting notes that comes out, including slight tobacco/herbaceous hints and a little bit of caramel (spikenard?). Overall it seems a bit watered down (I’d suggest starting with the Gold Seal) but it’s quite sweet and pleasant and not at all a difficult incense.

Tibetan incenses do generally become quite impressive when the prices start closing in on the $20 mark, however the price here also seems to reflect the quantity of incense in the box, which is quite considerable. For example Zin-Poe contains 50 10″ sticks, but it’s likely that is the count on the unbroken sticks; you’re as likely to get a number of extra sticks or fragments as well, given how full the boxes are.

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