Triloka / Cones / Amber Sun, Angelic Frankincense, Arabian Jasmine, Dream Rose, Green Patchouli, Musk, Royal Sandalwood, Sandalwood Fire; Ropes (4 unnamed)

In the Indian incense field some very heavy players have emerged onto the field in the last year or two. They appear to be using quality ingredients and some very well thought out combinations of herbs, spices, oils and resins to produce stellar results at very affordable prices (the fantasy of being able to buy 10 sticks of quality Japanese Aloewoods or Sandalwoods for under $5 makes me glassy eyed : o ) ). So the expectations for quality in the Indian incense market have been raised a great deal. This has resulted in making the selection much bigger and at the same time somewhat harder to deal with from both the consumer and the manufacturer point of view.

A couple things that Triloka has going for it are the quality of ingredients and their pricing. Plus I am sure they have a lot of established fans, having been around for decades at this point. We’ve covered some of the company’s sticks in the past so will be covering a series of cones and ropes in this write up. Mike’s reviews are noted by asterix, the rest, including the intro is by Ross.

In most of these cases the base used to create these cones can come off fairly harsh, particularly when the main ingredients don’t work so homogenously together. In Amber Sun‘s* case the cone appears to be going for a similar scent to the honey amber wax/resin combos. Due to the combo of base and aromatics the mix is fairly soapy and a little rough, but not at all unpleasant. Given the sun in the name, it seems appropriate for this to be a little on the hot side (almost like the scent of granite in the summer).

The Angelic Frankincense* also seems about half “cone blend” and half frankincense scent and if it wasn’t for all the deluxe frankincense resins that have been coming out way of late, I might rate this higher. At least this does what it sets out to do and unlike a lot of Indian incenses (including Triloka’s stick frankincense), this has a distinct if mid-quality, resinous scent with a tough of lemon. Like all the cones here, the binder might irritate the sinuses, so expect it to be a little hot.

The base of the Arabian Jasmine* isn’t quite as strong here, so I’m not sure if the make up is different due to the red color here (as opposed to the previous two cones’ tan color). Unsurprisingly, this is a very perfumed cone. Fortunately, even if it’s obviously not a premium jasmine scent at this price, it’s still fairly dry and not too cloying, a touch fruity even, like a strawberry synthetic. Not amazing, but not offputting either, for the price it’s quite well balanced.

The Dream Rose* is an interesting floral cone to be sure, only roughly approximating (or dancing around) a mix of dry petals, fruity and perfume scents. There’s rarely ever a rose incense that hits it right at this cost level and overall this is a bit on the cloying side, particularly by the end of the cone.

There is a sort of classic sweet Patchuli note in the Green Patchouli that is married up to a “green” spicy note. For me this does not work, but I could see how it would for others. The two main notes seem to be trying to act as a balance between each other but for me it is more like being pulled back and forth.

In the Musk, a somewhat balsamic floral musk quality is hampered by the wood. This might really work well if the quality of the wood had been higher. The actual musk scent is at least in the ball park (given how wide the variations seem to be). I would guess it is herb/spice based and it works. The burning wood scent tends to get in the way of the musk tones, which is too bad as they are well done.

The Royal Sandalwood has a somewhat floral note with a semi sweet quality to it. It smells like it is made without synthetic based oils, which is a relief. It does not have a particularly noticeable sandalwood scent to it but is overall a pleasant floral based scent. The floral quality may be the “Royal” part of the name. I could see a lot of people liking this. It is a cone so it will put out a lot of smoke and scent very quickly to scent a room.

The Sandalwood Fire has a much more pronounced sandalwood scent to it; it also has a very dry overall character, not at all floral or spicy. It is rather surprising in that respect. I generally expect to find a deeper oil based sandalwood scent in Indian incense so if that is your goal then this is most likely not your incense. However, if you were looking for something to break up the traditional heavy oil approach then this might work for you.

The Triloka rope sampler we received contains four different rope incenses only identified by the colored tips, so we’ve indicated the color for each incense.

Like a lot of Tibetan rope incenses, the overall bouquet in the Blue Tip* is like a mixture of herbs, the smell of juice powder mix and spice, so it not only has a wood base but a wide variety of combustibles that make for an unusual and very smoky blend. This has tints of sandalwood, citrus, the tannin like scent from seeds (like in wine), grapefruit, hints of evergreen (juniper, maybe cypress), and a mixed fruit scent that makes this quite pleasant through the final rope loop.

The Green Tip* rope is a much woodier and less fruitier blend than the Blue Tip and subsequently a lot more generic, with there being more of a cedarwood presence than the softer woods in the previous rope. There’s a slight tinge of orange peel but mostly a lot of BBQ, cardamom, clove or spice. An average rope, pleasant, but not arresting.

There is a certain sweet floralish quality to the Red Tip mixed into a herbal note that is very interesting. There are no oil notes present and little of woods. So what you are getting is pretty much herbs, spices, resins and whatever flowers are in the mix. I do not recognize any of the notes but do find the overall mix to be interesting and pleasant. I could see this working in a prayer or alter setting quite well.

When the Yellow Tip is lit, a pervasive juniper-like note comes on very strong followed by a very clean burning herb note. The overall feeling here seems to be cleanliness or purification. There might also be something along the lines of sage in the mix. Probably not something you are going to use all the time but in the right context it would work fine.

Triloka incense is quite widespread in the US so should be found at many stores. You can also find a wide array of Triloka products through Sensia.

Triloka Premium Incense / Amber; Frankincense; Frankincense, Myrrh & Sandalwood; Jasmine, Lavender Fields, Lotus Champa, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Sierra Cedar, Vanilla Sandalwood (Ross and Mike)

Triloka has been around as long as I can remember an incense stick and probably a lot longer. Like many companies their scents have changed over the years with a lot of ingredient modifications due to increasing scarcity, and they’ve settled in the modern age on a combination of masalas and charcoals, at least for their Premium Incense stick line. In the past Triloka have been responsible for a number of startlingly good incenses and I still have almost body memories of walking into local stores and experiencing and buying various scents. We’d like to thank the company for sending us samples to review (we’re talking above and beyond the call of duty here) and in fact we’ll be eventually rolling out reviews of cones and ropes in the future. Over to some introductory impressions from Ross…

When I first saw these I had also just gotten in some of the Purelands, Shroffs and Pure-Incenses (plus a bunch of Japanese kyaras) and, at first, was a bit underwhelmed. I should also mention that I find Japanese incense and some of the American blends in general to be in my taste preferences. Not that I cannot appreciate the artistry involved in many the Indians, especially those mentioned above, yet I also enjoy being able to go through many sticks in a setting and the Indians tend to saturate my environment. All that being said it took me many tries to understand where this line appears to be coming from. One thing I noticed right away is that the scent of most of the sticks was very clean, no synthetic overtones that seem to be found in oh so many sticks of late (this is not restricted to any one country or style, it’s pretty much all over now). No, these seem to use very good ingredients, about as natural and high quality as it is possible to get at this price point. I also found them to be somewhat less intense or forceful than many Indian incenses. Which is not to say bland, just a bit mellower.

The Amber is very nice, a middle of the road or baseline as ambers go. This is probably my favorite in the group, but then again I really like amber and this one is well made. This is also interesting as there really do seem to be different notes appearing at different times of the burn, some dryer, some sweeter. This is not a floral amber style, much more toward the resins.

The Frankincense is a very sweet incense, I found the resin to be covered up by the floral/sweet/halmaddi notes. This is still a nice presentation but a little misleading if you are expecting a serious frankincense hit.

The Frankincense, Myrrh & Sandalwood Blend manages to present all three of the main notes as single aromas and in combination, a pretty good trick in my book. Again this is built on a sweet base, but this time you get to meet all the players in a very nice piece of work. Lots of changes also go through this stick, much like the Amber, from resins to woods and even a touch of very light floral from the base.

The Jasmine seems to be a charcoal base, which I have always assumed were used so the oils would not be interfered with by anything else. This has a sort of a jasmine and gardenia mix as a top note with a vanilla-like base chord. The gardenia notes make this a lot more interesting then I was expecting but at the same time I am not too sure about what kinds of oils are generating all this. Gardenia, jasmine and vanilla are all really high dollar oils, with real gardenia coming onto the essential oil market only this year. This is not an overpowering scent, nicely balanced and at a strength to act as a nice background aroma in a room.

The Lavender Fields is a dark purple, almost black stick with a high charcoal content. You can see sparkles on top of the stick and the unlit stick gives off a pleasant lavender and vanilla scent. However, when lit the lavender and vanilla notes are totally overwhelmed by the burning stick
material. I tried a number of sticks with the same results and have to assume this is an older batch in which the oils have lost their potency. Too bad as there was a lot of potential here given the scent of the unlit stick. Over to Mike for the second half…

Like the Jasmine and Lavender Fields scents above, the Lotus Champa blend seems to use a mixed vanilla and charcoal base similar in style to the Pure-Incense line. The vanilla seems to work quite well in keeping down the harsher notes of the charcoal and while it tends to mix with the top scent, it allows the essential oil to come through. In this case I seem to remember an older version of this incense from a decade back or so that was a durbar or masala type, but in charcoal form it’s difficult to get either lotus or champa impressions very strongly. In fact it’s not terribly different from the jasmine, although it’s more like if the jasmine was sitting on something earthier, such as patchouli. It’s an intriguing incense and I wouldn’t want to forget that the vanilla also plays a part in the overall bouquet here.

I’m quite fond of the now generic sweet patchouli style as typified by the Triloka Patchouli. It’s classy, intense, sweet and dry at the same time and could be the best version of this common green masala. Like many of the Triloka line, there’s a strong similarity with those in the Absolute Pure-Incense range, not only due to the vanilla and charcoal base, but the oil also captures the similar resonant, sweet, and clay-like patchouli leaf scent at the top end. Other incenses of this type often have some bitter top ends, almost snappy or legume-like, but the Triloka is quite well balanced.

The Triloka Sandalwood could be the very picture of the standard Indian sandalwood in that there are better and worse masalas. It has a moderate oil strength and the typical buttery wood scent common to Indian masalas with a slight tinge of vanilla mixed in from the base. There’s not much more to say, it’s not high enough quality to get the crystalline resin notes out like the best sandalwood incense, but nor is it adulterated or plain like cheaper versions.

The Sierra Cedar seems to be unusually named as I’d consider this style more of a Himalayan Cedar as it has a much sweeter and less drier type of aroma to it. Like the Frankincense, Patchouli and others in the Triloka line it’s something of a generic scent with analogs found in Mystic Temple, Incense from India, Primo and Pure-Incense lines. In this cedar I get a pleasant side note of cocoa powder in the mix which often seems to be a part of this style; it won’t knock you out but it’s quite pleasant. Perhaps in this case I might go with the Primo version by a hair.

The Vanilla Sandalwood might just increase the base vanilla and given there always seems to be vanilla in a lot of Indian sandalwood masalas, the increase in side scent seems fairly natural. There used to be an older bulk version of this scent in the Triloka line, which I reviewed a while back, but this is quite a bit better, a lot more distinct in scent. But again, this is also a fairly typical style and thus won’t generally impress with complexity, quite frankly the sandalwood on its own does a better job.

In many ways the Triloka Premium Incense line is a good way of getting a sort of base idea of some of the most common of Indian masala and charcoal scents. Most of these are very common and time worn scents and in many cases these are among the best of the standard masalas, comparable to Pure-Incense Absolutes. However, this line, based on the most recent catalog, has 15 more scents to it, many of which cover a variety of more complex and less common aromas, and based on having tried some of these in the fairly distant past, it’s possible that the ten scents here are actually among the least impressive in the line, and some of those are very good indeed. Triloka incense is also very inexpensive and sampler packs are available so there’s really no reason not to check out one of the more available Indian lines, indeed in many cases you’ll be getting close to Pure Incense quality without the added costs.

Magal Man Bajracharya / Aakash Bhairab Dhupaya + Triloka Himalayan Rope Incense / Tibetan Blend

I find Tibetan style rope incenses to be quite neat, even if I don’t use them fairly often. I spent a good deal of time reviewing the Essence of the Ages big line of ropes and found many of them fascinating and a good half dozen or more quite essential to the growing Tibetan incense collection (give the Lama rope a try on your next order, it’s inexpensive and amazing.) In retrospect, some of the other more uncommon rope lines really don’t hold a candle to most of that line, particularly in strength of aroma or disntinctiveness. One exception to this rule I reviewed a while back and undoubtedly there are a few others I’m missing.

Unfortunately the trio of incenses making up the Aakash Bhairab Dhupaya set are among those that really don’t crest the wave when it comes to distinctive rope incenses. I do like the fact that the ropes are longer and thinner than the usual as it cuts down on what is usually a prolific smoke content, but in doing so the company increases the amount of lokta paper being burned, which has a sort of cardboard/burnt marshmallow/vanilla aroma of its own that tends to interfere with the scent at these levels.

The Herbal rope (tip colored red) isn’t what I’d personally think of as herbal, in fact it’s the first example of an incense too dominated by the lokta paper. The scent is generally that vanilla/low quality wood sort of scent and it’s not really pepped up by anything. The Sandal rope (yellow) does what it says on the lid, but is fairly low quality wood and the lokta paper, again, cuts through giving it quite a bit of papery vanilla scent. The Healing rope (green) is probably the best of the three, fruity, mellow and smooth and seems to have at least as much sandalwood content as the Sandal rope.  There seems to be a bit of benzoin in the mix as well as the lokta paper. Even as the best rope of the three, it’s a bit generic overall.

Triloka’s Tibetan Blend Himalayan Rope Incense is one of a few Triloka ropes and is a step up quality wise on the Aakash Bhairab trio.  It’s definitely heavy on the woods with what seems like a lot of juniper and sandalwood (red and white) content and herbs blended throughout. Like most ropes it also has that vanilla like lokta paper scent but it’s much thinner than it is in the ABs. Overall this too is fairly generic, but there’s a light cinnamon and spice content that helps to make it a bit more accessible.

It would be hard to recommend any of these before checking out the Essence of the Ages/Direct Help Foundation line, so if you’re interested in ropes, look into those first. These certainly aren’t unpleasant but have little to them that would separate them apart from the greater pool of ropes.

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.