Himalayan Herbs Centre / Traditional Mandala, Nirvana A, Nirvana B, Nirvana C

Himalayan Herbs Centre incenses are quite wonderfully packaged. In essence you get two choices, you can buy the bamboo tube roll alone, which isn’t always ideal as the hole you make in an end isn’t easily closed without that something extra, or you can spend the extra money to get what are rather striking silk coverings, which do the job and look quite nice (not to mention looking reusable for refills or other similar bamboo tubes). Basically you get a red silk package for the Traditional Mandala and Nirvana A, a yellow for the Nirvana B and a blue for the Nirvana C.

Unfortunately, except for the Traditional Mandala which comes with inner packaging, the three Nirvanas are loose in the bamboo tubes which given the make of the incenses, leads to increased breakage across  the entire batch. In all three of the Nirvanas, over 50% to 75% of the sticks were fragmented. I take it that part of this was because of the lack of a bundle with inner packaging but it’s also clearly because these incenses are formulated differently than most Tibetan incenses, leaving the finished product brittle. On the other hand this same style leads to a fairly improved product for rolls under $10, and the HHCs are actually among the best incenses in the price range. And given how long Tibetan sticks generally are, it didn’t bother me terribly that the sticks were in fragments, but do be warned.

The Traditional Mandala Incense (second from bottom) could be the best of the four incenses. Despite its ingredient list showing nagi, jattamansi, kapur, cloves and red and white sandalwood, the dominant impression is of a very resinous, frankincense-heavy incense in a wood base.  Even though the base of red and white sandalwood (quite high quality I might add) is obvious and the clove spice fairly prevalent, the stick largely gives off a very orangey, resin-like aroma which reminds me a lot of some of the church resin-like blends except with the obvious woody base a stick brings with it. Overall it’s the least complex of the incenses in this grouping, but it’s extremely friendly and very pleasant and among my favorites in under $10 Tibetan incenses.

The Nirvana line is labelled A through C, but in all cases I would think it’s because of a difference in style rather than grading. As mentioned before, all three of these incenses are quite brittle and fragmentable, but this appears mostly to be due to an unusual base, one that weakens the binding across the incenses. Like the Traditional Mandala, the Nirvana A contains kapur, nagi and jattamansi, and I’d go as far to guess it probably shares the red and white sandalwood base as well. But overall it couldn’t really be more different, although it does share the woodiness and a bit of orange spice to it. The difference is the lack of a greater resin quantity in the A, leaving it spicy, pepper and largely woody. It’s actually quite strange that for such a woody stick that it has as much complexity, although I’ve been using this for about a year it still seems fairly mysterious at heart. It’s not terribly far from the original Red Crystal but doesn’t share that incense’s herbal and sage-like mix.

Nirvana B uses agur, chandan (sandalwood) and dukura, yet had I mixed up the ingredient lists with the names, I’d have guessed the B contains amber, both due to its pinkish color and obvious amberish tones. It’s this aroma that leaves this incense as the most accessible and friendliest of the trio, and is also one of the most high quality and aromatic incenses you can find at the $7.95 range. The mix of sandalwoods common to the previous two incenses is also prevalent here and let me mention again that it seems to be an uncommonly high quality mix for the range (although I suppose the chandan tag might have something to do with it being so noticeable in this one). Overall it’s light while still dense and aromatic, fairly complex and sweet with a bit of pepper for kick.

Nirvana C is the least accessible of the group and contains saffron, tsampaka, pangpay, sandalwood and amber/sal dhoop in its ingredients . I’ve mentioned incenses that resemble corn chips before, but this one is probably the most foodlike incense I’ve experience, like some new concoction from the Frito company. Very tangy with an almost mesquite-like quality in the mix, it’s a hard one to get used to, although I’ve found its complexity tends to help with the learning curve over time. Overall it’s one I’d probably leave until you’re sure you like the other three.

Anyway I’m quite fond of these incenses, not only do they look good in the silk coverings, but they are rather unusual mixes that don’t really resemble  most other incenses (although the Traditional Mandala does resemble the Natural Arogya-Karmayogi due to its high level of resin and typical binding style). You might want to take a pass on the Nirvanas if excessive fragmenting bothers you, but in doing so you’d be missing out on some of the better Tibetans in their price range.

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Himalayan Herbs Centre / Blue Sky, Lumbini, Tashi Dhargey, Lumbini

For what are relatively inexpensive and wood heavy incenses, Himalayan Herbs Centre don’t do too bad a job with their incenses. They don’t have the herbal power most Tibetan sticks do at their price and have wood bases that occasionally come off a bit harsh in the mix, but occasionally what’s added to these bases actually lifts the incense above what normally be the case. They don’t all succeed in this way, and seem to have about a 33% hit rate, at least based on the four of eight incenses I’ve managed to try for the company, but those (maybe 1.5 roughly) that do hit are quite nice. In this same category of hits, the incense is quite a deal with a large number of sticks and a holder all just under $4 and occasionally less during a sale.

Blue Sky is one of the line’s best incenses, described as a traditional stick of lemon and herbs. The stick is blue and unlike many incenses the lemon hints actually work quite nicely here as part of a blend. While there are some slight metallic hints in the blend, possibly as a byproduct of the base, the overall sweetness and accessibility of the herbal mix renders it a note, one which I don’t find unpleasant in small quantities (in the same way earthy and funky notes actually add something when they’re not overprevalent). It’s quite a pleasant, inexpensive incense and certainly a good deal for the price.

Lumbini adds sandalwood to the herbs, with the emphasis on the latter. It’s less a woody incense than a musky one with what seem to be hints of amber in the herbal mix. The sandalwood content doesn’t seem to be too high and in this case the cheaper base is a little too revealed, which ends up clashing a bit without totally devolving the scent into the poor category. if anything it leaves the overall scent a bit thin, and the sandalwood doesn’t seem to be at a high enough quality level to really give it some middle.  It’s not unpleasant ultimately, just fairly pale in impact. That is, it’s more of a good incense in smell than in aftertaste, so to speak.

Unfortunately with Tashi Dhargey it could almost be the trademark of a poor, cheap Tibetan incense. This is the sort of woodbased scent where the evergreens come out harshly with that overwhelming scent of gravel and tire rubber coming out without an herbal base to balance it. It’s not terribly far from Lumbini, due to the amber, overtly mentioned this time in the ingredients, but where Lumbini had some balance, Tashi Dhargey is just far too woody for an amber incense, and this is coming from someone who likes nearly every amber incense ever created.

Yaan is an herbal musk blend, yet like most of these incenses has a bit too much cheap wood for that to work. The musk is of the sweeter herbal variety and thus lacks the depth of the genuine article, which would probably have drowned out the harsher aspects of the wood here. It’s not that the herbs are particularly absent here and the incense even has some spicier elements, but that crushed rock, gravel and clay like smell coming from the cheap wood is just a bit too poweful to be subsumed. Other than Blue Sky this is probably the mellowest of the lesser incenses, but it would still be difficult to recommend, mostly because one’s available choices in Tibetan incenses are so much larger.

I haven’t really had the urge to explore the line more based on the four here, which is possibly due to having tried the best of these, Blue Sky, first, but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised to hear there are one or two more than manage to overshoot their materials. They’re unquestionable in the lower tier of the style due to the harsh wood bases but do manage to transcend these in at least one and maybe two cases.