Nearly everyone who starts with Tibetan incense thinks of it in terms of it’s thick stick, extruded style; but over time (years for me), it’s possible to make some geographic generalities about the Tibetan incenses that come from Nepal, Bhutan and the area in China called the Tibetan Autonomous Region. From the latter area we receive the style’s most traditional and thus transgressive blends, in that we can usually guess from the scents that animal products have been used in many of the blends. However this is far more unlikely when it comes to the small groups of Bhutani and Nepalese incenses. Incenses from Bhutan often have a spice blend that stays close to a certain style, in fact many could be determined just from the almost plastic-like feel of the sticks and the variations on red/pink coloring, many of these are far less likely to break even at longer lengths. When it comes to Nepalese and Indian Tibetan scents, there’s certainly a range of different scents, but from monastery to company, you tend to find a great deal of repetition over time. No matter what style of Nepali incense, whether it’s the highlanders with heavy evergreen content, the plainer sandalwoods, the tangy or herbal woods, the Medicine Buddha/Agar 31 combinations, if you sample far and wide you’ll tend to notice more similarities. To some extent this has acted to put a restraint on my purchasing of Nepali incenses, as in so many cases I’m not finding a lot of new blends, rather than variations on scents I already know.
With Nepali Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, the similarities even come down to the packaging. The style and fonts of all four Pure Land incenses are nearly identical to that of three of the Mandala Trading incenses (The Earth, Ribo Sangtseo, and Tibetan Peace). I’m still not quite sure if this is a commanality in a certain Tibetan motif or the products of a different printing company (or both), after all this case is as similar as the Red Crystal incense packaging is with the Boudha company’s. However unlike the latter comparison, the actual incenses themselves differ quite a bit in strength and individuality between the KGLN Pure Lands and the Mandala Trading scents, with the latter having much more distinctive and interesting scents.
Unfortunately (and if you’re harshed out by negative reviews this may be where you want to disembark) I was terribly surprised to find the Pure Land line to be so dull and nondescript. Pure Land Healing might be the dictionary definition of the inexpensive Nepali wood incense, the type that leaves a black ash residue as it burns and a mild, airy, inconsequential aroma. 25 different ingredients that end up smelling like poor quality cedarwood or juniper? I was really wondering if I was missing something here as this is a scent that really doesn’t offer much more than what the random campfire might exude.
Pure Land Inspiration has a little more personality but I’m not sure it’s one most Western users will gravitate towards as the result is a mixture of strong sour and bitter tones. It might have the heaviest rubber/tire like hit I’ve ever found in a Tibetan incense, a scent that is almost unbearably astringent. Of course incenses like this might be called invigorating, given what seems to be a high quality of lemon or even straight camphor wood, but the mixture of these elements with rubber tire like scent falls short of balance.
Pure Land Meditation has the lowest smoke level of all four incenses in the range, yet ends up smelling like a combination of the previous two incenses, with the dull woodiness of the Healing and a slighter version of the sour scent found in the Inspiration. Again, it’s difficult to really parse anything whose elements add up to such a restrained whole and while I detect some resinous undernotes (myrrh, guggal?), they’re too low in content to add to the bouquet.
Pure Land Relaxation is marginally the best of this group, although its spice and wood blend isn’t something that’s likely to leap out at you. While it doesn’t seem like the base is any higher in quality than the previous three, at least the elements interact to produce a scent that doesn’t leave me edgy or reaching. It may be damning with faint praise to say that this was the only incense of the Pure Lands not to end up in my give away batch, because I would think further comparison with other Nepali incenses may not leave this in as much of a favorable position.
Fortunately KGLN incenses improve a little outside this line. The small package Tibetan Healing does have a lot of similarity to the Pure Land version, but seems to have a bit more aromatic strength to it. There seems to be a bit more juniper in the mix as well a hints of a slight cherry tobacco mix that helps to give it some personality. But it’s likely it succeeds more in comparison to the Pure Lands than other incenses because repeated burning tends to bring out its more generic qualities.
Tibetan Incense exhibits one of the line’s most distinct personalities, in this case an unusual coffee-like blend mixed with fragrant leaves, however while these herbal hints seem to imply something a bit more original, the base is still that airy, cedar heavy, black ash producing wood that I tend to associate with lower quality scents. And overall even if this has some distinction, it’s not one I necessarily find pleasant, perhaps because I’m not totally convinced coffee is a good incense scent, but in that case your mileage might vary.
Rhododendron Forest is a scent very much like the Maya Devi Rhododendron Anthopogon and at least in an incense like this you’re going to know whether you like it or not as the scent is definitely right out in front. Thus the incense could be a good introduction to this sort of slightly evergreen scent, somewhere between floral and leaf. Of course the base tends to accentuate the more campfire like woody scents associative with this whole line, but in this case it’s little different from any Rhododendron incense.
I only ended up with small samples of the Lawudo and Wisdom incenses, which are packaged in Lokta boxes similar to the Dhoop Factory line. However, given the rest of the Nunnery’s incenses I didn’t expect that further sticks would bring any more revelation to the table. Lawudo is heavily campfire-like with what seems like a mix of cedar and juniper berry. There are some similarities to the herbal aspects of the Rhododendron Forest and a coffee like scent similar to the Tibetan Incense, implying that either my nose was growing dull to these scents or only picking out a few different directions. By the time I got to Wisdom I just felt like I was dealing with another very inexpensive wood incense with a slight herbal tang and little distinctive personality.
So before I close this up I want to make some comparisons to other Nepali incenses that you’re likely to find much more assertive. For example, many of these ingredients and blends can be found among the Dhoop Factory line but with much more aggressive personalities. Both the Alpine and the now-called Vajrapani are going to check off a lot of wood, campfire and evergreen boxes, but with these you’ll also be able to detect the needles and green flair that are absent in the KGLN blends. Dhoop Factory’s Ganden will have some sour similarities to a couple of the Pure Lands as well as a heavy campfire like middle, but you’ll also be left with the subtleties of the herbal mix as well. While it’s more difficult to go one to one with Stupa’s Shanti Dhoop trio, it seems like there are a lot of similar blends and with Stupa you’re also usually getting a bit more power, perhaps a better ratio of quality ingredients to base. And of course with Mandala Trading and the Yog-Sadhana “trio” you can sense Nepali/Indian-Tibetan incense at its most distinctive.
And as a final note, as part of the trading circle I received an incense that originated with this Nunnery that I would have easily classified as an excellent incense and tried to match it up with new packaging, but wasn’t able to, which implied to me that there might have been some ingredient changes in the mix somewhere.