[This incense has either been discontinued or repackaged.]
Having had so much success with various high end Tibetans costing anywhere from the teens to the 40s, I thought, like Japanese incense, that you’d generally be safe with anything relatively expensive. While price is still often a good indicator of an incense worth buying, Kuenzang Chodtin (scroll down, second from bottom) incense appears to be one of those land mines worth detouring around.
There are a number of Tibetan incenses that use aromatics that Westerners are likely going to identify with tire rubber or other acrid and/or bitter offnotes. Despite a number of herbs and ingredients that give the impression that Kuenzang Chodtin incense is likely to be superb and an initially positive first two or three seconds for the light, my experience was blindsided when after relighting the stick later, a strange black bubbling tar erupted from part of the incense leaving a strange, ashy foamy deposit on the incense. The smell at this point was so chemical that it evoked for me those incense urban legends of companies who say a particular incense is made of natural ingredients, but aren’t actually giving full disclosure. It’s as if the the resins were switched out with asphalt.
Stickwise, Kuenzang Chodtin is pink in a similar manner to the higher grade Nado Poizokhang sticks. I didn’t have quite the same experience with subsequent KC sticks, but the incense has a number of ingredients that will largely be unpleasant to the Western nose, and I don’t mean that in an acquired taste sense. It’s possible the incense was meant to be a more floral Tibetan derivative in that some of the incense’s top notes seem to have a very harsh, almost Indian masala-like rose scent, which when mixed with the incense’s noxious base gives off very harsh notes.
It’s strange because there seem to be some pleasant elements. That richness when nagi is involved seems to be there in the top, but the base overwhelms this quickly. Sometimes the bitterness is so penetrating it’s like the aroma from a bottle of cheap, charcoal filtered vodka. I did some labwork in an organic chemistry lab a decade ago or so, and that’s always the smell chemicals like this evoke for me. There are incenses that are dull and average, not worth picking up because they have little to offer. Kuenzang Chodtin goes past this to where burning a stick is actually fairly unpleasant at times. Less a pleasant aroma than a chemistry experiment.