Mandala Trading / Ribo Sangtsheo, The Earth, Tibetan Peace

Nepalese company Mandala Trading are the creators of two of the finest and most accessible Tibetan incenses on the market, their long stick Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal blends, the former an unparalleled spice blend, the latter a minty evergreen breeze. If you haven’t had a chance to check these excellent and affordable incenses out I highly recommend doing so before tackling the three, shorter incenses (all five MT incenses are on this page mixed in with others, the three in review are down the page a ways) in question here. While they’re certainly nice incenses, the three in this review aren’t quite in the same league.

As with the two previously mentioned incenses, these three under consideration also have their ingredients lists listed on the inner wrapper. Ribo Sangtsheo is comprised of Spike Nard (Jattamansi) 20%, Other Medicinal Herbs 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Sandal Wood 10%, Agarwood 10%, Spices (Clove, Cinamon, Cardamon) 10%, Beddelium (Gokul Dhoop) 5%, and Ambergriss (Sal Dhoop) 5%. Of the three incenses in question here, Ribo Sangtsheo is the most similar incense to the Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal blends, although not quite as complex. Ribo Sangtsheo has a very unusual, coppery vibe for an incense. For one thing, it’s one of the few blends that is comprised of this much spikenard and it’s a fairly noticeable element overall, although unlike Japanese incenses that accentuate the sweetness, Ribo Sangtsheo also brings out more of the herbal and muskier notes. The agarwood, while not at the Japanese levels, actually does add something of a contour to the scent, preventing the incense from becoming too sweet or spicy by its obvious woody note. The entire blend has a slight fruitiness to it reminiscent of wine, but overall it’s that sort of dry, coppery vibe that sets it apart from the rest of the incenses in the line. If you’re over the moon with the HH and TM blends, this one is probably worth checking out even if it’s not quite up to those aromatic heights.

The Earth is comprised of Beddelium (Gokul Dhoop) 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Holy Basil (Tulsi) 15%, Other Medicinal Herbs 15%, Juniper (Dhupi) 10%, Valeriana (Suganhaval) 10%, Spices (Cinamon, Safron) 10%, and Mugwort (Tittepati) 5%. Strangely this and the next incense actually add up to 105%, which implies some rounding up. The Earth absolutely does what it says on the package, it’s one of the most rough, gravelly and earthy incenses imaginable and not only earth in the soil sense, but this one reminds me of granite and the like. As such it’s not a friendly incense by Western standards, with the juniper being accentuated. Strangely enough for an incense that lists its first ingredient as a resin, it’s not a big feature of this aroma, which is often very “campfire” like with off woody hints of rubber, tire and such. With each stick, I do tend to get a little closer to liking this one mostly because it really is earthy in all of its characteristics and it’s quite grounding.

Tibetan Peace (note: this is the first of two on the above linked page) is created from Sandalwood 25%, Other Medicinal Herbs 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Anthopogon (Soonpati) 15%, Roopkeshar 5%, Kusum Flower 5%, Spices (Cloves, Safron) 5%, Holy Basil (Tulsi) 5%, and Calmus (Bojho) 5%. Overall it strikes a fairly common blend in Tibetan incenses, a slightly sweet and very thick sandalwood-based stick that’s colored green with some variation. It’s very similar to the Green Tara on this page, if not quite as thick or refined, and as such it’s an incense that’s pleasant, inoffensive and maybe a little boring at times, not terribly far from the Himalayan Herbal incense without all the potent spices. If you can think of something like Dzongsar or White Pigeon being at the more difficult end of an axis, Tibetan Peace lies at the other.

Unlike Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal incenses, none of these three are likely to make you stock deeply, but those who do like them may get some mileage, particularly out of the unusual Ribo Sangtsheo, which is different enough from the usuals to be worth a sample. At the same time, all are affordable enough to make the risk a low one. However you’re likely to find similar but friendlier incenses than The Earth in the Dhoop Factory line and I’d recommend the above Green Tara before Tibetan Peace.

Best Incense – March 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above.]

  1. Tennendo / Enkuu-Horizon – Enkuu is the incense that is making me wonder if aloeswood has actual addictive properties. For the time being it’s the one I’d pick as my favorite incense, I just can’t get enough of its complexity or sophistication.
  2. Shoyeido / Horin / Ten-Pyo – There’s a mellowness and smoothness to this kyara-infused Horin classic that initially belies the fact that it is indeed a very involved incense. I notice more and more that the kyara is just one note in a symphony of other spices that all sit comfortably next to each other. This makes me wonder why Shoyeido haven’t offered other incenses in this style that have such a fine class of ingredients other than in the Horin line.
  3. Mandala Trading / Himalayan Herbal Incense (second down) – I was thinking about this incense and its partner recently and realized that to some extent both of the aromas were almost exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to find when I first started becoming interested in incense. I’ve tried lots of minty incenses but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to this one which has a number of other spices and woods that gives the basic evergreen/spearmint the type of breadth that makes it near perfect.
  4. Shoyeido / Premium / Misho – This is one of the best intros to the Shoyeido premium lines. It’s not as expensive as five other premium incenses, yet it has a quality aloeswood presence that makes it very woody, combined with a green sort of spice scent. And like many Shoyeido blends there’s a sophistication or quality to it that I just started noticing, months after I burned my first stick. Next time I order this, I’m going for a luxury bundle as I’d burn it more frequently. Although the regular bundle comes in a very attractive box.
  5. Shoyeido / Horin / Muro-Machi – I’m noticing a quality in common that this incense, Enkuu and an unknown Kyukyodo incense a friend of this blog just sent me have, a very high quality aloeswood presence with a number of complementary spices that give it somewhat of a caramel-like sweetness. At first, particularly with Muro-Machi, I found this element to be a bit cloying, but over time I’ve come to crave it. Here it’s the dominant scent, in Enkuu and the other stick, part of the overall scent.
  6. Kunmeido / Asuka – It seems that every Top Ten list is likely to have Asuka, Heian Koh or Shunkodo’s Yoshino No Haru on it, it’s become a standard around here. Asuka gets the spotlight this time as I’m notice the subtle complexities here that are absent in the other stick, a certain slight mint note that really puts this one over the top.
  7. Baieido / Tokusen Syukohkoku – This is one of my favorite incenses for a clean palate. What I mean by that is after a long day of being nowhere near incense, I tend to be at my highest sensitivity level. This makes it perfect for incenses as subtle as some of Baieido’s higher end sticks. I think this is a triumph for Baieido, it’s about as perfectly balanced an incenses as exists. I love the aloeswood used in this stick.
  8. Kyukyodo / Sho Ran Ko – For some reason I’m not burning this as much lately, but its position down here doesn’t indicate that I feel less about it by any means. I still think this is one of the most clever incenses available.
  9. Shoyeido / Xiang Do / Forest – I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this one much. I started with the one stick Xiang Do sampler and while there were a few I liked quite a bit, Forest is the triumph of this line. I think it’s partially because I think the piney, evergreen qualities here are tailor made for this intense, pressed style of incense. As I burn it it’s like an entire forest of various resins letting loose as if crystals of scent were evaporating. It’s another that friends really go for as well.
  10. Nado Poizokhang / Grade A – I reviewed this one yesterday, so not much more to say other than it’s really grabbed my attention of late.

Mandala Trading Incense / Himalayan Herbal, Tibetan Monastery

I’m not sure if this company does more than two incenses (second and third on page), but if not, they definitely should. These are two of the finest incenses I’ve tried from Nepal and are becoming fast favorites. Both are rich, complex and affordable, and surprisingly have the ingredients written on the paper wrapping the incense inside the box.

The green box, Himalayan Herbal Incense consists of Ambergris (Sal Dhoop) 20%, Other Medicinal Herbs 25%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Sandalwood 15%, Artemesia 10%, Red Sandalwood 5%, and Spices (Cloves, Nutmeg, Kusum Flower) 5%. It’s a close cousin to the Yog Sadhana I’ve discussed before and the cloves and nutmeg definitely seem stronger than the percentage, but unlike that stick it is not as thick or as smokey. The color of the stick is like the box, however there are threads of red through it that are likely at least the Red Sandalwood. It’s got a mellow spiciness while still having a bit of complexity that both help to make it a rather friendly Nepalese-Tibetan incense.

The best of the two is the red box, Tibetan Monastery Incense.  This consists of Juniper Berry (Sang) 25%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Other Medicinal Herbs 15%, Cedarwood (Devdar) 15%, Agarwood 10%, Liquorice (Jethi Madhu) 5%, Harrow + Batrow 5%, Spices (Jaypatri, Cinnamon, Cardamom) 5%, and Rauwlfia Serpentina (Sarpaghanda) 5%. It’s the most complex of the two and while the Juniper berry content can be offputting to some western noses, the overall tang of it is both peppery and spicy, with a top note that is just brilliant and kind of tangy. It has that type of composition that sets off a number of aromas, with a very subtle agarwood backing. Start with this one first.