Stupa / Spikenard, Dorjee Samba, Healing (Agar 31), Austa Suganda, Champabati

Stupa Incense Industry creates a number of incenses under the hand of Lama Dorjee, several of which I’d count in the upper class of Nepali incenses, in that the quality ingredients in any of the scents is always of a high enough content to push past the bland. I’ve reviewed several of these in the past (which you can access by scrolling down this page). As I mentioned in one of the previous reviews (the Buddha set), there are a couple boxes that actually include more than one incense and there is one of those sets here as well.

Spikenard is a pretty rare scent to be found in Tibetan style catalogs, perhaps due to its cost. In Japanese incense kansho’s musky caramel sweetness is a pivotal player in high end incenses and in my opinion is often just as important in the bouquet as the woods. On the other end of the spectrum you have this rough and ready Stupa version which is actually quite impressive for its cost. Yes, there’s definitely a lot of base wood in this (Himalayan pencil cedar) incense, but it manages only to seat the general spikenard scent, which here has a bit of coppery or brassy vibe to it, and doesn’t have the refined sweetness you find in the Japanese incenses. Otherwise the muskiness and slight caramel aroma still manages to more or less get the aroma right. In the end this is a solid incense for the price and unlikely to duplicate what you might own.

The Dorjee Samba blend gets top billing by Lama Dorjee and consists of an impressive blend of saldhoop, kud, agar, holibasil, nutmeg, cardamom and other hebs and spices. Despite this list of ingredients the most notable part of this bouquet is a strong, green, pungent evergreen scent that has similarities to Bosen’s Pythoncidere as well as the high altitude campfire like scent you’d find with the Dhoop Factory’s Alpine. And as such this is an incense I like very much with the sort of tire-like elements you tend to find with heavier woods reduced to a reasonable amount. In fact I’d wager a guess that the balancing sweetness here is the saldhoop (often considered an amber). In a list of good Nepalis this is definitely one that would be high up the list for me.

If the Spikenard and Dorjee Samba are fairly unique Nepalis, the Stupa Healing Incense (Agar 31) is in a pretty common class of Tibetan incenses. Here there are three kinds of black aloeswood, various herbal flowers, cloves, saffron and red and white sandalwood listed as ingredients but like all Healing/Agar 31 incenses the result doesn’t evince so much complexity and is somewhat nondescript (that is, if you’re looking for the Tibetan equivalent of a Japanese aloeswood, this and any of its brethren come nowhere close). It’s even difficult to describe as a scent as it doesn’t have the same woody/campfire qualities of high juniper and cedar levels nor the subtleties usually found in incenses with aloeswood, sandalwood or saffron. Of course incenses like this one seem less designed with aroma in mind rather than the supposed healing properties they may or may not have, in fact this one claims it will alleviate flatulences. Duh, right?

The final two incenses here come in one box, with a roll of Lama Dorjee/Stupa Austa Suganda and another of Champabati. The former contains pencil cedar, valerian, holy basil, gum-guggul and sandalwood, along with, I’d assume, the key ingredient in the name. The result is a very tangy sort of Tibetan that has an aroma fairly close to the paper on many ropes and a bit like toasting marshmallows over a fire. It’s a fairly static scent and probably only likely to appeal to some. Overall I find it a bit plastic-like in this form and that almost every ingredient listed can’t be detected over the austa sugandha.

The Champabati definitely has a strong campfire/tire/rubber-like base, which is somewhat uncommon for a Stupa, it also does a fair job at imparting a champa-like aroma on top. Unfortunately the competition of such a gentle floral scent with all the strong woods doesn’t create a particularly memorable incense and I’m once again fairly convinced the champa scent doesn’t work particularly well in a Tibetan style incense. If you’re experiencing even a hint of aromatic fatigue this will come off probably more bitter than intended. Rare are the good Nepali florals…

Stupa has some other incenses in their catalog including sandalwood, juniper and jasmine, although I’ve foregone checking these out for fear of duplication. But I’d think eventually this would be one of the catalogs I’d revisit as I’m fairly confident that the quality will be high.

Stupa / Buddha Incense

It’s hard to tell from the listings at the Essence of the Ages page but a few of the packages under the Stupa name are actually more than just one incense and that’s no more true than this Buddha Incense package, which is a box of five sticks of five different incenses. The ingredients are listed as a whole: red and white sandalwood, juniper, spikenard, shang, bakchi, mugwort and others; however, it seems like these are sort of generally distributed over the five different sticks. None of the individual incenses have names, they’re only identifiable by colors and each is subbound by strings in the box.

Stupa’s a pretty solid mid-range Nepali company, while their incenses are often fairly typical, they have a strength and potency akin to companies like the Dhoop Factory, that is they’re a step up on the lowest tiers. The first of the five Buddha incenses sticks, colored olive-green/brown, is an unusual tangy nepali blend and it’s one I’d have thought asta sughandi might have been part of as it has that almost marshmallow/herbal like scent. I’d also guess the spikenard plays a bit of a part in this one as well, along with the usual sandalwood mix. Of the five sticks here this is probably the most original and unfamiliar blend.

The tan stick is very resinous and even though I don’t see it in the list, I’d suspect part of this made partially from frankincense or some other resin, blended thoroughly with wood. It’s fairly typical in style with this wood, resin and slight spice mix, but it’s one I find particularly friendly. The red stick (the brighter of the two reds in this box) is definitively red sandalwood and thus fairly dull, even if it does tend to get the scent right, with its slight mellow sweetness. Spikenard might also play a part in this one, but overall this is the least scintillating incense in the box.

The light green incense, streaked with a bit of red, is dominantly juniper, nice and intense with both wood and resinous aspects to it. Unlike a lot of cheap Nepali juniper incenses this one doesn’t overdo the heavy campfire woods and ends up being nicely balanced. The final incense, brick red to brown in color, is like a combo of the two greenish incenses in a way, with the tanginess of the first herbal scent and the slight evergreen from the juniper stick. I’d guess this is the scent with the heaviest mugwort content as it has a slightly tobacco-like herbal flair to it, with perhaps some rhododendron in the mix. Lilke the first incense it’s a bit unusual.

Not a bad sampler at all really, kind of midrange Nepali with a nice range of scents, perhaps with the commonality of the woods at base. It should also be mentioned that I don’t believe any of these scents are duplicated outside this box, but I’m also not sure any of them are noteworthy enough to warrant such a case.

Stupa Incense Industry/Shanti Dhoop/Early Morning Incense No. 1, Day Time Incense No. 2, Good Evening Incense No. 3

The Stupa Incense line is particularly large, featuring a number of different scents packages in a variety of fashions, all Nepalese incenses of 100% natural quality. As I classified the Nub Gon incenses in my review a week or two ago, I’d also put Stupa in the vast (75%) middle of Tibetan style incenses, although perhaps even closer to the best of this range. These are all affordable, standard, yet aromatically rich sticks that will likely appeal to many Tibetan incense appreciators. That the three in question here come not only in cellophane wrappers, but in three colored fabric covers, adds to the aesthetic value of these incenses.

Stylistically they follow a similar pattern to Shoyeido’s Zen series in that each of the the three incenses corresponds to a particular part of the day. All three incenses are rather small packages, low in number and thinner in stick than the average Tibetan. However, the aromatic impact of these three is not lessened, all are very full in scent and contain a number of interesting ingredients that all work together in concert. The three incenses under review here seem to be part of the Shanti Dhoop subline.

The No. 1 incense, Early Morning, contains sandalwood, licorice, sal dhoop (amber), greater cardamom, holy basil and other ingredients, with the absolute emphasis on the sandalwood. This base is the sawdust-like Mysore sandalwood smell, a very fresh and vibrant sandalwood base, closer to Indian than Japanese in style. The other herbs modify the sandalwood into something a bit spicier, but none add up to dominating the general scent. The sal dhoop gives it a bit of sweetness, the cardamom a bit of spice, but the rest of the herbs basically bring out that sandalwood resin in the middle. Overall it’s not a startling scent, given the commonality of Tibetan sandalwoods, but if you haven’t tried one this is a very good place to start.

The No. 2, Day Time, contains spikenard, valerian, greater cardamom, clove, nutmeg and other ingredients. While the number of spicy ingredients should give a clear indication of the direction of this incense, what they don’t say is that this is a stick with a lot of resin in it, perhaps guggul at base. The contents all add up to a very fragrant and exciting stick, with a great deal of clove action (blending nicely into the spikenard) and a very cooling sort of feel for a stick so spicy. It’s nicely sweet through the middle, no doubt as a byproduct of the spikenard scent, but also seems to be bolstered by a bit of oil and perhaps some high altitude woods. It’s really the gem of the three, for $3 a package it’s not one you’d want to miss.

The No. 3, Good Evening incense has the most unusual ingredients list with kum-kum, ruk-kesar, holy basil, kuth, sweetflag, mace, mugwort, gum guggal and others. It’s perhaps the sweetflag that reminds me of asta sugandha, as this incense has a very tangy and traditional aroma to it that differentiates itself from the woodiness of the No. 1 and the resin/spice blend of the No. 2. The incense is also the most floral of the three with a very reddish base and some hints of vanilla and rose along the top. The combination of sweet, sour and floral aromas is quite unusual, making this a very different take on a common Tibetan red style.

Taken as a trio, Shanti Dhoop is an intriguing subline, incenses with an uncommon power for their size. Not only are they incredibly affordable but they’re also memorable with very little room for the type of cheap fillers one often sees with incenses at this price range. In writing about them I was reminded that there are a number of interesting incenses in this line and that having tried five varieties with not one an inferior product, it seems like a safe company for exploring further.