Tibetan, Bhutanese, or Nepalese incenses that use a high quantity of evergreen trees in their blends tend to push the essential base of the incense closer to a less refined aroma while at the same time imparting piney and resin qualities to the blend that are quite attractive. Two notable exponents of this style are the Dhoop Factory sticks Alpine and Sauna, which both contain juniper, spruce and pine (the latter two extracts). These combine high altitute aromatics and freshness with a base that’s occasionally harsh, at least to Westerners. To my nose, it’s essential in enjoying incenses like this to be completely free from fatigue so that the top notes don’t get drowned out. Because if they’re not, incenses like this will remind you of your best high altitude camping trips.
The main issue for Westerners and this is the case with Thrangu Tara Abbey’s lone export is the ingredient of juniper. Juniper, while imparting evergreenish qualities, also has a bitterness to it that can evoke scents not normally associated with aromatics of the pleasant kind. While this is likely to stop a lot of interest, as this incense definitely has a strong, somewhat bitter base, it would be like evaluating half of an incense, because the other half of this incense is rather spectacular. For one thing, it goes against a lot the grain of other incenses from the region in that it smells at least as good on the fresh stick. While a lot of evergreen incenses would be in the brown color area, Thrangu Tara Abbey’s offering is almost like a cross with styles like Lhasa or Red Tara. This top note, while being faint in a lot of cases, is actually very complex, with more evergreen and wood notes, but also soft lilting floral notes that really make this unusual for the style.
Overall, there’s going to be something of a steep learning curve on this one and whether one will enjoy it is a matter of how important the complexity is vs how one can deal with the rather gritty, woodfire center. But there’s no question the top notes of this scent show a complexity that a handful of sticks, if not a box won’t fully uncover and it’s this that makes it fascinating.