Aba Prefecture / Spirit of Shambhala, Agarwood Heart of Shambhala

I would guess that part of the high prices on these two Aba Prefecture incenses are the gorgeous containers. Honestly the packaging for the Spirit of Shambhala is literally one of the most beautiful incense boxes I have ever seen as the picture speaks for itself (although you might notice that my box has a red cover while the one pictured at incense-traditions.ca looks dark grey, so there must be some cool variations too!). You also get plenty of incense in both boxes so it may be some time for the opportunity to reuse the box for something else, but it’s surely something you’d want to keep forever. I have already gone on record for Aba Prefecture Miyalo Town’s wonderful Quinrun and Huiyou incenses, but this may be the truly deluxe Tibetan high end when it comes to this particular style of incense. I originally gave the Spirit of Shambhala a try as a sample and fell in love with it right away.

I mentioned both incenses in my Five Fragrances review along with the two Miyalo Town incenses and Taiwan’s Bosen company, although overall it’s really only this first one that ties them all together. What exists in common for all of these incenses is that there is a mix of resins and woods here that really transmits what I would call a high altitude evergreen scent, that smell you can get walking through an evergreen forest, particularly when it’s cooler with anything from cypress to juniper to fir to pine in the mix, not to mention any number of other plants and herbs that accompany the experience. It is a wonderful and nostalgic scent even if these scents originate from half way around the world, and they always take me back to any number of camping experiences. Spirit of Shambhala is a particularly fantastic example of this sort of blend, the evergreen is just so deep and intense and the wood base it’s all mixed in is also particularly good quality, there’s no feeling this is made from anything inexpensive or lacking in aromatics. Anything with this sort of freshness is just highly invigorating and impressive. While one might feel like a price comparison would make some of the other options a bit more reachable I might also add that this could be absolute favorite of this entire style. It is extremely green and feels about as streamlined as it possibly could be. You might even describe it as a deluxe version of Bosen’s Pythocidere Incense, an old favorite of mine.

The associated Agarwood Heart of Shambhala is priced the same but its slightly lower gram content corresponds with the use of the more precious woods. Now I’ve gone on record a bunch of times that Tibetan incenses with agarwood aren’t really the same sort of deal as a deluxe Japanese incense, but of all the Tibetan agarwood incense’s I’ve tried this might be the closest in terms of having a noticeable wood content to it. While it still has a a high altitude presence, moving the scent to a much more wood-based incense changes this a lot in comparison to the Spirit incense. While it’s not frequent, occasionally the wood does hit resinous pockets that liken it to Japanese incenses; however, overall this feels a bit more like a wood blend that also has an interesting herb and spice component to it that make it more of a conglomerate style incense rather than an agarwood fronted incense per se. But like a lot of higher end Tibetan incense it’s often what you notice when you stop paying attention as much that is really impressive. The stick I’m burning has already gotten my distracted attention three times during the current burn from some aspect of its overall complex bouquet. It can be sweet, leafy, musky, and quite arresting at times in that the combination of its elements hides secrets. Once again I’m hesitant to draw comparison with a Japanese incense because the mix of what it does is purely Tibetan and not at all concerned with highlighting the resinous qualities of the wood. But that’s, perhaps, what makes it really special. There’s no other incense quite like this one.


Aba Prefecture (Miyalo Town) / Huiyou and Qinrun Tibetan Incenses

I live pretty close to the Sierra Nevadas and have a lot of camping and travel memories of going into the evergreen-rich mountains and the ever-present scent of pine, cedar, fir and juniper. Hikes were always permeated with this higher altitude freshness and some of these were the woods that would end up in your fire at night. And so a lot of these impressions form the basic memories that the most resinous and green Tibetan incenses tend to recall. There are the similarities that trigger those memories and of course the differences that make them fascinating.

Both Huiyou and Qinrun incenses are intense evergreen incenses made by the Aba Prefecture in Miyalo Town. Huiyou Incense appears to be a therapeutic incense with a number of different uses but its central potency lies in how well it really captures this high altitude evergreen and wood aroma. It’s not the same kind of stick that Aba Prefecture’s other incenses create (the two great Shambhala incenses, a review of which should be forthcoming) or the sort of denser stick I’ve talked about with Bosen or Five Fragrance but this doesn’t lose any of that super green middle. I’m burning a stick first thing in the morning right now when it’s cool with a cup of coffee and it’s just an invigorating scent that gets in the back of the brain and pulls out great memories, where you’re all bundled up and inhaling the richness of nature. While the incense’s dominant note is definitely that green foresty scent, this also has a lot of herbal and spice content to keep it nice and complex too. There are so many blending ingredients that it’s a bit hard to separate one out from another, but it has that wonderful sawdust of fresh cut evergreen wood as a note and a bit of a spice mix that reminds me of some teas. Really gorgeous incense, highly recommended at its price point. It’s a bit smaller of a box than most of what you’re used to (including the Qinrun), but it’s well worth it.

Qinrun itself is something of a variation (or vice versa) of the Huiyou. It still has a lot of the same evergreen and wood qualities, but they’re a touch milder and pulled back. The ingredients given for Qinrun (there aren’t any given on the Huiyou but it’s not hard to extrapolate in some way) include white sandalwood, rosewood, nutmeg and Rhodiola roses. I feel this is enough of a variant on a good thing to make it an incense worth checking out in its own right. I would guess the rose element is probably not in Huiyou as much because it’s a note that changes the profile a bit, you get it right on the edge and it is a wonderful adjustment to it. It is really rare for floral elements to be strong in Tibetan incenses, so this incense is somewhat remarkable in having one. It also feels like the wood content is a bit higher, but once again this is just a slight change. Like Huiyou, this is a very beautiful incense with a lot of richness and complexity. Quinrun is a bigger box than Huiyou with only a slight adjustment upwards in price, but it’s still a very affordable incense for such incredibly high quality.

As a final note on the photos, you can see the fronts at the incense-traditions.ca links, but these are both really beautifully done boxes, so I thought I’d feature the other angles.