Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory / TPN Calm, An Shen Tranquility Incense, Nectar (revisit)

In recent articles I’ve brought up the speed and uncertainly of information that travels from the East. When I originally reviewed the Nectar incense I was led to understand that it was created as an incense created by the Tibetan Medical College of Traditional Tibet College that created the fantastic Holy Land incenses and always treated it as perhaps a variation on the grade B of that line, because while it appears to have been created by an entirely different company it’s an incense that is obviously in a similar traditional vein. So I’m happy to correct the record here and back then as well and take another look at that incense even if the elements outside of the difference in company still largely remains the same. But before I do that I wanted to talk about a couple other incenses made by the Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory first. I will also add that I love the little Himalayan logo with the paths to the flame and the plants.

TPN Calm is definitely something of a variation of Nectar, but it just takes similar aspects of that scent, dials back to the intensity and embeds the scent in a much woodier base. I don’t think there’s any question the creators were going for something milder and a bit more polished here, but while the aromatic intensity is dialed back in comparison to Nectar, it still retains quite a bit of aromatic strength and complexity. In many ways it’s like you’re given either option to have it as background or enough in the way of bouquet to pay attention to the aroma. While this still has that element that reminds me a bit of a bowl of salted pistachios, it’s not intensely salty and it allows the background woods of juniper and sandalwood to come through more. The different formula also seems to highlight a bit more of an herby formula as well. I like that there’s an element to it that’s kind of cooling in a way, I think it’s actually somewhat successful in making this work a little bit in its intention. In fact in some ways you might even think of this as a pivot point in the middle of the more woodier incenses common in Tibetan sticks and the more deluxe, aromatic and unique incenses that largely come from monasteries. But overall I would definitely say try the Nectar first because this is still a bit of a step down compared to that wonder of a scent.

Unlike Nectar and Calm, An Shen Tranquility Incense comes in a striking tube with wonderful dragon wallpaper-like art. Unlike those two incenses, An Shen is a bit thicker of a stick and seems to be a much more traditional incense, in fact if you weren’t told or missed the cool little logo on it, you’d never imagine it’s related to Nectar or Calm in any way. It took a few sticks to realize it had a bit of depth to it because there’s so much wood in the mix and it leans towards a bit of that campfire sort of aroma. However, one of the substrata is an almost clay-like richness and there’s a bit of the tangy in there too. Unsurprisingly it has a similar polish to the Calm as well (I’d be interested to know what language differences/subtleties might be between what is translated as “calm” and what is translated as “tranquility”*). The ingredients include sandalwood, agarwood, clove, guangzao and natural Tibetan medicines, and indeed you do get a bit of that inexpensive agarwood aroma that shows up in some Nepali or Tibetan incenses, often called “Agar 31,” but it’s faint and not at all resonant. All in all this may be missing the same sort of vivacity and personality that Nectar has, but if it’s trying to help you sleep a bit, maybe invigorating isn’t the answer. Aromatically it’s a bit static, but certainly not unpleasant. It also reminds me a bit of some of the off-main brand Dzongsar monastery incenses.

So although this isn’t really a full review, I wanted to circle around again really quickly to the original Nectar. I have this pile of about 10 or 15 incenses I keep around where I sleep that I burn as I wind down and read late night and my only definition for these is that they’re ones I always think of to reach for. Nectar is kind of borderline in that category because it scratches a similar itch to Holy Land while being a bit more red and floral. It’s easily a hall of fame Tibetan stick and something of a classic on its own because it has that real density all of the best Tibetans have. It is the flagship of this factory and rightly so. The list of ingredients (I can’t remember if I knew this before) includes musk, sandalwood, borneol and other precious herbs. These three main qualities are definitely all in noticeable quantities here. It also feels there’s a lot of saffron and some hard to define floral elements that add a level to this that really set it apart from most incenses. Definitely an absolute must on Tibetan purchase list and quite affordable still too.

*Thanks to Hart at for sending along the answer to this question: ‘An Shen’ in Chinese is intended for “calming down mental processes” and ‘TPN Calm’ refers to “calming of the heart” – as in helping achieve balance and serenity.


I just wanted to give a shout out to Hart and everyone else at this fantastic source for Tibetan incense which has now been added to our sellers below on the left And by Tibetan incense I don’t mean the kind of wood filler/campfire sorts of scents you get with a lot of cheaper fare, I mean the real deal, the monasteries and therapeutic incenses from the heart of Tibet. My rule for being on this list is personal experience from myself or any of our staff and I’ve just ordered my third box and the service is terrific. If you’re in the US, you will find this seller is likely to get your incense to you as fast as any other domestic incense seller.

First of all if you’re like me and Tibetan Medical College Holy Land sits permanently among your favorite top 10 or 20 incenses then Incense Traditions is an excellent source for this and the price is much cheaper than what Essence of the Ages charged for it years ago. I notice that over time the A grade of this incense evolves a little but at heart it still remains the same classic. In fact it’s almost like the subtle notes are what change, making it tremendously fascinating. I was also reminded that their long stick Grade 2 is really just as good, maybe not quite a complex but on the other hand it delivers exactly what I love about it. Honestly when I get in boxes and rolls of these two scents I often find it hard to burn anything else. It was nice to try another of the company’s incenses, Long Du Relaxing Incense, although it is a very different sort of blend, almost like the home scent embedded in a more woody, foresty sort of mix, definitely quite cooling. But seriously, if you read this site and have not tried Holy Land yet then, please, check it out as soon as you can. It is a wonder of the incense world. I can think of very very few incenses for $10 a box/$12 a roll that are this good.

I believe when I reviewed Nectar here so many years ago I thought it fell under Tibetan Medical College. It is actually an incense of the Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Company. With language differences it’s probably not shocking those two would get mixed up, not to mention Holy Land and Nectar share certain similarities, but it was also good to revisit this as well, I was reminded what a fantastic incense it is in its own right. The notes here on saffron and borneol are well on point too.

Samye Monastery Incense is a funny one as well as it seems like every time I get a box of this from whoever it’s like a completely different incense. They’re always good, rich and dense, complex and deluxe, but my review elsewhere on this site is ultimately obsolete. I do like the new blend though, it’s got a very high altitude resins and wood combination I am looking forward to exploring more. Like I mentioned when I started this article, there’s a feeling of the legit to it, it’s not one of those “let’s bury a mild scent in a bunch of cheap wood” sorts of things that tends to be common among other Tibetan dealers. It has a crystalline brilliance to it that I am getting to know better.

Gang-Zi Mani Nunnery incense is a neat little gem in a striking black tube. One sort of branch of Tibetan incenses often tend to have a sort of red/berry sort of scent to them and this falls roughly in that rubric while being quite a bit more complex that what you usually find. I also like that has user reviews and would draw your attention to how insightful and dead on a lot of the regular reviewers are there, as I too sense a sort of resinous almost frankincense like resin in the mix along with the berry like redness but then there’s a whole other herbal and spice level to it that really adds to its complexity.

Anyway I highly recommend checking out some of the company’s sampler boxes. I’ve been working my way through their Tibet Monastery Incense Collection #2 (I just ordered a box of the Baigu, but it’s a bit early for me to share notes, but I liked it right away). I will also add that a lot of incenses are sorted by various notes/tags. When I clicked on the one for “pungent” for Wara Incense I laughed, and you would have to go dig up my long-ago review of Dzongsar incense, to figure out why, but yes I noticed the similarity right away. I am not yet done with you Wara!

Anyway there’s a lot to discover here and I’m definitely busy checking more out. I tend to find myself needing to switch from Japanese to Indian to Tibetan incenses when I want something different and exploring this site has really given me more appreciation for some of Tibet’s deep cuts. And oh they seem to be nicely stocked on the Bhutanese end, and it has been a while since I dipped my toes in there. Highly recommended source for great incense.

Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land, Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory/Nectar

[This post was edited June 3, 2021. Both incenses are still quite similar to the scents described in this review and so I am leaving it unchanged. However I have changed the links to, as Essence of the Ages has gone out of business and the incenses are available and cheaper at IT.CA. I also have added the company name and category for Nectar as apparently it is made by a different company than we originally noted.]

I’m so used to seeing Tibetan incense packages from $5 to $10 that when I started coming across packages more in the $15-20 range and even higher, I was very curious. Perhaps in the incense world more than anywhere else, the cost of an incense is quite reflective of its (rare, precious) contents and although there are a few exceptions, I’ve rarely been disappointed with high end Japanese incenses, so I wondered if the same theme would carry over with high end Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese incenses.

I’ve noticed that with some of the lower end Tibetan incenses that seem to have a large content of inexpensive wood, the ash is almost a dark, bluish gray. Many of these incenses smell like wood with flavoring in a manner that implies that the percentage of original aromatic ingredients is actually fairly low. While this type of ash isn’t particularly common overall (the Paljor incenses, Sonam and the Drepul Loseling incenses are three brands that do leave this sort of ash), it does seem to indicate what I’m calling a “leavened” incense and if it doesn’t imply a low quality base, it does imply a small portion of quality ingredients.

Moving to high-end Tibetan incenses is as shocking and revelationary as moving to high-end Japanese incenses, although the effects on the pocket book will fortunately be less severe. Even if you’re familiar with Mandala Trading, Dhoop Factory, Himalayan Herbal Company and other excellent and affordable Tibetan incense companies, moving to some of the more independent monastery incenses with price tags well into the $15-$40 range, will be a big surprise. Not only are the contents relatively unleavened, but you’re also dealing with ingredients that are likely to be considered transgressive from a Western green-minded perspective. It’s perhaps fortunate that these ingredients, generally real musk and real nagi/pangolin scales, are left obscure. For example if you list nagi, most Westerners are likely to consider it one of a number of unidentified, transliterated ingredients that are basically unknown. And if you list musk, the reader’s likely going to be trained to assume it’s vegetable musk. In many of these high end Tibetan blends, at the very least your nose is going to be telling you quite a bit more. There’s an unparalleled intensity in incenses from Tibetan Medical College, Highland Monastery, Samye Monastery and others that likely can be both accounted for by these ingredients as well as concentration.

As discussed here, there’s an intuitive aspect to burning incense. As with anything intuitive, approaching the subject with words is somewhat counterproductive as words can really never broach this area with any ease. From a personal perspective, the first time I lit a stick of Tibetan Medical College Nectar, the effect was like electricity, a charge of energy similar to the first time one experiences a quality aloeswood. The aroma penetrates like a knife, a combination of woods, herbs and spices that’s almost difficult to discuss due to the aromatic power and consistency. And like any great intuitive experiences, it was followed by a passionate response, an almost disbelief that a scent like this exists. It was as if the coils of smoke totally arrested me. I’ve since started calling this effect Tibetan or incense juju (a creative license) and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying these incenses have medical efficacy in the way Westerners consider it, there’s no question that these scents have an intuitive power that really sets them apart from 95% of the available imported Tibetan incenses.

Holy Land is Tibetan Medical College’s top grade incense and it very well might be the finest Tibetan-style incense available. Having started with the Nectar and moved to this one, I found this to be a step up and I was already over the moon with the Nectar. The central scent to this incense (and very close to the central scent for Nectar) is one of a big bowl of salted pistachio nuts, particularly the ones that used to be more frequently available that were red-dyed. But this is only the beginning. This intensity is mixed through out with a plethora of woods, florals, herbs and spices, not to mention a distinct musk that while not a central aspect to the overall scent, creates a give and take in the aroma that affords it greater complexity. The floral thread is like lily or jasmine, very subtle, but it manifests in the most incredible ways. Outside of aloeswood, I’ve experienced no other incense other than the Highland to continue to invoke scent memories no matter where I am. An experience like no other, this is a hall of fame incense whose relative affordability compared to Japanese sticks makes it an excellent buy.

DSC00622 (2)One session I decided to light a stick of Nectar after the Holy Land and realized I could actually barely smell it. But that’s an observation more on the strength of Holy Land, as Nectar’s as likely to do the same to other Tibetan incenses even if the central pistachio-like center has been leavened with even more floral notes. The reddish color does imply this may be Tibetan Medical College’s “B” grade in some way, with the addition of juniper berries being fairly obvious. But like with the Mindroling Grade B this move doesn’t create a B grade so much as a different incense, with the berries and floral notes imparting rose-like scents to the mix. The ingredients noted in the Holy Land do seem to be here in smaller quantities but that mix was so powerful that it’s still heavily aromatic even here and thus I’d suggest starting here with the College incenses as Holy Land will only seem like another step up in comparison.

Overall these two blends are at the apex of Tibetan incense art. The ingredients are top class, the blends totally original and unlike no other company’s incenses and the intuitive impact, possibly as a result, is heavily subconscious. There be magic here…