Gangri Thökar Nunnery / Snow Mountain Gathers Incense

So I was just talking about the similarity of certain nunnery incenses and how a few of them have an almost amber-ish/balsamic quality to them when one comes up that isn’t quite like that at all. In fact I had to read the fine print at incense-traditions.ca to realize Snow Mountain Gathers Incense was a nunnery-sourced incense, and it sure is a fine one. And hey how wonderful it is to get a rather large ingredients list to look at: black myrobalan, white sandalwood, red sandalwood, clove, nutmeg, saffron, alpiniae katsumadai seed, fructus amomi and herb of tabasheer. I had to look up what half that stuff is, but some of the less seen ingredients seem to impart a number of really interesting new notes for this nose, herbal qualities that mix the fresh and familiar with some neat differences. One of the things I love about these deep Tibetan picks is the aromatic variation and newness, the hope that the monks and nuns are bringing forth some ancient recipe in all of its wonderful, healing glory. And honestly this is one that will keep your sensory apparati busy, it’s rich, full bodied, has both friendly and funkier notes weaving a dance together, and it has that quintessential freshness that is the hallmark of all the best Tibetans. Make no mistake, if the more dangerous Tibetan sticks aren’t to your style, this one may be a bit challenging, but for me it’s just the right amount of balance of sour/dense to high altitude/invigorating and it has a bit of brown sugar spice and sweetness on top that gives you so many places to sense the interactions. Another Hart-curated wonder scent.

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Bosen / Dakini, Herbal Meditation, Pythoncidere, Shangrila and Zambhala Incenses

Amazon-distributed and Taiwan-originated company Bosen has had a number of their aloeswood incenses reviewed by Ross here and here. The company also has a number of different blended incenses, several of which are considered to be Tibetan incenses by the company. Blend and ingredient-wise these are similar to Tibetan incenses in many ways but the sticks’ unique densities and high levels of quality wood make them more like hybrids between the Tibetan style and Southeast Asian sandalwood and aloeswood sticks and as such are fairly original and certainly a lot higher quality than all but the most deluxe Chinese exported Tibetan blends. I’ll be breaking up the eight current blends into two groups, the five here that have unusual or Buddhism-related names and, later, three (Blessing, Refining and Purifying) that are basically verbs. The division is somewhat arbitrary however, as my experience is that there are similarities among all the incenses. [8/31/21: Worth nothing here, I never did get around to the the later three, although for sure a Blessing review is forthcoming.]

In fact the similarities among the incenses are worth discussing first as there is a a base that is roughly common to all of their Tibetan blends. The binder, Machilus Zuihensis Hayata Powder, appears to be 10% of each incense and is likely what gives each incense a slightly evergreen flavor. All of the incenses, except the Pythoncidere, have quantities of aloeswood and sandalwood in them, although in a couple of cases the aloeswood is called agalloch eaglewood, 15% each in the Shangrila and Zambhala blends. Aloeswood is surprisingly at its highest in the most inexpensive blend, the Herbal Meditation 20% and lowest at 10% in the Dakini. Except for the Pythoncidere again, white sandalwood varies from 10-15%. So as you can see there’s a good 40% or so of four of the incenses that are basically the same. All five of the incenses have a large, unidentified quantity of several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars (spelled amitas in Shangrila). From there each incense varies by note.

[Updated 8/31/2021 No discernable changes from this review. – Mike.] Dakini Incense is one of Bosen’s two “Top-Grade” incenses and contains small percentages of lubu, nard, safflower, and semen alpiniae katsumadai (I’m not asking either). It’s the densest and most complex of the five incenses here with a definite strain of spikenard in the mix and a very fruity, sweet smell as the top note. Like all of the incenses here, due to the above-mentioned commonalities, there’s a tangy mix of aloeswood, sandalwood and evergreen binder, but the large ingredients list gives the incense some latent heft to it that improves the incense with use. It’s not quite as immediate as the next two scents but definitely seems to be the most deluxe of the batch.

[Updated 8/31/2021. Reupped the thicker sticks and notice no discernable changes from this review. – Mike] The company’s low end Herbal Meditation Incense is something of a revelation and is available in 11″ bulk thin sticks, 8″ thin sticks, and 8″ thicker sticks (an earlier search pulled up 18″ thin sticks and powder, but I didn’t find them this go around). The uncommon ingredients in this blend are a good 25% of zijin rattan and 25% of lysimachic foenum-graecum hance. It’s rare to find a company whose lowest end incense is one of their best, but I’ve found this incense to be extremely addictive. While not particularly resinous in quality, the aloeswood does come through and give it some character and the tangy herbal quality of the foenum-graecum balances out the sweetness nicely. The entirety has hints of apple tobacco and other herbal qualities along with the light evergreen touch. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and a great deal for the money, especially at its bulk price. However, it may be an even better incense in its thicker form, where the sweetness comes out a bit more and the impact becomes heavier. I’m not sure if this is because the ingredient to binder ratio is higher, but it’s certainly more aromatically redolent in this form.

[Updated 8/31/2021. No change in review except price. Incense remains the same, review still valid.] Bosen’s Pythoncidere Incense is a virtual triumph of incense making and one of the finest blends you’ll ever try outside of the aloeswood and sandalwood worlds. The company says the “…formula contains heavier density of Phytocid, which will make you feel like in green shower when you use it.” I’m honestly not sure you can really create a better description than this, it’s what drew me in for the buy and I believe they absolutely succeeded with this blend, which starts with literally a 50% content of high-resin hinoki (cypress). The evergreen qualities are cranked up to a high without the harsh qualities usually brought with it and the green qualities verges verdant with an almost banana like quality in the mix as well as hops and a sweet candy-like note. It’s the kind of green almost approached in alpine-like incenses or even those green durbar variants in Indian incense, but none of those perfect the quality like this one does. It’s literally one of the best incenses you can buy for $13. I’m hoping Bosen add a bulk box for this one as soon as possible as I’m already rocketing through my first box.

Like Dakini, Shangrila Incense is labelled as top-grade Tibetan incense, although I don’t think it’s nearly as successful as the rest of the line. It’s distinguishing qualities are 15% safflower and 15% ganten khampa, but the overall aromatic flavor is one of woods and an almost candle/beeswax like overlay.  Like all the Bosen Tibetans it has a certain sweetness, but unlike the others it also has something of a drier touch to it. It’s possible there’s a learning curve at work here but initially I’m not as impressed with this one as I am with the other blends. Shangrila is also available in coils and powder, neither of which I’ve tried but it’s possible both formats might improve the quality due to different ingredient ratios.

[Updated 9/2/2021. No real changes to review (added camphor), but as I stated at the end, you do warm to this one.] Zambhala Incenseis set apart by 15% karpura (camphor) and 15% artemisia oligoarpa but is an intensely evergreen incense that resembles Pythoncidere without being nearly as successful. In this case it’s almost the most traditionally Tibetan of the line, resembling in some ways incenses like Dhoop Factory’s Alpine, but quite a bit more refined due to the aloeswood and sandalwood quantities. Given the price similarity to Pythoncidere, I wouldn’t recommend this one first but I’ve also noticed the subtleties of the aloeswood peeking through on this one, promising a learning curve that might make it more worthwhile than my initial impressions.

Beautiful work basically, and given that Amazon fulfills this companies products, you can easily add a $10-$20 box to any other small order to get free shipping out of it (which also means that most of their aloeswood and sandalwood products get automatic free shipping as well). It should also be mentioned that the packaging of these incenses is world class with thick, high quality cardboard boxes, some padding for no breakage and silica gel to keep the incense dry. It’s all around top work from a great company who clearly make high standard product and get good ratings from buyers as well. ORS recommended to say the least.