Kunlha Incense: Jetsun Dolma, Lotus Pema, Shing Tsa, Pangpoe, Loong Pö

These are produced by Kunlha Incense, which is a small family business. They are made without any animal materials and also seem to be made of very high quality herbs and woods. They are also pretty much “non sweat sock” or “funk note” in style. At the same time they are very approachable to a pretty broad range of people if you don’t demand the above two stylistic elements. Other than Loong Po there do not appear to be any oils used. At this point I have re-ordered three times so I am pretty sure I like them 🙂

Jetsun Dolma (Green Box): I think this is modeled after Green Tara as it is listed as “curative and healing incense”. The scent is a bit heavier then any of the other sticks, which might be valerian or mugwart. It is also very relaxing (to me at least) and is great later in the evening. This one seems to be herb heavy with some wood notes in the background. I find it fairly pleasant but not something I would use just for the scent.

Lotus Pema (Yellow Box): This is the wood scent one hopes to find when trying out anything that says “cedar” or “juniper”. It is beautiful, subtle, and very clean with no off notes at all. Really a great stick of incense in the pure wood style. This has become my “go to” woods scent. Highly recommended and I have yet to find anything comparable to it.

Shing Tsa (Blue Box): The cinnamon, rhododendron, and juniper in this blend seem to inter weave themselves yet at the same time you can sense each separately, which is a pretty good trick in incense or perfume. It can be very entertaining to sense them as they play out in the room. Great for mornings and afternoons. Really a well-rounded incense, almost Japanese in style. Uplifting and not overdone.

Pangpoe (Red Box): This is along the lines a of a fairly traditional “red stick” Tibetan incense. Lots of herbs and some woods totally blended into an overall combined scent profile. Classic but at the same time maybe not as much a standout like the three above. IMO, as always.

Loong Pö (White Box): This one seems to be designed as something to use for post work chill out. It has a mellower background scent then the Pangpoe with the addition of a perfume note added into it. Since my box is at least two years old and the note is still there (somewhat reduced) I am assuming there are some synthetic aspects to the scent. Essential oils or Absolutes, especially any floral’s do not tend to last that long unless tightly sealed, which these were not. However it is an interesting scent, like a light floral mixed with (maybe) aldehydes, pretty classic in style and not overwhelming at all. A nice mix and a pretty good stick that should appeal to many people.

-Ross

Mermade Magickal Arts / Abramelin, Cyprian, Dark Forest, Dark Goddess

So just as I was wrapping up the previous Mermade review, another surprise batch of new creations showed up at the door. It’s funny but I’ve probably never mentioned what boxes from Katlyn look like, although customers are surely familiar, but even the presentation of the arrival has the same care everything else does. It should be noted of course that Katlyn’s talent at art matches the same talent involved in the incense creation, so part of the fun is seeing the labels and stationery that comes with each box. As someone who gravitates towards the motifs of western esoterica, I find the way each incense comes packaged to be a delight and in fact anyone who has been involved in the western mystery schools to some extent will be delighted at the symbolism just on the tiny jar of the first incense to be reviewed here and even the bag the jar sits in. There is an attention to detail that rewards the attentive.

For example, check out the amount of research and information provided by Mermade on their newly created version of the legendary Abramelin ceremonial incense blend. This is a historically documented incense associated with the occult work, “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” a guide written to teach a student how to converse with their holy guardian angel and largely associated with Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema. Of course much has been written elsewhere on this subject and so we’ll stick to the incense itself. Katlyn has chosen to create this incense with one part green frankincense, a half part mix of myrrh and storax and a quarter part aloeswood powder. While this seems like a simple recipe the quality of ingredients can have a massive effect on what the final product will smell like and this is I’m sure the first of its kind used with the powerful and lime-like green frankincense. I know this isn’t Katlyn’s first attempt at such an incense and different attempts and styles can make them all quite different from another. This work has a maturity that has allowed for quite a bit of subtlety most of which seems to float around the beautiful and heady myrrh and storax combination in the middle. The frankincense is definitely powerful in this but once heating gets underway all of the parts merge very nicely together with the aloeswood providing a subtle and more fleeting sort of presence. I also love the color of this incense, it tends to a lovely golden like shade which reflects rather perfectly with the intent behind the incense. One wonders if the original creators behind the incense ever envisioned or formulated the incense with such fine ingredients.

Also a simple, lovely and almost overwhelming incense is the labadanum, rose and agarwood combination found in Mermade’s new Cyprian. This mix strikes me as quite different than a lot of the other Mermade incenses. It’s as if the ingredients are all adding up for something very spicy, alluring and somewhat vigorous. The rose scent in particular is beautifully calibrated and reminiscent of some of the old rose and resin mixes, somewhat veiled by the incense’s spiciness, but still very authentic and gorgeous. The labdanum and agarwood are all finely balanced and the whole thing works perhaps because of its simplicity as a combination, allowing the nature of each ingredient to bring life to the blend. Strangely there is a beguiling earth or clay tone in the mix, as a result of the incense’s combination and the fresh incense itself almost seems to have a complex level of hoppiness to it. I was quite taken away with this blend and highly recommend it as a deep intersection of floral, resin and wood.

I reviewed Wild Woods in the previous Mermade installment and Dark Forest is another in Katlyn’s long and distinguished line of forest and woods incenses. This one is definitely a bit closer to center than the ambery Wild Woods and has a very pungent foresty green presence that is practically unadulterated with any note that might move this off center. I’ve admitted my almost unconditional love for this kind of scent before and this one is no different. It’s not complex in a wider sense, but there is a lot of activity within the greenness, made possible by juniper, black spruce, cypress, fir and cedar with strong backing from the black frankincense. There’s a slight note of patchouli on this that fills in around the edges, not to mention and even more fleeting glimpse of vetiver, both elements that just give different kinds of greens to the whole. As always, there’s a bit of sweetness to the evergreen and resin combo. As always, these incenses are bullseyes and tend to be as user friendly as anything on the market.

Dark Goddess is a new vintage of a previously named incense with some similarities, but overall I think this new blend is quite a bit different in scent. For one thing, the patchouli was a big note in the previous incense, here it’s much more subtle and blends with greater balance. As someone who doesn’t mind a healthy bit of good patchouli, and by that I don’t mean the cheap stuff that can overwhelm a drum circle, I love both the old and new Dark Goddess, but certainly like all of Mermade’s work, the most recent vintage is always the mature work. This mix, which includes ingredients that tend to the polar opposite of the blends based in green frankincense, such as black Ethiopian resin and black frankincense, is a very complex incense where the parts interlock like pieces of a puzzle making it just that more difficult to pick out the single elements. All of the resinous material gives the incense hints of molasses, caramel but also something a bit more dry with the herbs, especially the vetivert, giving it all an earthly feel.

As always, these are just a segment of the wonderful work going on at Mermade and it’s always a distinct pleasure to be able to share my impressions. One thing I often notice is later on I tend to pick up new things as I use the incenses, further giving testament to the depth of the art at play here. And so once again I highly recommend newcomers to Olfactory Rescue Service to visit the site, grab a heater and try out some of the luxuries in the Mermade catalog, as they’re all limited editions and vintages that eventually give way to new ones.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Naga’s Nest, Wild Wood, Scentuality, Kamiwaza, Ensense Antique

Receiving a new Mermade batch is one of my favorite parts of running Olfactory Rescue Service, in fact I can’t really think of too many other companies where I would be hard pressed to come up with a blend they created that I didn’t love. The whole spirit of the operation from the incense to the artwork to Katlyn Breene’s generosity and support makes reviewing the incenses a total joy and as the years go by, the sheer art and experimentation involved, now stretching into actual Japanese and Tibetan style incenses, never fails to elate. If you read this site and have not had the pleasure of checking the Mermade operation out, I’d consider it one of the first stops an incense lover should make. Everything created here is managed to the last detail and the ingredients used are top quality, only to be worked into something of even higher quality. Every chance I get to dish out the hyperbole I relish it greatly and with no reservation. And to see the line incorporate newer incense creators like Gregg King or our very own Ross Urrere only underlines the spirit behind the incense underground. Once I thought that high quality incense could only be found on the other side of the planet, now I know it’s made here too.

Mermade’s Naga’s Nest is a true original. One of the things you’ll notice about Tibetan incenses, particularly the ones sourced from Nepal or India, is that so many of the aromas you’ll find are embedded in very inexpensive woods, often the kind that smell like burning tires and make your eyes water. So imagine if you were to take a Tibetan rhododendron or lawudo incense, strip away all of the cheaper ingredients so that all is left is the aroma itself, and mix those ingredients with good resins and sandalwood adding just the right foresty touch so that the rhododendron ingredient isn’t suffocating anymore. What you have left is a gentle and unique scent floating like a mirage on the top of a good base. The scent is then recognizable from Tibetan incenses but allowed to flourish, and that it does in this blend, which lasted for hours when I put it on the heater. There really is no other incense like this in any market, in fact even the occasional powder incenses don’t sing like this one does. One only hopes Mermade will try their hand at some of the other Tibetan ingredients in a similar fashion.

Wild Wood, on the other hand, is another in the long lineage of Mermade’s forest blends. It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a huge fan of Katlyn’s work in this area, she knows how to craft them in a way where the aroma always tends to be perfectly green, just like you’d smell if you were walking in a forest. This art of using evergreen ingredients and using resins to intensify the scent always makes these a rare treat, and an incense style that might even crossover to friends that can’t abide by strong Indian incenses or heavy woods. Wild Wood is something of an evergreen mix with amber floating in the background, but like all of Mermade’s forest incenses, the green is still up to 11 on this one, with lots of fruity citrus from the combination of two frankincenses, the copal blanco and the pinon resin. The amber subscent acts to give what could be similar to a lot of resin blends a nice richness, and I’m assuming some of this comes from the two balsams in play. Naturally this also comes highly recommended and if you have never tried one of Mermade’s wild nature blends, there’s no better place to start.

The last three incenses here turn over to Japanese styles, with one slight exception. All three of these incenses start with a base of high quality sandalwood and agarwood, but the third element sends all of these to unique destinations. Readers may remember Gregg King’s fantastic Ali’s Roadside Lozenges. The newest variation of it is Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have not had the chance to try the latest blend on its own, but recognize its scent from the lozenges, it is an incense created from a staggering number of high quality materials.

Katlyn has managed to take some of this powder and create a meta-incense with it by combining it with the aforementioned base as Scentuality. This blend takes a while to get going on a heater, but when it does, it gets more impressive as it goes and lasts several hours. The mix of ingredients doesn’t tilt in any particular direction, which to my nose creates a kind of bewitching merging, particularly where the spicy and deep qualities of the agarwood intertwine with the complexity of the Ali’s. This creates a lot of rich and wonderful subscents that remind me of the kind of sweet, quasi-kyara candy scents you can find in some of the good Shoyeido wood and pressed incenses. The early scent is powdery and gentle before the agarwood really kicks in. Overall, it’s a fairly mellow incense, more akin to where a Baieido incense might sit and it’s a tribute to both Mermade and King that they’ve created a Japanese style incense of very high quality and complexity with all of the similar grace and subtlety you’d expect. It’s an excellent example of how incense circles and collaborations are improving the work year after year. And for just under $20 it’s quite price conscious and better than a lot of Japanese incenses in that range.

Kamiwaza is an incense in the same family as Scentuality, starting with the same or similar base but using clove, cinnamon, patchouli and borneol from Japanese sources as the “third element” in the incense. These ingredients have deeper aromatic qualities than you would normally find if you were to source them elsewhere and they merge with the base in a rich and spicy way that is a complete delight. The agarwood really pops in this blend, balancing all of the multiple sweetness and spiceness with a solid resin note. If you have ever tried any of Shoyeido’s speciality incenses whether wood chip mixes or pressed incenses you will recognize notes like a fresh roll of Sweet Tarts or a spice tea mix. But like with Scentuality this will likely be at a much more affordable price point and it all works without the use of perfumes and oils. One tip, however, the balance of the scents is probably best achieved by turning the heater a bit lower so the aromatics don’t volatize too quickly, particularly as the woods will go for quite a while.

Ensense Antique also uses a sandalwood/agarwood base, but the third ingredient here is an oud oil called “Encense Angkor.” As such, I would suggest, like with Kamiwaza, to apply gentle heat to this incense in order to not burn off much of the oud oil too fast. This oud oil is of the rich and spicy variety and it melds quite perfectly with the woods and it often seems like the scent dances somewhere in between them. It reminds me slightly of Ross Urrere’s sandalwood and ambergris or souked aloeswood in that the general aroma is woody dry, while having some very complex top notes resulting from the ingredients being very high quality. In particular the sandalwood comes through nicely on this one. All of these blends, as usual, come with the highest recommendation and it has been so much fun to see how Mermade is working in all sorts of incense world traditions, all of the blends created with such a deft and careful touch. And of course all of them are graced with Katyln’s terrific artwork, spirit and presentation, it never feels like any stone is unturned in reaching the final released work. And good news, there are even more blends in queue for review, including a carefully recreated Abramelin incense, an agar/rose/labdanum mix called Cyprian that absolutely wowed me last night, Mermade’s newest forest blend Dark Forest and a new “earthy blend” called Dark Goddess (I’m excited about this one in particular as the description references the old Mermade blend Hecate, an incense I still miss). Stay tuned!

Mermade Magickal Arts/Gaia Tree

When I first started getting into blended incense, I was fascinated with church and forest blends, in fact over the years I’ve gathered more of them than I know what to do with. Many who have spent some time in Catholic churches know the basic scent of frankincense and some of these blends could be quite fine, having that amazing citrus scent as a base. The forest blends often went deeper than this and I’ve run across several whose fruitiness tends towards the scent of green apple mixed with pine, spruce, fir and other evergreen scents. In fact while around here we talk a lot about the wonders of aloeswood and sandalwood, I’ve always really prized the much cheaper and easily accessible forest blends, they’re a great way to scent your space.

Katlyn Breen is turning out to be a master of the art of earthy, foresty scents, in fact I’d probably have to do a bit of research to create a list of all the wonderful blends that have come out of Mermade over the last decade in this vein. And these blends are in many ways much more carefully crafter and deep than the average forest resin blend and many of them go in all sorts of neat and interesting directions. Gaia Tree is one of her newest, listing black frankincense, storax benzoin, arbor vitae, green cedar tips, black spruce, green myrtle, fir, and benzoin and tolu balsam essential oils as ingredients. This is a very rich and powerful forest scent, starting with the citrus of the frankincense base, moving towards the evergreen and apple mix I mentioned earlier, adding a touch of spice that is reminiscent of Mermade’s amazing Mahjoun incense, an almost confectionary level of sweetness and a really strong touch of amber that comes from the essential oils, in fact it’s one of the most wonderful amber notes I’ve experienced in an incense. This is all well rounded with a distinct greenness that comes from the spruce and fir tips, highlighting the name of the incense itself. While so many forest blends tend to scent fairly clean, there is a rich, creaminess to this one that gives it a wonderfully decadent note.

As always if you haven’t made your way over to Mermade, it should be one of your top incense stops. The Golden Lotus incense heater is an absolute must for blended incense and Gaia Tree couldn’t work more beautifully on it.

Shroff Channabasappa / Dry Masala / Bakhoor, Basil Amber, Cedar, Chypre, Kapoor Kacheri

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13

It can’t be a secret how much I love the incense from Shroff Channabasappa, but it was in this batch (which will cover the next three installments) where the company has made some serious missteps in what they’ve been deciding to import (they’ve of course made up for this in the last two waves of wet and semidry masalas). In fact many of the larger packages of these incenses have already been cut to move and there’s good reason for it.

I find the sorting schematic for Shroff to generally be problematic, because even though all of these are listed under dry masalas, Bakhoor is a charcoal and most of the rest of this group aren’t nearly as perfumed or intense as most of the other incenses in the same grouping. Bakhoor means well but doesn’t perform well at all, almost entirely due to the charcoal base, which seems to be more offputting than usual for the style. It’s slightly thicker than these sticks usually are and as such it puts out an almost suffocating level of smoke, a level where it would be difficult for any aroma to fight over. You would think Shroff’s perfuming skills would help matters, but unfortunately this ends up being more reminiscent of synthetic perfume oils on cheap bakhoors (although to be fair there are a lot of true bakhoors like this) than deep oud woods or amber. Some of the elements here might have worked better with some adjustment but without an aggressive base, the charcoal ends up taking its place, something you don’t want. The results ring hollow, a sort of pseudo-bakhoor scent with weird citrus subnotes around the edges.

The basil (or tulsi) oil in the Basil Amber is quite nice, it brings out its vivacious green qualities, but the overall incense is a stranger fit. The base stick is sort of vaguely reminiscent of one of the other Shroff ambers, but only their least desirable qualities come out underneath the basil oil onslaught. There’s a bit of sandalwood or benzoin that gives the middle a weakness since it doesn’t seem to merge with the perfume. It’s almost worth owning if you really need a basil in your mix, but as an incense it’s mediocre.

Althought it’s hard to get excited about another Cedar incense, at least with this version we’re getting a new take. The qualities here are high altitude and evergreen, rather than the sweet Madhavadas style masalas. This brings it a bit closer in style to something Tibetan. Its slightly pungent in the end and feels perhaps as authentic as you’d hope, but it’s inevitable campfire associations will be evoked.

Of this batch, the Chypre is probably the most successful, possibly because it’s more akin to the original Shroff releases in terms of perfume intensity. In fact the closest previous Shroff to this style is the Parrot Green Durbar, sweet, sour and citrus, with a nice bit of breadth to it. I’ve found a lot of the sticks faulty in my batch, however, many of them going out at least once in the first inch and some going out later. But it’s essentially a unique enough aroma (it’s much more balanced then the PGD) to be worth checking out, however, it seems pretty obvious this is new enough that not everyone will like it.

The Kapoor Kacheri is a perfect example of how I feel like much of this batch was Shroff getting rid of cheap materials. It’s an extremely dull masala with a very basic campfire/wood scent that does little to distinguish itself from, say, natural masalas. It smells a lot like leaves burning and seems hastily thrown together.

The thrashing continues next installment…

Natural Arogya Dhoop Incense/Bodhisatwo, Karmayogi, Mahadhup, Meditative, Vaidhyaraj

There isn’t a company associated with these five incenses that’s on the wrapper, but each has a full name that goes Natural Arogya-xxx Dhoop Incense, with each of the five specific names going where the xs go. These are fairly common Nepali blends you’ll likely find at most incense outlets, all of them packaged in paper wrappers and like most common Nepali blends, most of these really aren’t worth the cedarwood chips in the base.

One thing I’ve noticed really frequently when it comes to many inexpensive Nepali incenses is just how many ingredients can add up to zero. All of these incenses have long lists of ingredients, but when the full list really only makes up a small spot on the roster next to filler and binder wood, the list starts to feel less than trustworthy. It does me little good to know, for instance, if there’s agarwood or sandalwood in the incense if the quantity is microscopic. It’s almost like someone telling you they’re friends with a famous celebrity only to realize they just waved at them at an airport.

The first of these incenses, Natural Arogya-Bodhisatwo Dhoop Incense, smells of pencil shavings and juniper with a sour or bitter tang in the mix. Naturally, the list of ingredients includes solukhumbu, gosaikund, himla, jimla & mustang along with haro, barro, aguri, krishagur, gokul (one of the few I recognized), cinnamon and others. A teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee makes a difference, but that same teaspoon in a swimming pool full of coffee isn’t going to make much of an impression. None of the ingredients in the list do anything to distract you from the cheap, irritating smell. The list, however, does make me curious as to what it would smell like to burn a pencil fire.

Natural Arogya-Karmayogi Dhoop Incense is a resin heavy Tibetan stick in a style you’ll come across in other Nepali lines. I’m assuming from the ingredients most of what I’m smelling is the saldhup embedded in the red and white sandalwood mix. The somewhat marshmallow-like astasugandha is also fairly prominent, helping to give it some herbal depth. This isn’t a rare scent overall, but it’s one I usually like and so I’ve always considered this the best in this group. This is largely because the resins have the presence to make you forget about the binder wood, and not so much a judgment of its quality, which is still relatively low.

Natural Arogya-Mahadhup Incense (see how they did that?) lists sandalwood, gurgum, sunpati, jattamansi, rupkeshar, and dhupi. The jattamansi is fairly noticeable as the soft element in the front, to help make the overall bouquet somewhere between floral and woody, but this is largely because the florals are competing with the cheap woods dominating the whole stick. At least in this case the woods give off a little bit more than pencil shavings with some hints of Himalayan evergreen, but overall the incense still lacks too much personality.

The Natural Arogya-Meditative Dhoop Incense lists sugandhabal, bakchi, kut, ambergris, cloves, and cardomom, all of which seem to promise a rather excellent incense. The intensity of this stick lies somewhere between the Bodhisatwo/Mahadhup and the Karmayogi, in fact it shares a certain swankiness with the latter. It has a nice spiciness in the middle, a combination not very far from Mandala Trading’s Tibetan Monastery incense. This is a good example of where ingredients can transcend the base and not make you feel like you’re burning cheap stuff (relatively speaking). This has a nice clove burn to it and a genuine firey atmosphere I quite like.

The ingredients for Natural Aroga-Vajdhyaraj Dhoop Incense include kapur, dhupi, kumkum, saffron, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The black color of the stick makes me wonder if this is an Agar 31 attempt, but again, like with the Karmayogi and Meditative, the herbs are pretty swanky. Here you get that with the wood center, and the reuslts will remind most of tires and campfire wood. This is a good example, I think, of how certain Tibetan herbs aren’t likely to go down as aromatics with most westerners. And after so many sticks, this is one I feel like I can do without. The only ingredient that really comes out for me is the nutmeg.

Overall this is more or less your standard Nepali line, almost typical of what you’d get from a surface overview of the style. Like many inexpensive Tibetan incenses, these are heavy in cheap materials and rarely reach the promise found in their ingredient lists. Both the Karmayogi and Meditative will do in a pinch, but generally speaking you’ll find better incense elsewhere.

Doma / Agar 31, Relaxation, Ribo Sangtsheo, Pyukar, Mandala, Special Incense

Doma Herbal Incense have a rather sizeable line of Nepali incense products that vary from the inexpensive to the premium ($18). Their products vary quite a bit in style, packaging and quality, but for the most part they tend to be pretty standard Nepali/Tibetan fare with the lion’s share of their sticks tending to inexpensive woods mixed in with light aromatic touches. This review covers about six different packages in the line.

The Agar 31 – Healing Incense (as well as the Relaxation) comes in these unusual flat sized boxes that aren’t really all that easily storable when you consider most Tibetan sticks come in long boxes or rolls. This is what I’d call a pencil shavings incense, even compared to other Agar 31 incenses, this has very little in the way of luster. It even has a strange, light floral note in the mix which is very unusual for this style. The black agar doesn’t appear to be very high grade and along with the herbs it just appears to flavor up a very overwhelming and cheap cedarwood base, which ends up being the dominant aroma.

Relaxation, fortunately, is quite a bit better, but that’s likely because the middle is filled up with resins rather than woods. Not sure if we’re dealing with frankincense, benzoin, myrrh or gugal gum here, although I’d assume it’s a mix of some of these that combines with a bit of herbal swank in the middle. It’s akin in some ways to both Yog-Sadhana and the swankier Heritage (or maybe a mix of the two), as well as the Natural Arogya-Karmayogi or Himalayan Herbs Centre Traditional Mandala. I like all these scents quite a bit, as well as this one, as they’re essentially like resin mixes embedded in Tibetan woods. Don’t expect fireworks, but it’s a good buy for the money and it holds up to any of the comparisons.

Ribo Sangtsheo is one of the biggest rolls I’ve ever seen in a cardboard box. The ingredients listed are cardamom, clove, spruce, hemlock, butterworth and benth, but like many inexpensive Tibetans with dictionary lists of ingredients, the incense ends up as the average. I kind of think of a scent like this as sour wood. It seems to have a great deal of pencil shavings mixed in with the other elements. Nagi? Sandalwood? Saffron? Musk? Maybe in microquantities but I don’t even think straining turns up much in the way of aroma. Then again, most incenses with the Ribo Sangtsheo name tend to be for inexpensive offerings and thus have as much traditional use as aromatic, so perhaps in the end this shouldn’t be held up to too high a standard. As an aromatic it’s not much of interest.

Pyukar is not an expensive incense but at least it doesn’t just smell like spiced up pencil shavings. Like one of the other higher quality Domas, the smoke is fairly low and there’s enough sandalwood to give it a bit of dignity as well as some benzoin and a light touch of spice. It’s still a touch on the sour side, but it’s also a bit similar to Red Crystal and thus bears a sense of familiarity. A touch better than fair.

Doma’s Mandala lists sandalwood, musk, saffron, juniper, and cardamom, but the deep red and thin base speak of cedar and/or juniper wood, and once again it’s difficult to suss out the ingredients on the roll (although strangely the saffron does manage to peak out). Overall this is one of those generic red Tibetan sticks with a strong nod to the campfire, with little to speak for it except for a slight sense of high alititude. There’s lots of incenses like these, after a while it’s difficult to really sense any great difference in quality from one to another.

Finally there’s Doma’s premium priced Special Incense which to be fair isn’t really worth a half or third of its price, given that it shares that tier with much better incenses. Still it’s easily the best Doma in this group. Like the Pyukar this is a low smoke incense and I’d guess in this case that’s due to the myrrh content. The scent is very clean and mellow, with quite a bit of resin and wood in the mix. The major difference to me from other Domas is the base wood quality is a lot higher than usual, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s share of campfire associations. It does have that red berry juniper roundness, but then so do a lot of incenses at much more affordable prices.

Doma have quite a few other products, but based on the handful I tried here, I wasn’t inspired to check out any of the other incenses. In many ways the level of Doma quality is generally what you’d expect as a baseline for Nepali incense, there’s definitely some cheaper companies and a few much better, but what you’ll find in the catalog will generally be traditional and not too flashy.

Unknown / Pure Frank Incense, Pure Aromatic Jasmine, Pure Aromatic Pine, Pure Aromatic Vetivert

In terms of unfavorable reviews this one’s going to be in nuclear territory, so if you don’t like them I’d skip this one. These are four incenses out of a total of at least 30 different kinds that all fall under the “Pure” appelation and nowhere on the wrappers of these four is any indication who’s responsible for these, in fact my guess is they wouldn’t want to own up to it. In fact it’s already problematic at the wrapper stage, these incenses are bound so tight that to get them out you nearly have to destroy the packaging.

In many previous reviews related to Nepali incenses and those Tibetan monasteries now in India, I’ve often compared them to poorer incenses, well these are a really good example of the poorest of the poor. Quite frankly these incenses seem designed to get rid of large quantities of cedarwood, by adding a dash of “flavor” to each one. My guess the cost to make these is almost negligible. In fact each individual scent is barely worth discussing on its own. The Frank Incense is perhaps the strongest of the group in terms of the individual scent, but the reason for that seems to be the perfumey nature of what ever frankincense oil or synthetic they happen to be using that ends up covering up some of the wood. The Jasmine is even more cloying, there’s no way such a gentle floral should ever smell this awful, it smells like a bad soap. I can’t even really detect pine in the Pine, it mostly smells like burning pencil shavings. The Vetivert is at least somewhat detectable but overall it’s little different from the Pine in terms of getting a noseful of cheap burning wood.

Based on the these four, I wouldn’t touch the others in the line, especially since Nepali incenses are all roughly in the same price range where you can easily find much better incenses (like from the Dhoop Factory). I should also mention that I did these reviews based on maybe a stick at the most of each one, it’s really all I could bear.

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.

Pure Incense / Absolute / Cedarwood, Cedarwood & Lavender, Cedarwood & Rose, Cedarwood & Sandalwood, Saffron, Vanilla

This is the fifth installment of the large Pure Incense catalog and as it has been a while since the last one, I’d suggest clicking on the Pure Incense tag on the left to see the others as this is a mighty fine series of incenses with a diversity that probably won’t be self evident just from this particular subsection. Here I’ll be discussing several cedarwood blends, the Absolute Sandalwood and what perhaps could be considered the line’s most basic incense in the Absolute Vanilla. You may have guessed that these are all part of the line’s standard series, although in the case of many of these incenses they are the highest quality versions of their particular aroma.

As the Madhavadas family is the source of these incenses, it’s no surprise that their Absolute Cedarwood is more or less the exact same incense you’ll find in many lines such as Primo and Triloka, if not very similar to those from Incense from India and Mystic Temple. It’s a sweet and perfumed cedar, perhaps even more obviously so after trying Shroff’s most recent version, which is completely different. I’ve always had a fondness for this scent and consider it unique in comparison to other cedarwood scents, which often have little depth and are closer to, say, pencils than aromatic wood. No doubt this is due to an oil, but I’d guess its sweetness is also due to the line’s ubiquitous vanilla-enhanced base. I’d consider this the place to start before moving on to the hybrids as you’ll then be able to see how brilliantly a second ingredient tends to transmute the cedar aroma.

The first hybrid is the Absolute Cedarwood & Lavender whose added lavender perfume changes the entire contour of the cedarwood and as a result ends up in a very different lavender as well. The overall scent has definitely changed to the floral and just as the charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base changes based on what is being laid over, the cedarwood also seems to go chameleon. It’s not even a combination I probably would have thought of and the result is something almost entirely new with neither main ingredient resembling what they do on their own. In fact you’d think this might be sweeter than it is, but it almost seems like those elements are cancelled out in the new equation.

The stick is a bit darker with the Absolute Cedarwood & Rose perhaps implying an adjustment of some sort to the base. To my nose the oil Madhavadas used on this stick strikes me as being a bit more “authentic” than the lavender and thus find this a very successful incense, the combination bringing out the darker and more mysterious aspects of both ingredients. It adds up to one of the more heavier rose incenses, but unlike many that are rough, this one has a pleasant roundedness. When I originally tried it as a sample, I ended up ordered a full 50g package. It’s only weakness is a slight ammoniac presence common to the occasional perfumed Indian stick.

Perhaps a more obvious pairing is the Absolute Cedarwood & Sandalwood and it’s probably not a surprise that the aroma is tilted more in the favor of the former ingredients and much closer to the base than the previous two mixes. The sandalwood does help to make this a much drier incense and as such it will be seen as an improvement for those whose tastes lie that way. It actually ends up with some rather unique combo notes, with the sandal presence taking the place of the cedar oil on the very top. There even seems to be a little patchouli in the mix, although I’m not sure if this is due to the combo or not. It’s actually quite an unpredictable scent in some ways.

Like the Cedarwood, I find the Absolute Saffron to be a fairly prevalent scent in Indian incense, although I’m not sure they’re all exactly the same given the possibility of diversity in such a scent. This version may not have the classic saffron scent per se, in fact it reminds me more of what I’ve occasionally seen classed as a saffron sandalwood, and that may very well be part of the base playing here. It’s an extremely dry incense, with a bit of spice in the middle as well as the usual vanilla subscent so common to this line of incenses. And there are even hints of some resins in the mix, or at least that’s what I’d guess is giving the incense its intensity and pungency. Quite nice and somewhat complex as well.

For those who have sampled many Pure Incense incenses, the Absolute Vanilla will probably strike you as the very base of the style, in that it really IS the Madhavadas Vanilla. For one thing, it’s relatively less powerful, as if the other oils have been subtracted. On the other hand it’s almost as if you can pick out the vanilla in most of the other incenses before you can with this one, where it’s very dry, as if the rest of the base is less disguised, such as the charcoal and sandalwood. Personally I find vanilla a rough thing in incense (perhaps my favorites are the Shroff Vanilla and Vanilla Balsam, neither of which is particularly comparable here), very difficult to get right and I’m not sure this one is particularly close, unless you have the predeliction for drier masalas.

Next installment will cover some patchouli and sandalwood variations and hybrids and beyond that I think there are a few newer scents I’ve not managed to try out yet, so still more to come.

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