Mandala Trading / Ribo Sangtsheo, The Earth, Tibetan Peace

Nepalese company Mandala Trading are the creators of two of the finest and most accessible Tibetan incenses on the market, their long stick Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal blends, the former an unparalleled spice blend, the latter a minty evergreen breeze. If you haven’t had a chance to check these excellent and affordable incenses out I highly recommend doing so before tackling the three, shorter incenses (all five MT incenses are on this page mixed in with others, the three in review are down the page a ways) in question here. While they’re certainly nice incenses, the three in this review aren’t quite in the same league.

As with the two previously mentioned incenses, these three under consideration also have their ingredients lists listed on the inner wrapper. Ribo Sangtsheo is comprised of Spike Nard (Jattamansi) 20%, Other Medicinal Herbs 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Sandal Wood 10%, Agarwood 10%, Spices (Clove, Cinamon, Cardamon) 10%, Beddelium (Gokul Dhoop) 5%, and Ambergriss (Sal Dhoop) 5%. Of the three incenses in question here, Ribo Sangtsheo is the most similar incense to the Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal blends, although not quite as complex. Ribo Sangtsheo has a very unusual, coppery vibe for an incense. For one thing, it’s one of the few blends that is comprised of this much spikenard and it’s a fairly noticeable element overall, although unlike Japanese incenses that accentuate the sweetness, Ribo Sangtsheo also brings out more of the herbal and muskier notes. The agarwood, while not at the Japanese levels, actually does add something of a contour to the scent, preventing the incense from becoming too sweet or spicy by its obvious woody note. The entire blend has a slight fruitiness to it reminiscent of wine, but overall it’s that sort of dry, coppery vibe that sets it apart from the rest of the incenses in the line. If you’re over the moon with the HH and TM blends, this one is probably worth checking out even if it’s not quite up to those aromatic heights.

The Earth is comprised of Beddelium (Gokul Dhoop) 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Holy Basil (Tulsi) 15%, Other Medicinal Herbs 15%, Juniper (Dhupi) 10%, Valeriana (Suganhaval) 10%, Spices (Cinamon, Safron) 10%, and Mugwort (Tittepati) 5%. Strangely this and the next incense actually add up to 105%, which implies some rounding up. The Earth absolutely does what it says on the package, it’s one of the most rough, gravelly and earthy incenses imaginable and not only earth in the soil sense, but this one reminds me of granite and the like. As such it’s not a friendly incense by Western standards, with the juniper being accentuated. Strangely enough for an incense that lists its first ingredient as a resin, it’s not a big feature of this aroma, which is often very “campfire” like with off woody hints of rubber, tire and such. With each stick, I do tend to get a little closer to liking this one mostly because it really is earthy in all of its characteristics and it’s quite grounding.

Tibetan Peace (note: this is the first of two on the above linked page) is created from Sandalwood 25%, Other Medicinal Herbs 20%, Natural Glue (Lac) 20%, Anthopogon (Soonpati) 15%, Roopkeshar 5%, Kusum Flower 5%, Spices (Cloves, Safron) 5%, Holy Basil (Tulsi) 5%, and Calmus (Bojho) 5%. Overall it strikes a fairly common blend in Tibetan incenses, a slightly sweet and very thick sandalwood-based stick that’s colored green with some variation. It’s very similar to the Green Tara on this page, if not quite as thick or refined, and as such it’s an incense that’s pleasant, inoffensive and maybe a little boring at times, not terribly far from the Himalayan Herbal incense without all the potent spices. If you can think of something like Dzongsar or White Pigeon being at the more difficult end of an axis, Tibetan Peace lies at the other.

Unlike Tibetan Monastery and Himalayan Herbal incenses, none of these three are likely to make you stock deeply, but those who do like them may get some mileage, particularly out of the unusual Ribo Sangtsheo, which is different enough from the usuals to be worth a sample. At the same time, all are affordable enough to make the risk a low one. However you’re likely to find similar but friendlier incenses than The Earth in the Dhoop Factory line and I’d recommend the above Green Tara before Tibetan Peace.

Lucky Tibetan Incense Co. / Green Tara, Kailash, Kalachakra, Mila, Paljor Healing

In the last couple weeks I’ve covered some of the best Tibetan incenses available, now it’s time to move over to the other end of the spectrum. In fact and in part, the incenses here had a delaying effect on my exploration into Tibetan incense as a group of several incenses I bought at a nearby store that did little to impress. All five of these incenses come in a “gift pack” which is basically a cardboard box that packages the five boxes. This article was updated on September 22, 2008 to amend the company name to Lucky Tibetan Incense Co.

The main issue with all five of these incenses is that there’s too great a commonality among them. It gives the, perhaps incorrect, impression that all five incenses share the same base and vary in terms of essential oils or some other ingredient that strikes me as “flavoring” of a sort. While I do get the impression that it’s possible I might have picked up a box that has aged to its detriment, the fact that several of these leave a grey-bluish ash gives me the impression these incenses are comprised mostly of cheaper woods with small fractions of other ingredients to distinguish them. Some of the incenses are colored as well, Kailash blue, Kalachakra red and Green Tara being self evident. In fact the incenses that give off the blueish ash happen to be these three colored sticks and they all happen to be the incenses in the “gift pack” that are the most inferior.

Green Tara, where the gift pack gets its name, is one of the incenses that seems to be a wood base with slight flavoring and perhaps even essential oils. The base seems heavily cedarwood and not particularly high quality, with light sandalwood or sandalwood oil content. The main difference between this and the other incenses other than the green color are hints of patchouli in the front. Overall, it lacks character and has a bit of unwelcome bitterness to the burn.

Kailash is blue and presents many of the same issues with the least amount of post-wood aromatics in the group. It also has a cedarwood or similar base and presents a very dull aroma. It’s possible the oils or other aromatics had volatized from this incense during the aging, to give it the benefit of the doubt, but even were that true it should leave more of a trace than my stick has. I can’t remember seeing a Tibetan stick that had a natural color like this, so I would think there would have to be additives of a kind. There may be a bit of resin in there somewhere, but overall I had the impression that this wasn’t much more than a cedarwood “blank.” To be honest I found the almost dozen-item long ingredients list to be surprising and difficult to believe (for instance there’s not even a hint of saffron that I can tell).

Kalachakra, while similar to the previous sticks, seems to have a slight bit of character to it. There’s, perhaps, some red sandalwood involved here that makes the the wood base differ slightly. But like Green Tara, it’s a bit bitter on the edges and seems to have very little aromatic impact over the central wood.

Mila is the first of the two tan sticks in the gift package and I believe the ash was a closer to the white/light grey you tend to get with most sticks. This is probably because the base seems to be more of a combination of sandalwood and benzoin and as such it’s slightly improved over the others. Unfortunately (and perhaps due to age) Mila’s an incredibly brittle stick, my box ended up being a container of various inch-long pieces. But at least in this case there’s some spice to liven up the aroma. And strangely enough, this appears to be the most expensive, singly, of the five incenses here.

Paljor Healing is probably the line’s incense the most akin to the typical Agar 31 blends, although I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking there’s too much agar here (aquilaria does seem to be an ingredient). It’s a bit too similar to Mila overall, but with a slight tangy background reminiscent of the general “healing incense” style which helps to make it marginally the most interest here. And it doesn’t appear to be quite as brittle.

Overall, the Paljor incenses easily fall into the 5% of Tibetan incenses at the bottom of the heap. They lack distinction and seem to go for cheaper materials, all of which make their incenses at worst a chore to burn and at best a generic experience.