Tibetan Incense Is The Sweet Smell Of Success In Nyêmo Village
2019-09-06
Along the Friendship Highway from Shigatse to Lhasa lies one of the most fragrant villages in the world. Lying around 119 kilometers from Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, Thonda Village in Nyêmo County is the home of Tibetan incense. Located in the township of Thonba (Tunbaxiang), this small Tibetan village to the north of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, on the banks of the Thon Chu, is renowned for its long history of making the Traditional Tibetan Incense that can now be found all across China and around the world.
 
Yangkar, a resident of Thonba Village in Tibet's Nyêmo County, makes incense in her home.
Yangkar, a resident of Thonba Village in Tibet's Nyêmo County, makes incense in her home.
 
For more than 1,300 years, the village has been making incense in the traditional ways, and still continues to do so, using mainly the traditional methods in the production of this juniper-based incense. Even the water-mills in the local stream, built to grind the juniper wood into powder for the incense, are an original method of wood grinding. Juniper is the main ingredient in these hand-made sticks of incense, and is the traditional wood used for burning in Tibet to make the area sweet smelling for the gods.

 A resident of Thonba Village makes incense in the village's incense cooperative 'factory'.
A resident of Thonba Village makes incense in the village's incense cooperative 'factory'.
 
Local legends tell of how the villagers were originally fishermen, until one day, Thonmi Sambodha, the minister of the Tibetan king came to the village in the early 7th century. Known as the inventor of Tibetan scripts and a pioneer in the production of Tibetan incense, Sambodha drove all the living creatures from the stream and into the Yarlung Tsangpo River. He then encouraged the locals to take up the art of incense making, showing them that they could now use the river to grind the wood, as they would no longer harm the living creatures.

 Tourism and regional and national sales have helped to increase the production of Tibetan incense in Thonba Village to meet demand.
Tourism and regional and national sales have helped to increase the production of Tibetan incense in Thonba Village to meet demand.
 
Thonba Village, which has a population of around 1,100 people, is no longer just a collection of people that make incense. Instead, this unique little village has now formed two major companies and one co-operative, all of whom are involved in hand-made incense production. No production lines or factories exist in this amazing industry, and the skills of incense making are passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. One 72-year-old resident, Sonam Norbu, said he first started learning how to make the incense at the age of ten, learning from his father, who was a respected and outstanding incense maker in the village. Now, his own son and daughter-in-law are the next generation of incense makers in the family, who will pass the skills on to their own children as they get older.

 Binding the incense sticks together for packaging ready to be sold.
Binding the incense sticks together for packaging ready to be sold.
 
With almost all of the village involved in the incense industry, the village has seen a huge increase in overall incomes, with the average incense-producing family now bringing in as much as 30,000 yuan a year. Thanks to the social development of the incense production in Tibet, as well as the huge number of tourists for the Tibet Tours that pass through the small village on the way back to Lhasa from Shigatse, the village is now quite famous. And with around 35 families involved in the co-operative, this means the market for incense purchasing has broadened. Now, companies from Lhasa and other provinces of China buy incense from the co-operative, with one Lhasa-based company putting in an order this year for 1 million yuan worth of incense.
 
One of the many water wheels used to grind the Juniper for incense in Thonba Village.
One of the many water wheels used to grind the Juniper for incense in Thonba Village.
 
With the improvements in transportation across the region, the village has seen a huge increase in the Incense Business. Formerly impoverished villagers are now involved in the industry, and are selling incense to local companies across the area. While Tibetan juniper incense from Thonba Village can now be found in many of the other Chinese provinces, it has yet to receive full international recognition, with only a few places around the world stocking the incense. However, the two companies and the co-operative are already working hard to turn this ancient tradition into a global venture. Around the world, incense is sold in almost every country, with much coming from China and India. For the villagers of Thonba, getting into the global market would be a much-needed boost.
TAG: Tibetan incense nyemo incense thonba Village incense traditional incense making juniper incense

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