In the foothills of the Nepal Himalaya lives a brave tribe of Gurung people who risk their lives climbing up cliffs to harvest honey from one of the biggest and most dangerous honey bees in the world. This tradition dates back hundreds of years, and holds great religious and cultural importance to the people who live here.
From Kathmandu we made the long journey to Tanje village, home to 200 people and protected by thick jungle. Most of the inhabitants are farmers, cultivating rice, corn, and vegetables for their own use. For income, they shear wool from the sheep and produce handmade clothes and mattresses.
According to the local people, about 200 years ago, two tribes of Gurung and Ghale people left Tibet and settled here. They started to collect wild honey from the steep cliffs and began trading it.
We observed 18 daredevil climbers. A few of them prepared the ropes made of braided strips of bamboo. Some made the ladder, which is comprised of these ropes. The hunters told us that the honey reaches its highest quality in May and June, so we were there at the right time. Despite concerns that the traditional techniques of honey hunting might be in danger, the men we spoke to believe it will be kept alive by the younger generations.
The honeybees have made their beehives on gigantic cliffs. They collect nectar from poisonous flowers in the jungle, and convert that nectar into honey that has medicinal, amorous, and hallucinogenic properties.
The hunters respect the spirits of the forest, so they first perform a ceremony to placate the cliff gods. They sacrifice a chicken, offer flowers, fruit and rice, and pray to the spirits for a safe hunt.
The hunters wear masks like mosquito nets to protect their faces from the risk of stings. A group at the base of the cliff starts creating smoke by lighting a fire. Another group suspends a ladder from the top of a cliff. One honey hunter is fastened to the ladder by a rope. He slowly descends, waiting for the smoke to drive the thousands of bees out of their hives. As the hunter reaches the hive to be harvested, a large woven basket is lowered to him and the exposed honeycomb falls into the basket. The group on the base of the cliff receives the honey-filled basket and pours it into the strainer, where the impurities are filtered out. When this is complete, the basket is sent back to the hunter up the cliff.
This article and photos originally appeared in Issue 6 of Inside Himalayas magazine
Article By: Sujan Niraula.
Watch the Honey Hunters of Nepal Video Here