Honey hunting is a heroic act to gather honey from the nests of wild honey bees. Nepal is exclusively rich in honeybee diversity with at least five different honeybee species. The Bees Apis laboriosa and Apis dorsata are aboriginal to the Himalayan region and traditional methods of harvesting the honey on steep cliffs have remained unchanged for generations. The honey hunting is practiced by indigenous communities in ancient times using bamboo and bamboo- based fiber materials.
During every Spring and Autumn season, Gurung and Magar tribesmen of Annapurna region tends to harvest honey of the giant Himalayan wild bees using various tools. For hunting, they use prang (long bamboo ladders, some as long as 70 m); tokari (bamboo basket); chhyakhal (basket lining); tango (long bamboo stick with a sickle at one end); saaton (bamboo stick with notched end); chcora (filter); donga (wooden wax pot); dabilo (wooden knife); and different kinds of ropes made of bamboo fibers for different functions, such as uab, pecho koili cho, koho cho, tuju, and whibe.
The most popular honey hunting destinations are located in Bhujung, Nai Chi, Pasgaon, Naya Gaun, Ludhi and Dare. Tourists will be amazed at the speed and courage of the honey hunters, who hang from the cliffs to earn a living, and marvel at the ancient techniques that are still in use today. Other communities of Dhading, Jharlang across Ganesh Himal and Arun Valley of Makalu Barun also practice honey hunting in their areas.
The whole ritual of honey hunting is carried out with great care – any misjudgment can be fatal, or at least be ominous! The nest can be found perched in the sheer rock face at an altitude ranging from 2500m to 3000m. But, strangely enough the hunters don’t use any additional gears and safety equipments. The harvest ritual slightly contrasts from community to community. The harvest is followed by a prayer and sacrifice of flowers, fruits and rice.
Local honey hunters show their exceptional skill by hanging themselves from cliffs as high as 300 meters while harvesting the honeycombs. At first, fire is lit at the base of the cliff to smoke the bees from their honeycombs. From above, honey hunter slopes down the cliff harnessed to a ladder by ropes. Next, they secure the rope and ladder from the top and ship tools up down as required. The honey hunter then fights territorial bees as they cut out chunks of honey from the comb.
Though the mind-blowing quality and medicinal value has made the honey 7-8 times more valuable than the normal honey in the market, the reason doesn’t just seem enough. The way the tribesmen are enduring the tradition with such reverence and dedication indicate to something deeper and subtler beyond our conception, something we may never understand.
The practice of honey hunting antiquity, unsullied continuity and surreal appeal is increasingly popular among curious minds. The documentary of Eric Valli and Diane Summers made this largely unobserved cultural practice known to the wider global audience through their documentaries. And honey hunting process has a spectacular view and lifetime experience for trekkers to experience the traditional honey hunting harvest of the Gurung people. It is so out of the world that one needs to see it to believe it!