Honey Hunter at work! (Picture Credit: The Guardian)
Treacherous cliff, swarm of angry bees and just a dangling slender rope ladder to hold your life – can anyone think of any other act as extreme as this?
This daring act is performed, every Spring and Autumn, by Gurung and Magar tribesmen of Annapurna region in a bid to harvest honey of the giant Himalayan wild bees from their nests overhanging on the vertical rock faces. This honey hunting practice is also found among other communities in lesser known areas like Dhading, Jharlang across Ganesh Himal and Arun Valley of Makalu Barun area. As this practice is carried out in an insanely extreme working condition by just using some primitive tools, it can be rightly called as a testament of perseverance and fortitude that equals any death defying endurance feat.
The honey hunter in the middle of nowhere (Picture Credit: National Geographic)
The whole ritual of honey hunting is carried out with great care – any misjudgment can be fatal, or at least be ominous! The activity starts right from choosing an auspicious day to carry out the hunt to appeasing the Forest spirits, which is as crucial as their survival in the wilderness! However, the core activity involves hanging from vertical cliffs as high as 300m using a hand-made ladder of bamboo and ropes to harvest the honeycombs from the nests of Apis Dorsata Laboriosa, the world’s largest honey bee. 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 only thing they seem to have is the faith in the Forest Spirits who they have appeased before starting the act.
Some bamboo poles, a basket and a hunter with faith larger than life; one needs to see it to believe it! (Picture Credit: Eric Valli)
The most intense situation starts when the hunter climbs the rope carrying a bamboo stick with a sharp end and a tuft of smoldering grass to make the bees confused. With every step upward, the climb becomes more edgy and the height more dizzying. After he reaches the nests, taking the opportune time when the bees are driven out, he pokes the honeycomb with the sharp end of the bamboo stick, and slices it off which is collected in a basket lowered by the helpers from above. Phew, it’s finally done but the hunter still has a long way to climb down safely to celebrate the success of his prized honey.
Why people risk their life? Does the battle against thousands of angered bees really worth it? Though the hallucinogenic 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 giving continuity to the tradition with such reverence and dedication indicate to something deeper and subtler beyond our comprehension, something we may never understand.
The prized honey! (Picture Credit: Eric Valli)
Now, the practice is not just an esoteric ritual hunting limited to certain communities. Its antiquity, unsullied continuity and surreal appeal is making it increasingly popular among the curious minds. Thanks to Eric Valli and Diane Summers, the pioneer documentary makers who made this largely unobserved cultural practice known to the wider global audience. Now, there are many tour operators that are easing the curious travelers to honey hunting destinations. Though there is a wide range of award winning documentaries and videos on this practice, it is so out of the world that one needs to see it to believe it! [If you are interested in the tour, we are more than happy to make your adventure one of its kind.]