The ancient art of honey collecting on the Himalayan cliffs of Nepal

The ancient art of honey collecting on the Himalayan cliffs of Nepal

The Gurung tribespeople of Nepal have been collecting honey from Himalayan cliffs for centuries, risking their lives in an ancient tradition that has been passed down over many generations. But now the three-day honey hunt, which occurs twice every year is under threat from rapidly declining bee populations, commercialisation of medicinal honey, and tourism.

The Gurung people, also called Tamu, are an indigenous tribe of Nepal’s mountain valleys. Gurung history is clouded with uncertainty because of their lack of a written script in the past. However, it is believed that the Gurung ethnic group migrated from Tibet in the 6th century AD to the central region of Nepal.

The Gurung tribesmen of Nepal are master honey hunters, risking their lives collecting honeycomb in the foothills of the Himalayas, using nothing more than handmade rope ladders and long sticks known as tangos. Most of the honey bees' nests are located on steep inaccessible cliffs, out of reach of predators and increasing their exposure to sunlight.

A honey hunter hangs from a hand-made rope ladder. Photo credit: Eric Valli .

In December 2013, photographer Andrew Newey spent two weeks living with the Gurung in a remote hilltop village in central Nepal’s Kaski district, joining the three-day autumn honey hunt, and documenting the risks and skill involved in this dying tradition.

“For hundreds of years, the skills required to practise this ancient and sacred tradition have been passed down through the generations, but now both the number of bees and traditional honey hunters are in rapid decline as a result of increased commercial interests and climate change,” wrote Mr Newey.

Before the honey collection begins, the honey hunters, known as ‘kuiche’, are required to perform a ceremony to placate the cliff gods. This involves sacrificing a sheep, offering flowers, fruits and rice, and praying to the cliff gods to ensure the safety of the collectors. Having the protection of the gods would certainly come in handy for these hunters as they scale the cliffs, harness free, and rely only on old hand-made rope ladders that have been handed down by their ancestors.

A man looks up with concern as a honey hunter hangs from a rope ladder. Photo credit: Andrew Newey

The honey hunters use smoke to drive out thousands of angry Apis Laboriosa, the largest honey bee in the world, from their nests. Long sticks called tangos with a sickle at one end are used to cut the exposed honeycomb away from the cliff face. Using another stick to guide the basket hanging beside him, he catches the honeycomb as it falls before the basket is then lowered to the ground. Up to a dozen men are drafted to support the hunter in his efforts.

After a three-hour trek back up to the village carrying approximately 20kg of honey, the honey is divided up among the villagers and one of the first uses is for a cup of honey tea.

Enjoying the fruits of the hunter’s labours. Photo credit: Andrew Newey

Honey hunting is threatened by several things: the decreasing number of honeybees due to climate change; the dwindling number of honey hunters, as more and more young people in the tribe are reluctant to learn the craft; the growing medicinal reputation of Himalayan honey, which has resulted in the government opening honey-harvesting rights to contractors instead of indigenous tribespeople so that honey can be exported and sold to people in other nations; and the increasing commercialization and offering of "honey hunt tours" to tourists, which leads to the depletion of resources for traditional honey hunters.

Honey harvesting is one of the most ancient human activities recorded and is still practiced by indigenous societies in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Some of the earliest evidence of gathering honey from wild colonies is from rock painting, dating back 10,000 years and found in a cave in Valencia, Spain.

Featured image: A honey hunter in Nepal. Photo credit: Andrew Newey

Spectacular Photography Of Ancient Traditional Honey Hunters In Central Nepal

Honey hunting is an ancient tradition of the Gurung tribespeople in central Nepal that involves gathering twice a year to risk their lives collecting wild honey from the world’s largest hives high up on Himalayan cliffs. U.K.-based documentary travel photographer Andrew Newey spent two weeks capturing this dying tradition, which is under the threat of commercialization. “For hundreds of years, the skills required to perform this dangerous task have been passed down through the generations” writes Newey, “but now both the bees and traditional honey hunters are in short supply.

The honey hunting is extremely risky, as the hunters still use the same handmade rope ladders and long sticks – tangos – that their ancestors used. They wouldn’t be able to each the bees’ inaccessible cliff-face nests otherwise. By placing their nests on cliff faces, the bees avoid predators and increase their exposure to sunlight.

Nepal Visitors make every effort to ensure that the wild honey products reach you at their Organic best. Wild honey is extracted by the ‘cold press’ method without the use of heat. This helps preserve the pollen and the enzymes that occur naturally in honey.

This is a spectacular activity considering the hilly topography of the country. The hunting goes on in isolated areas and maybe a bit off the track. There are two seasons of honey hunting – late spring and late autumn and thus these are the times when you have most chances to see the hunters at work.

We have been able to re-supply with a limited stock of fresh and strong Honey. Order now!

Remarkable Photos Show Nepal’s Ancient Tradition of Collecting Himalayan Honey

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Ever wonder where Himalayan honey comes from and how it is harvested? The truth may shock you. Photographer Andrew Newey spent two weeks living with the Gurung tribe in Nepal photographing their dying tradition of himalayan honey gathering.

Twice each year the Gurung tribespeople climb himalayan cliffs to collect honey from the largest bee hives in the world. They use hand made rope ladders and long sticks to retreave the honey comb, located hundreds of feet high on steep cliffs. Before beginning the honey collection, the Gurung first have to offer prayers to the cliff Gods, along with offerings for their protection. They then make huge amounts of smoke to temporarily drive away the honey bees and make it easier for them to approach the hive. The particular species of honey bee that lives here is the largest bee in the world.

The gatherers use a long stick with a sickle on the end to carefully cut free one of the giant honey combs from the cliff face, and then place it into a hanging basket.

Due to the high demand for this special type of honey, the government of Nepal has claimed all rights over the hives and is slowly taking ownership away from the indigenous honey collecting tribes.

Despite using protective gear, the climbers will be covered in many bee stings, and have many blisters on their feet from climbing the rope ladders bare foot.

The Honey Hunters of Nepal

Honey hunting is one of the many activities that form part of the ancient culture of numerous civilizations. Scientists have estimated through rock painting documentation that honey hunting was practiced as far back as 13,000 BC. In Nepal, honey hunting has been practiced for thousands of years and is a vital part of the Nepali culture.

Some villagers in Nepal depend on honey hunting for their livelihood, and the country is home to the Apis laboriosa, which is the biggest honeybee on the planet. These bees construct their hives on the cliffs of the country’s foothills, and watching the honey hunters at work is a sight to be seen. Due to the location of the bee hives, honey hunters make use of rope ladders and baskets to get to the combs after the bees have been flushed out with smoke by lighting a fire underneath the hives.

Honey harvesting usually takes place twice a year, when honey hunters get together and head into the Himalayas to take on this massive task. To harvest one colony takes the honey hunters two to three hours depending on the location of the hive and its size.

The harvest ritual, which varies slightly from community to community, begins with a prayer and sacrifice of flowers, fruits, and rice. Then a fire is lit at the base of the cliff to smoke the bees from their honeycombs. From above, a honey hunter descends the cliff harnessed to a ladder by ropes. As his mates secure the rope and ladder from the top and ferry tools up down as required, the honey hunter fights territorial bees as he cuts out chunks of honey from the comb.

There are a number of tour operators that offer visitors honey hunting tours, taking them to various locations to witness the entire harvesting procedure. The trekking routes to and from the honey bee hives are breathtaking, allowing visitors to take in the beauty and magnificence of the Nepali landscape and wildlife. 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.

Stunning Photos Show The Ancient Tradition Of Honey Hunting In Nepal

Semiyearly, the brave Gurung people from Central Nepal accept nature’s challenge and collect honey from the world’s largest beehives, based on the highest parts of the Himalayan cliffs. Andrew Newey, travel photographer, captured this magnificient and challenging ancient art during his two-week stay. However, the number of honey hunters reduces every year, and this art could actually disappear in a short period of time.

“For hundreds of years, the skills required to perform this dangerous task have been passed down through the generations” wrote Newey, “but now both the bees and traditional honey hunters are in short supply.”

The only things honey hunters use are a handmade rope ladders and tangos -- long sticks. The Gurung people also use smoke to drive thousands of angry and tempered Apis laboriosa -- world’s largest bee.

The massive beehives are usually located on steep cliffs facing south-west, in order to avoid any possible predators and to increase the exposure to direct sunlight.

In autumn, the honey hunt lasts for three days, preceded by a ceremony which is supposed to soothe the cliff gods.

When collected, the honey is lowered to the helpers waiting below the cliffs.

Stunning Images Of The Ancient Traditional Honey Hunters Of Nepal

Andrew Newey, an award-winning UK-based travel photographer, has captured gripping photographs of central Nepalese Gurung tribe members engaged in a dangerous and ancient tradition &ndash honey hunting.

Twice a year, the Gurung honey hunters ascend to the base of cliffs in central Nepal and ascend them to collect honey. They use the same tools that their ancestors did &ndash hand-woven rope ladders and tangos, the long sharp bamboo poles that they use to cut the honey-filled hives off of the face of the cliff and drop them into baskets waiting below. After lighting smoke fires at the base of the cliff to smoke out the bees, they climb their ladders and collect their honey.

Besides the danger of falling, they also happen to be harvesting the honey of the largest honeybee in the world. The Himalayan honey bee can grow to be up to 3 cm (1.2 in) in length. Due to grayanotoxins from the white rhododendrons they feed on in the spring, their spring honey can be intoxicating, and fetches high prices in Japan, Korea and China. The open cliff-face hives help protect the bees from predators and keeps them warm by exposing them to sunlight.

Honey hunting is among the oldest known human activities. There is an 8,000-year-old cave painting in Spain that portrays a man climbing vines to collect honey. One can imagine that these brave honey hunters&rsquo occupation probably stretches back just as far, if not further.

Huge honeybees

The giant honeybee (Apis dorsata) ranges across a large swath of South Asia, but the Himalayan giant honeybee (A. dorsata laboriosa) is a subspecies found only in its namesake mountains. (Although some sources categorize it as a separate species, named A. laboriosa.) These bees look similar to the western honeybee (Apis mellifera), but they're much larger — workers can be up to 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) long, according to the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which is almost twice the length of a western honeybee worker.

The Himalayan giant honeybee builds its nests out in the open, consisting of a single large comb that typically hugs rocky overhangs on vertical cliffs at high altitudes. It tends to live anywhere from 2,500 meters up to 4,000 meters (8,200 to 13,000 feet) above sea level, according to Exotic Bee ID. It's native to mountainous areas of Nepal, Bhutan and India, as well as the province of Yunnan in China.

Himalayan Honey is Medicinal Honey for the Masses

Used to treat headaches, anxiety, sleep disorders, and a number of other conditions, this wonderful honey creates a sense of peace and clarity— a sublime contentment that melts aways aches, pains, worry, and regret.

Mad honey contains a class of compounds called “grayanotoxins”. Prized in the ancient world by cultures as diverse as the Romans, the Greeks, and the Persians, mad honey has a long history as a natural medicine, euphoriant, and sleep aid.

“Grayanotoxin” contains the word “toxin” but don’t let the name worry you. Like everything in nature, the dosage is the key. And grayanotoxins, in the dosages found in Himalayan Honey, are deeply valuable. They are the key to a profound state of mind that transcends pain, fear, and sadness. It’s an experience not to be missed, and now it can be yours

How Is Beekeeping Today?

Last year, 2019, saw a nearly 40% drop in honey bee colonies in the United States. Similar drops in numbers were seen across the world. As colonies are taken from area to area to aid in pollination of fruit crops, the loss would have a negative effect on the crops that depend on this beekeeper-directed movement. The honey bee colonies have been steadily declining in number, with higher death rates each winter, for the past 15 years. With COVID-19 keeping beekeepers home in nearly every country, hives are unable to pollinate at their normal rate. Both colonies and crops are sure to feel the impact in 2020.

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