Honey hunting, also known as honey harvesting, is the gathering of honey from wild bee colonies. It is one of the oldest human activities practiced across the world including in Nepal. In Nepal, honey hunting is done from wild bee colonies by subduing the bees with smoke and breaking open the tree or rocks where the colony is located. This particular act often results in the destruction of the bee colony. For centuries, the Nepalese ethnic group of Gurung people has been collecting honey from the Himalayan cliffs of Nepal. However, there is no exact information about the dates when honey hunting actually started. Nepal’s Gurung tribesmen are particularly well-known honey hunters who reside in the mountain valley natives of Nepal.
A single nest can contain enormous amounts of honey – approximately 60 kg (130 lb) of honey – and this honey costs on average five times more than regular honey, not only due to its distinct taste, scarcity, and purported medicinal value but also due to intoxicating properties. The bees gather nectar from a type of rhododendron that contains grayanotoxin.
Every year, at the start of the spring or autumn season, the local priest from the Gurung community sets an auspicious date for honey harvesting. Among all the days, Tuesday is considered the most auspicious one. Besides, the 8th, 11th, 23rd, 26th, and 30th days of a moon cycle are considered non-auspicious. Following the date set, preparation begins, primarily among the community’s male members. There is a honey hunter chosen, someone who has been learning the trade from the older generation and has finally earned the title of the honey hunter.
Teams of men gather twice a year in the Nepalese Himalayan foothills to go hunting. Honey hunting is certainly fascinating, but how is it really done? Let’s go through the procedure one by one. Before beginning a hunt, honey hunters perform a ceremony to appease the cliff gods. The elaborate ceremony entails sacrificing a sheep, offering flowers, fruits, and rice, and praying to the cliff gods for a safe hunt. After that, the first thing done for the honey hunting procedure is, a rope ladder, long spears, and something to start a fire are collected. In addition, the person going to do this whole procedure requires a lot of willpower as well. After the man is all set for honey hunting, the honey of Apis Laboriosa, the world’s largest honeybee will be searched for. Apis Laboriosa is more than twice the size of regular honey bees, with single adults reaching a length of 3 cm. Generally, this specific kind of Apis Laboriosa is found at an elevation of 2,500 to 3,000 meters.
The hunter in order to poke and destroy the hives uses handmade rope ladders and long sticks known as tangos. This is because the bee hives are not reachable easily as they are formed on inaccessible cliffs facing south for more sunlight and reduced predator access. The entire event usually lasts three days, and by the end of the hunt, the hunter collects around 60kgs of honey hunting one nest.
Apis Laboriosa can only be found in the Himalayas, in the mountainous regions of Nepal, and in some other countries like Bhutan, Yunnan, and India. It primarily nests at elevations ranging from 2,500 to 3,000 m (8,200 to 9,800 ft), constructing very large nests under overhangs on the south-western faces of vertical cliffs.
Honey hunting has become one of the main attractions at the Lamjung district’s annual Siurung Festival, which is currently taking place. In Ghale Gaun, a honey hunting program has been launched to protect tribal ways of life and preserve tradition through the use of sustainable tourism. Honey hunting is practiced in Lamjung’s steep hills of Ghanpokhara, Khudri, Taghring, Bhulbhule, Bhujung, and Dudhpokhari. It has become a source of revenue and draws tourists from all over the world.
Another popular honey hunting location is Myagdi. Honey hunting is popular in Myagdi’s Akkare hills. Honey hunting is a traditional activity in Myagdi. The people of Myagdi construct a bamboo stick ladder to climb the hill while maintaining safety standards. However, the leaders do not wear belts to avoid accidents, but they are mentally prepared for the worst and use a bamboo stick to aid in the climb. Because of the extreme cold, bees migrate south in the winter. However, during the months of April and May, bees migrate to the Upper Hilly region. Likewise, spring is a good time for wild bees because they can find a good garden with blooming flowers and beautiful plants.
The Kaski district is best known in Nepal as a honey hunting destination. Local honey hunters discovered Apis laboriosa colonies on 26 cliffs in Kaski District. Apis laboriosa is a bird that migrates. It has a calendar that shows when the bees are expected to arrive and depart. People continue the tradition of hunting at the appropriate time and caring for the hives. There is a discussion of the social and economic aspects of honey hunters, as well as the consideration of honey hunting events as tourist entertainment.