The renowned travel photography expert, Andrew Newey takes us on a journey of discovery through his beautiful pictures of the Gurung tribe, captured during one of their bi-annual honey hunting ceremonies.
The courageous and skillful hunters brave the cliffs for the sweet nectar twice a year, employing only ancestral tools of simple ladders and stick-like tools. The honeycombs must be cut by the sharp bamboo poles, only to drop down into baskets awaiting to collect them. The bees themselves are not harmed – smoke is used to drive them out of the cliff during the hunt itself.
The dangers of this profession are not negligible. Fewer and fewer people are interested to learn it, especially from the younger generation and it is a struggle for the Gurung tribe to uphold this cultural routine. However, the way it is preserved now is also helpful for the honeybees – the tribe keeps them safe and in return, the bees help to pollinate the surrounding area.
The collection of honey only happens two times per year in this region of Nepal. These dates in Spring and Autumn are carefully selected by local community leaders and it is a ceremony in itself.
The seemingly crude tools used by the honey hunters are ancestral. From the carefully crafted ‘prang’ rope ladders to their bamboo sticks called ‘tangos’, they fearlessly climb up to great heights to reach the prized ingredient.
Collecting honey is one of humanity’s oldest gathering professions. This activity is even portrayed in cave paintings that are thousands of years old! The liquid gold these hardworking bees produce has been a source of nutrition and even medicine to us for a vast amount of time, it seems.
This profession certainly requires highly skilled and careful individuals. Aside from the fact that the hives are located on a steep hillside, the honeybees themselves are one of the largest of their kind. The Apis Dorsata Laboriosa – the Himalayan honeybee, can measure up to 3 centimeters in dimension.
The bees have a very peculiar diet that consists mainly of white rhododendrons. These flowers contain certain toxins that get transferred to the honey itself, which causes it to become highly stimulating. This unique product is in high demand in East Asia, the so-called ‘mad honey’ sells for a large sum of money.