Among Nepal’s many traditions and cultures, there is an ancient tradition of collecting honey on the Himalayan cliffs of Nepal. Though this tradition is centuries old, it is practised only twice a year, in autumn and spring, with the process being dangerous and at times even fatal. This tradition has been a part of Nepali culture for years and is seen as a social event in the rural areas of Lamjung, Kaski and Myagdi.
The honey collected, often called red honey or magic honey is known for its mad properties. It is said that in ancient times when the invading Romans and Greeks raided and consumed it, not only did they lose their minds, many lost their lives by jumping off cliffs under the effect of hallucinations.
This hallucinogen is produced by only one species of honey bees – The Himalayan Bees or the angry Apis laboriosa. Not only are many socio-cultural and spiritual practices intertwined with this honey hunting culture, but this intoxicating nectar also has many medicinal properties. Due to these properties, Red Honey is widely used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures.
If used in limit, the honey cures several diseases and boosts immunity; but it induces heavy hallucinations. On the other hand, an overdose can cause permanent cardiac and respiratory damage and even be fatal at times.
This practice was initially started by an ethnic group that migrated to Nepal’s mountain valleys from Tibet in the 6th Century AD. The culture is a three-day practice which begins with a ceremony. The ceremony involves sacrificing a sheep, offering flowers, fruits and rice and praying to the cliff gods for a successful hunt.
After the ceremony is completed, the collectors go to extract honey. The honeycombs are generally located on steep cliffs and are inaccessible to remain distant from the predators and get enough light. The hunter, commonly called the ‘kuiche’, has to work in silence and with utmost precision.
The process is done without any harness on handmade ropes and bamboo ladders hanging from the cliff’s edge. It begins by using smoke to drive out the wild honey bees. While descending from the ladder, the quiche suffers from blisters and bee stings, a standard part of the tradition.
Long sticks called ‘tangos’ are used in the process. These sticks have a sickle at one end to cut out the honeycomb from the cliff’s edge. Another stick holds a basket to collect the honeycomb, which is then lowered to the ground. The entire process is completed by a trek back to the village. The villagers first consume the red honey in a cup of honey tea.
This tradition is now under threat as the number of honey bees is decreasing due to climate change. The tribe members are also losing this culture due to the commercialisation of Himalayan honey. The government has started opening new rights and contracts for companies instead of tribe members so that honey collected throughout the year can be exported. This commercialisation has resulted in the depletion of resources for traditional honey hunters. It won’t be a surprise if this culture is lost in the future.
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Information presented in a beautiful manner and keeps the reader hooked up till the end. Keep up the good work!
Your every story is interesting…….This topic is also very unique…..The way you write is always awesome……Great work…..👍
Thank you for the appreciation!
Amazing Khyati. Keep it up
Thank you, Aakash!
Amazing article. Love to read your stories
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