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Mad HoneyNepal Mad Honey

Nepal Mad Honey

 Hunting for Nepali Mad Honey is a meticulous process undertaken twice a year, primarily in October/November (Kartik) and March/April (Chaitra), depending on the specific cliff’s location. The method remains consistent throughout Nepal but varies in its socio-cultural and spiritual aspects across different communities. One such community, the Gurungs, has a well-defined approach to honey hunting.

honey hunting

The honey-hunting event starts with selecting an auspicious day by the community’s priest (pujari), a decision made through communal agreement. Extensive planning involving all community members and villagers is crucial for the operation’s success. The prized Apis Mad honey is only collected during daytime hours, with mornings and evenings being deemed ideal. Before the hunt, the path leading to the cliff is prepared or repaired, and all equipment, including ropes, ladders, poles, baskets, and bowls, is meticulously checked and soaked in water.

Major Tasks

Six primary tasks must be executed with precision for a successful honey-hunting event: smoking out the bees, ladder pulling and guiding, signaling, collecting honey from the cliff, gathering honey at the base of the cliff, and performing a worship ceremony. Each of these tasks is allocated to specific groups within the roughly dozen men involved in the process.

  • The Nepal mad honey hunting process begins with the assembly of the necessary equipment, followed by a worship ceremony dedicated to appeasing the cliff gods. Offerings, including sacrifices of goats, sheep, or chickens, along with flowers, fruits, and grains of rice, are made to seek the gods’ approval.
  • The bees are disoriented using smoke, created by lighting a fire of dry branches and foliage beneath the cliff. The smoke rises, compelling the bees to vacate their combs temporarily. Specific foliage, such as Machilus spp (kathe kaulo), is used to produce smoke, while Maesa chisia (bilaune) is avoided due to superstitious beliefs about bad luck.
honey hives being smoked
Bees are disorienting by using smoke
  • A crucial group in the process is the rope ladder team, consisting of approximately five individuals. They secure a rope ladder (prang) to trees at the cliff’s top and bottom. The lead honey hunter, or kuichhe, descends using this ladder, relying on his confidence and concentration to maintain balance while operating poles and giving instructions to the rope controllers above. Protective clothing is not worn, demanding immense courage and focus.

  • Rope controllers (pechho chaiba piba mhi) at the cliff’s top ensure the rope’s security and assist in raising or lowering ropes to support the honey hunter. A signaller (ishar piba mhi) stationed on an overhanging tree conveys messages between the honey hunter and his assistants, coordinating operations effectively.
  • When the lead honey hunter reaches the nest, a bamboo collecting basket (korko) is lowered down to him on a rope ( pechho ). Using a long stick ( kyar ), he balances the basket under the comb, guided by a rope (whibe) held by individuals at the cliff’s base. The honey hunter carefully separates the brood portion of the comb, inserting a hook attached to a rope ( koili chho rope) into the honey part. With a wooden or iron sickle (tango or ghochma ) fixed to a bamboo stick, he cuts the honeycomb, which falls into the basket below. The honeycomb is then emptied, and the process continues.

  • Those at the cliff’s base are responsible for cutting down the combs sent down and placing them into aluminum pots to prevent contamination. Harvesting one colony typically takes two to three hours, and the number of colonies harvested at a single site varies significantly, ranging from as few as 2 to as many as 40 colonies, as observed in various studies.
colonies of bee hives in cliff
Colonies in a site

This intricate and culturally rich practice demonstrates the deep connection between communities and their natural environment, showcasing the harmony between humans and nature in the traditional honey-hunting techniques of Nepal. Join us on a once-in-a-lifetime honey-hunting expedition in Nepal.

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