How the sweet gold of Nepal is mined

(ORDO NEWS) — The Gurung tribe in Nepal has been collecting wild honey on top of the Himalayan cliffs for centuries. Today, the existence of this ancient tradition is under threat. The commercialization and growth of tourist interest has led to the fact that more and more tourists are willing to take part in the dangerous industry and join the honey hunt.

Photographer Andrew Newey spent two weeks in Central Nepal with gurung earners. During this time, he managed to capture all the dangers that gatherers face, and learn about the skills that are necessary for dangerous fishing.

Honey hunters risk their lives every minute. In their craft, they use nothing but homemade rope ladders and long wooden sticks called tangos. Most honeybee nests are located on hard-to-reach rocks on the southwest side – in these places, bees may not be afraid of wild animals. Moreover, the southwest side is more exposed to direct sunlight.

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In December 2013, Andrew Newey spent two weeks in a remote village. He joined a three-day honeymoon raid that began six weeks late that year due to climate change and declining bee populations. Before starting the hunt, the gurung perform a special rite to appease the mountain gods: the inhabitants sacrifice sheep, flowers, fruits and rice to the gods.

The hunter grips tightly to a precarious ladder, waiting for the smoke to scare off the huge Apis Laboriosa, the world’s largest honey bee. Deathly silence hung around, the tension can be felt by the skin. Dozens of men are helping one picker or, in the local language, “kuichi”.

Covered in thick, acrid smoke, the hunter randomly stretches the tangos forward to scoop up the honeycomb. If the attempt succeeds, he dumps the prey into a basket attached to a second stick.

One of the most serious threats to this tradition is the growing reputation of wild Himalayan honey as one of the most potent medicines against infections. Today it is being actively exported to Japan, China and Korea. Spring “red” honey is the most demanded product: a kilogram costs about 15 dollars on average.

This leads to the fact that communities are pushed away from the rocks by the state, which intends to monopolize the rocks with wild hives in order to establish an uninterrupted extraction of the medicine. At the same time, the younger generation prefers to work in the city over a dangerous traditional craft.

When the hunter goes down, blood, calluses and bite marks are visible on his body – the consequences of a dangerous fishing.

After a long hunt and a three-hour journey to the village, the hunter warms himself up by the fire along with a piece of honeycomb, which he honestly earned.

The extracted “gold” is divided between the villagers, and the women first of all make honey tea.


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