continuedHALLUCINOGENIC HONEY HUNTERS 360
by Meghan Gleason
Hang beside National Geographic Photographer, Renan Ozturk as he dangles off remote Nepal cliffs to document “The Last Honey Hunter.” Renan and team are tracking Mauli, the last hunter in his village who pursues a hallucinogenic ‘red’ honey, known in equal measure for its medicinal properties and its value on the black markets across Asia. Without any protective equipment, Mauli will spend all day suspended hundreds of feet above the ground from hand made bamboo rope while engulfed in a swarm of angry bees. As roads and technology change the landscape of such wild places across the globe, these ancient traditions are under threat, making this story important to document the traditions are lost. Follow along like never before on this high stakes adventure!
The Last Death-Defying Honey Hunter of Nepal
One man from the Kulung culture harvests psychotropic honey that is guarded by capricious spirits and the world’s largest honeybees.
Three hundred feet in the air, Mauli Dhan dangles on a bamboo rope ladder, surveying the section of granite he must climb to reach his goal: a pulsing mass of thousands of Himalayan giant honeybees. They carpet a crescent-shaped hive stretching almost six feet below a granite overhang. The bees are guarding gallons of a sticky, reddish fluid known as mad honey, which, thanks to its hallucinogenic properties, sells on Asian black markets for $60 to $80 a pound—roughly six times the price of regular Nepali honey.
Himalayan honeybees make several types of honey depending on the season and the elevation of the flowers that produce the nectar they eat. The psychotropic effects of the spring honey result from toxins found in the flowers of massive rhododendron trees, whose bright pink, red, and white blossoms bloom each March and April on north-facing hillsides throughout the Hongu Valley. The Kulung people of eastern Nepal have used the honey for centuries as a cough syrup and an antiseptic, and the beeswax has found its way into workshops in the alleys of Kathmandu, where it is used to cast bronze statues of gods and goddesses.
For Mauli, honey hunting is the only way to earn the cash he needs to buy the few staples he can’t produce himself, including salt and cooking oil. But no matter how important the money is to him and to others in his village far below, Mauli believes it is time to stop doing this. At 57 he is too old to be attempting this dangerous, seasonal honey harvest. His arms grow tired as the ladder swings in space. Bees buzz around him, stinging him on his face, neck, hands, bare feet, and through his clothes.
But he pushes aside such thoughts and focuses on the problem at hand. He swings his leg over to the rock face and steps onto a small ledge, barely the width of a brick. Letting go of the rope ladder, he shuffles sideways to make room for Asdhan Kulung, his assistant, to join him. Now both men share the narrow ledge. Far below, Mauli can see the river, swollen with monsoonal runoff, cascading down a V-shaped valley.
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