Photo © Bhishma Thapa

The Death-Defying Wild-Honey Hunters of Nepal

Meet the nomads who harvest hallucinogenic honey from tall cliffs in the Himalayan foothills.

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By Bhishma Thapa

Travel Photographer

4 Oct 2019 - 4 Minute Read

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I always try to take time from my busy schedule to explore the lifestyle of people living in Nepal’s hills and mountains. For many years, I’d been hearing about the nomadic, wild-honey hunters of eastern Nepal who do most of their hunting around the full moon of April. When I arrived at their beautiful village in the Himalayan foothills, I wasn’t sure whether they would go for the hunt or not, but the next morning they were all prepared to move. We walked for seven hours to reach the cliff, and the following morning they performed the fearless and magical act in front of me. Due to lack of development, modernization doesn’t have an impact on their lifestyle – everyone and everything welcomes you.

The Walk: After the new blossoms of spring, the hunters head into the jungle far from their village to harvest wild honey – also known as “mad honey” for its hallucinogenic effects.
Bhishma Thapa
The Walk: After the new blossoms of spring, the hunters head into the jungle far from their village to harvest wild honey – also known as “mad honey” for its hallucinogenic effects.
The Preparation: A young hunter prepares to climb down hundreds of feet of cliff to harvest this honey without any modern technology or safety devices – all they have is their ancestor’s blessing and technique.
Bhishma Thapa
The Preparation: A young hunter prepares to climb down hundreds of feet of cliff to harvest this honey without any modern technology or safety devices – all they have is their ancestor’s blessing and technique.
The Courage: Lifting a honeycomb 3ft (1m) in diameter, weighing around 220lbs (100kg) as the angry bees attack you with full power and you hang there unprotected.
Bhishma Thapa
The Courage: Lifting a honeycomb 3ft (1m) in diameter, weighing around 220lbs (100kg) as the angry bees attack you with full power and you hang there unprotected.
The Harvest: The only thing between you and thousands of bees is the smoke other hunters create.
Bhishma Thapa
The Harvest: The only thing between you and thousands of bees is the smoke other hunters create.
The Sweet, Mad Honey: These wild bees (Apis laboriosa) are the largest in the world, double the size of normal honeybees. The wild flowers they pollinate, high in the mountains, give the honey its psychedelic nature.
Bhishma Thapa
The Sweet, Mad Honey: These wild bees (Apis laboriosa) are the largest in the world, double the size of normal honeybees. The wild flowers they pollinate, high in the mountains, give the honey its psychedelic nature.

This essay was a finalist in the World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship 2018.

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Photographer Bhishma Thapa is a self-taught hobbyist driven by his passion. He was a finalist in the World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship 2018.

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