Reportage and Documentary 2020
Mauro De Bettio
The honey hunters of Nepal
In the vast mountain ranges of Nepal, there are tribes who have, for centuries, collected a special type of honey also known as “mad honey”, for its hallucinogenic properties, from the slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. They live in the remote villages of the Dhaulagiri district that are only accessible by foot, with houses made of stones and wood. They risk their lives collecting honey, which is then sold to Asian markets at incredibly high prices.
Honey hunting is an ancestral tradition, still practiced today and passed down from generation to generation. This tradition not only holds symbolic meaning to the villagers, but it is also their main source of income. However, due to the high demand for this product and the change in climate, the honey is disappearing, posing a great threat to the traditions and lives of these people.
The Himalayan giant bees are the largest in the world and produce different types of honey depending on the season and the elevation of the nectar producing flowers. The honey is created in huge hives that can reach 2 meters wide and sit upon jagged protrusions and have a reddish, viscous appearance. The only time “mad honey” is produced is in the Spring, when it contains grayanotoxin, a toxin produced from the nectar of Rhododendron blooms. For the Nepalese, “mad honey” is used for medicinal purposes and is considered a curative product.