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Meet the Last Death-Defying Honey Hunter of Nepal

He scales 300-foot cliffs to harvest psychotropic honey guarded by the world’s largest honeybees.

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Would you climb 3oo feet up in the air and climb into a hive of the world’s largest honeybees? Meet the man, Mauli Dhan, does this for a living.

As explained in the July issue of National Geographic, honey hunting is the only way that Mauli, 57, can earn cash for the few staples he cannot produce himself. He uses a bamboo rope ladder to get to the hive, where the bees guard gallons of sticky, reddish fluid known as “mad honey.” It sells on the Asian black market for $60 to $80 a pound thanks to its hallucinogenic properties.

Honey Hunters
The key to confronting agitated bees, Mauli says, is to show no fear. Still he winces with pain from the 20 to 40 stings he sustains on each hunt—and at the way his support rope digs at his underarms as he inches his way up. Chunks of the hive he has cut from the rock travel to the ground in a bucket. (Renan Ozturk/National Geographic)

But it is a dangerous task. Mauli’s  arms get tired and bees sting him all over his body as he holds on to the small rock ledge. The closer to the hive he gets, the more dangerous it becomes. He’s not always tethered to a safety rope either, which means one misstep could end up being fatal.

As he climbs he murmurs a Kulung mantra: “You are Rangkemi. You are of the bee spirits. We are not thieves. We are not bandits. We are with our ancestors. Please fly. Please leave.” This is meant to appease the bees and spirits that live in the cliff.

Honey Hunters
Asdhan Kulung (right) has attached ropes to a hive and holds it steady as Mauli saws it away from the rock. Once pieces of the hive are severed, they will be lowered to the ground with ropes. The process can take hours. (Renan Ozturk/National Geographic)

The Kulung people have remained separate from the outside world for centuries, thanks to the dense jungle surrounding their home by the Hongu River in Nepal. But as National Geographic explains, the outside world is getting closer. There is a dirt road within a couple days march of the village now. A politician is talking about building an airport in the area. You can get cell reception even in the jungle.

Mauli first assisted his father with a honey harvest when he was 15. That night, he had a dream that set him on his path. That was 42 years ago. Now, he’s tired and doesn’t want to do the honey harvest anymore. But, as he explained to National Geographic, he is poor “and no one else will do it.”

The July issue of National Geographic magazine includes breath-taking videos along with the full piece. The story delves into the intersection of technology, culture, and poverty and looks at the history of honey-hunters. The online version is filled with images and videos, you can experience it for yourself now.

Honey Hunters
Mauli Dhan climbs a hundred feet up a bamboo rope ladder to his prize: a hive filled with neurotoxic honey. Smoke from smoldering grass disorients the bees, possibly reducing the number of stings Mauli will suffer. Before he grabs the support rope beside him, a misstep could be fatal. (Renan Ozturk/National Geographic)
Honey Hunters
After a hunt, team members relax with their spoils: eight hives of honey. They’ll process most of it into wax to be sold in Kathmandu. The harvest is a team effort—to a point. Only Mauli can cut the hives off the cliffs. Because he’s the last honey hunter who’s had “the dream,” this ancient tradition may not survive. (Renan Ozturk/National Geographic)
July issue of National Geographic magazine
(National Geographic)
Read full story at National Geographic