Hunting for Hallucinogenic Honey in Nepal
Each year, an increasing number of Nepalis leave rural villages to work abroad, and honey hunting has become a way for the villagers to maintain a connection with their ancestors.
Every year, for centuries in Nepal, members of the Gurung ethnic group have climbed down the sides of cliffs amid swarms of bees—putting their lives on the line—to collect wild honey. It is not just any honey, of not just any bee: Nepal's Apis dorsata laboriosa is the largest honeybee in the world, and in the Himalayan hills, its nectar boasts hallucinogenic properties. Those effects are documented from 401 BC—when Greek soldiers, traveling through modern day Turkey near the Black Sea, indulged in a similar honey and were debilitated with intoxication—to today. I'd heard some fascinating but vague stories about this custom, and I'd seen amazing photos and videos of past hunts. Intrigued by this ancient culture and the mysterious psychedelic effects of the honey, I joined the Gurung in their excursion last spring.
It took nearly two days for me to get from Katmandu to the village of Talo Chipla in the foothills of the Annapurna Himalayan mountain range, where villagers welcomed me with flower garlands and an orange Buddhist prayer scarf. The Gurung know the honey to be a powerful medicine that alleviates joint pains, and if taken in small doses, to also produce mild highs. In larger doses, ingesting the honey can send you on a toxic, cold-sweat trip of hallucinations, vomiting, and diarrhea that can last for more than 24 hours.
There's a lot of talk these days of the global depopulation of bees, and its implications for the environment have recently become a concern among international conservationists. Data on current populations of these Himalayan bees in Nepal are scarce, but contrary to the last government survey conducted, which showed a slight population decline, men and women in Talo Chipla told me that their bee populations are actually thriving, and so the biannual quests for their honey—once in late fall and once in late spring—continue. The Gurung's honey-hunt tradition plays a central role in the cultural identity of those in this region, and they welcomed me warmly when I arrived.
The rhododendron is Nepal's national flower, and its pollen, picked up by these gigantic bees, contains the chemical grayanotoxin, which can infuse their honey with its drug-like qualities. In spring, the pink flowers blanket the hills, at altitudes too high for domesticated honeybees to fly, so to harvest honey that contains grayanotoxin, locals have one option: to scale the cliffs. There's no way to control the amount of rhododendron pollen consumed by the bees, so the potency of the high-inducing honey varies from season to season, if there are any effects at all. Still, come spring and fall, the harvests continue as they have for centuries. To the Gurung, hunting for honey seems to be as much about passing on tradition as it is about the honey itself.
more, and a video of the harvesting at...
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/hunt ... epal-v23n6
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