Eric Valli is a French photographer who takes incredible photographs of some extreme situations. Back in 2004 he took this series of photos of the Gurung, a community of people who live in the foothills of the Himalayas. Twice a year the men scale the cliffs that are home to the world’s largest honeybee, Apis laboriosa. From the National Geographic article the photos were shot for:
The harvest ritual, which varies slightly from community to community, begins with a prayer and sacrifice of flowers, fruits, and rice. Then a fire is lit at the base of the cliff to smoke the bees from their honeycombs.
From above, a honey hunter descends the cliff harnessed to a ladder by ropes. As his mates secure the rope and ladder from the top and ferry tools up down as required, the honey hunter fights territorial bees as he cuts out chunks of honey from the comb.
For hundreds of years, the skills required to perform this treacherous task have been passed down through the generations. But now both the bees and traditional honey hunters are in short supply, according to scientists.
The article sadly begins to describe the increasing demand of the Apis laboriosa honey which is ultimately putting the bees at risk. The Gurung has been gathering the nests responsibly for who knows how long, but Nepal’s forestry department has “transferred ownership of the cliffs from indigenous communities to the government and opened up honey harvesting rights to contractors on a first-come, first-served basis.” I’m not sure what’s happened in the last 8 years, but hopefully the situation has normalized itself and the bees and the Gurung can go back to their natural ways.
I’d also suggest checking out Eric’s photos of the Raji Nomads who gather honey from the trees of the border of India and Nepal. The last photo in that sat is a beauty.