The Vanishing Tradition of the Kulung Honey Hunters

A man climbing a rope ladder up treacherous cliffs to cut down honeycombs made by honey bees
Man harvesting honey from the Himalayan bees
Photo credit: “The Last Honey Hunter” documentary

For centuries, the Kulung people in eastern Nepal have harvested the honey from the Himalayan honey bees. Not a remarkable feat, except for the fact the harvesters must scale the sheer cliffs of the Himalayas – hundreds of feet or more – to reach the hives.

The honey from the giant Himalayan bees is highly-prized for its medicinal and psychotropic effects. Known as “mad honey,” the sticky, reddish fluid gets its hallucinogenic properties from toxins in the pollen of the rhododendron trees. “Mad honey” sells for a staggering price of up to $80 per pound – making it an attractive venture for Kulung honey hunters, despite the dangers of the collection process.

In the 2017 documentary film, “The Last Honey Hunter,” viewers follow the story of Maule Dhan Rai (1959 – 2018)He was one of the last known Kulung honey hunters who made his living scaling the cliffs of the Himalayas to collect the precious nectar. The film explores the rich, cultural tradition of the honey harvest, as well as its spiritual significance to the surrounding community.

“The Last Honey Hunter” was directed and edited by Ben Knight and co-produced by Felt Soul Media and Camp4 Collective, with cooperation and association from National Geographic and the dZi Foundation. The cinematography draws viewers into the breathtaking Nepal landscape and the difficult plight of Dhan as he risks his life to harvest honey and provide an income.

In the documentary, Dhan believes he is chosen in a dream to pursue the dangerous art of honey harvesting. At 57 years old, he is tired, and his body is worn from years of climbing and countless bee stings. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to do it anymore,” Dhan says. “The only reason I still do is because I’m poor, and no one else will do it.” The short film “The Last Honey Hunter” offers a glimpse into the vanishing tradition of the Kulung honey hunters and paints a picture of poverty in Nepal.