When we think of honey, we don’t think of scaling a cliff with giant bees to get it. These images tell the photographic story, shot by Eric Valli, of the Himalayan Gurung men of Nepal harvesting honey. The images, shot in 1987, are so modern for being an almost 25 year old shoot and while the unbelievable nature of the photos make it hard to believe that they are not staged, they simultaneously have an intimate feeling that is so natural and real. Valli captures the essence of these astounding men on their incredible journey to do something that seems so simple, but is not in the least.
This is not just any honey, and it does not come from just any bee. The Himalayan honey bee, or Apis dorsal laborious is the world’s largest honey bee – measuring up to 1.2 inches. They exist only in the Himalayas and build their nests in high altitudes (from 8,200 to 13,500 ft). The nests can contain as much as 130lbs of honey and interestingly different types of honey can be found at different altitudes. Himalayan honey bees make spring honey, red honey, and autumn honey. Red honey, made solely by Himalayan honey bees and found at the highest altitudes, is the most valuable because of its intoxicating and relaxing qualities. The Gurung men can import this honey to other parts of Asia for five times the price of the other honey.
Harvesting the honey is a tradition that the men of Nepal have been doing for generations. They go twice a year, dropping harnessed ladders and ropes from the top of the cliff to a base below where a fire is lit to help smoke the bees away from their hives. A “honey hunter” then descends the ladder and cuts the large honeycomb nests down in chunks. This dangerous mission brings food and money to their villages when the honey is sold.
Eric Valli photographed the photo story “Honey Hunters of Nepal” in 1987 and won first prize at World Press for it. He subsequently published a book of the same title and shot a documentary about the Honey Hunters. Valli is a award winning photographer, writer, documentarian, and director from France. His work on the honey hunters in Nepal was inspired by the time he lived there in the 70′s. Valli has spent much of his life documenting the lives of people in Nepal with his photographs, books, and films.