You know it has to be something uber cool when it involves hunters, hills and drugs. The sheer audacity of it all. To enter a grove filled with bee hives. And it’s not just about braving an area swarming with bees, it also involves hanging midair from a cliff and beating the crap out of those bees for nectar.
Oh and did I mention that they hang from a handmade bamboo ladder?
Welcome to the world of the Gurung tribe!
It’s not easy doing what they do. A mission they undertake on a regular basis on cliffs that have claimed lives before. But for them, it is not a job. For them, it is adrenaline. A rush they get from extracting the ever-so-tasty nectar with hallucinogenic properties. That’s their reward. But more than just a recreational drug, it is also used for medicinal purposes and sold in the local market.
But that doesn’t sound as attractive as a psychedelic drug, does it? Two drops and you’re good to go, or maybe good to drop.
Would you be willing to risk so much for that sweet honey-filled ecstasy?
Those who trek to places like Kheer Ganga or Kasol for ‘recreational’ purposes may actually fancy the trip. Let me warn you though, you really need to love your ‘recreation’ to go all the way up there.
It’s probably worth it. But you need to be sure that you don’t overdo it. Firstly because it can cause serious illness and secondly because it can prove fatal (rare but true) and finally because it will suck if your tombstone reads ‘death by honey’.
While the Gurungs of Nepal are used to the drug, they also know that it needs to be done in moderation. So don’t get carried away by the sweet taste.
What makes the honey so ‘mad’? Well it has an active neurotoxin called grayanotoxin, which gives the ‘psychedelic’ properties. While it is tradition for the Gurung tribe to dangle from the mountains and collect that nectar, the same has also been found in the Black Sea region of Turkey for over a millennia. There it is called Deli Bal. That’s where the weapon of war part comes in.
In 5th century BC, Xenophon – a Greek historian and philosopher – wrote about the effects of the mad honey when he and his army encountered it while retreating from Babylon and his troops enchanted by the sweet nectar had more than their fair share in the woods:
“All the soldiers who ate of the honeycombs lost their senses, seized with vomiting and purging, none of them being able to stand on their legs. Those who ate but a little were like men very drunk, and those who ate much like madmen, and some like dying persons. In this condition, great numbers lay on the ground, as if there had been a defeat. The next day, none of them died, but recovered their senses about the same hour as they were seized; and the third and fourth day, they go up as if they had taken a strong potion.”
The same was employed when the Romans came knocking. The Persians collected a few pots and left it for the Romans to find. Once the Romans consumed it, they weren’t really worthy opponents but just groggy and disoriented men. They were easily slain.
The honey that is found near the Black Sea is found in the Rhododendron flowers. Farmers let the bees loose, let them do their thing and then collect it from the pollinated blossoms.
It is also one of the most expensive in the world. You get it for around $166 a pop.
Let’s get back to the Gurung tribe who have a very different way of extracting the nectar. There is technique involved. They use ladders made by hand, it requires proper reconnaissance and you’ll be surprised to see the equipment (if you can even call it that) they use for the final extraction.
Only the brave and strong can pull it off. It’s not their job. It is tradition. Something they treat with utmost respect. With those swollen hands that are constantly stung, that nectar is perhaps their reward. Nothing like passing out on the hillside swarming with bees, right?
While it is cultivated in various parts of the world like Turkey, in Nepal it is extracted by the brave men of the Gurung tribe purely with the sweat of their brows and the strength of their backs.
No wonder it’s called ‘Mad Honey’. Not only does it get you high, you’ve got to be really mad to go looking for it.
They are a happy folk, the Gurung. Maybe it’s the honey or the fact that they are almost completely self sufficient. But they work their asses off to retrieve this magical potion. Of all the different types of forms psychedelic drugs come in, this is by far the most intriguing!