In the vast mountain ranges of Nepal, there are isolated tribes who, for centuries, have collected a special type of honey from the slopes of the Himalayas.
They live in remote villages of wood and stone houses which are set into the mountain range of the Dhaulagiri district, under the shadow of Mount Everest. Far from other localities, this pristine area is only accessible on foot, and it takes a couple of days to reach from the neighbouring villages.
Honey hunting is an atavistic tradition, handed down through the generations and a vivid testimony of a culture linked to nature and the seasons. Still practised today with the help of rudimentary tools and without any safety precautions.
It is a dangerous, crazy and sometimes a fatal ritual that may not last much longer. The reason for this can be partially attributed to changes in the ecosystem. However, the main threat is due to the growing reputation of the properties and effects of the honey.
Over the years the demand for this quality product has increased exponentially, especially in the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets. Demand combined with the complexity of procuring make this an expensive product.
The Himalayan giant bees are the largest in the world and produce different types of honey depending on the season and the elevation of the nectar producing flowers. The honey has a reddish, viscous appearance, and is known as 'mad honey'.
It is created in huge hives that can reach two metres wide and sit upon jagged protrusions and steep rock faces. The only time the honey contains the grayanotoxin, a toxin produced from the nectar of Rhododendron blooms, is in the spring.
The honey produced during the spring has hallucinogenic properties, and two teaspoons are enough to produce psychotropic effects similar to that of cannabis. There are those who describe the effect as 'slightly intoxicating', whilst others see it as a deadly poison.
For the Nepalese, 'mad honey' is considered curative in small doses and they will use it as an antiseptic, a cough syrup and a pain reliever.
Born and raised in a little village in the Italian Alps, now based in Barcelona, Mauro felt the desire to tell stories from a young age. He discovered that the camera was the right tool for him, through which he could speak to the world.
Mauro won numerous awards in recent years including the ND (overall winner 2021), Portrait Of Humanity 2020, 2020 AAP Magazine 11 Travels (first place), and the 2018 National Geographic Italy (first place). Works by Mauro have been published in numerous magazines including in the National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Lensculture, Dodho magazine, Lensmagazine, and in the Edge of Humanity magazine.
This photo story was sent by Mauro De Bettio for publication in The Business Standard.