A Glimpse of Beekeeping in Nepal

As the title suggests, this is not by any stretch of the imagination meant to be a definitive account of beekeeping in Nepal. It is simply an account of some observations made on beekeeping, both managed and wild, whilst trekking in the Annapurna and Everest regions just before Christmas, 2011.

On the second day of our trekking holiday in the Annapurna region, we reached the small village of Ghandruk. The village was in the heart of the area from which came the Nepalese Ghurkha soldiers, renowned throughout the world for their fierceness. This was where we were to camp for the night, and as our Nepalese porters pitched our tents, we took some photos of bumblebees working the marigolds in the vegetable garden adjacent to our tents. That afternoon we walked around the village looking at the stone houses. We found almost immediately that every second house had at least one or two log hives either suspended underneath the veranda roof, of tied above the roof. The rest of our group thought the hives were empty, but an ear to the small entrance revealed the sound of bees inside, and patience allowed a sighting of just a few bees entering the hive.

Bumblebee at 2850m at Ghandruk, Nepal

Bumblebee at 2850m at Ghandruk, Nepal

In all, without trying we counted well over 30 log hives in the village. Two of them were on the veranda of the local museum, and inside the museum my wife found a row of very old honey pots on a shelf. The bees in the hives were very dark, and fairly small – the size matched up with Apis cerana, but the bees were much darker than any of the cerana I have seen. Researching while writing this article revealed they were possibly Apis cerana indica, the black ‘poor’ bee, or Apis cerana himalaya.

Log hives both above and below the veranda roof

Log hives both above and below the veranda roof

Close-up of the log hive on the roof

Close-up of the log hive on the roof

Bee thinking about checking out the Australian. The altitude was 2850m, and late in the afternoon the temperature was approaching 0°C, but the odd bee was still flying.

Bee thinking about checking out the Australian. The altitude was 2850m, and late in the afternoon the temperature was approaching 0°C, but the odd bee was still flying.

More log hives at the Gurung Museum. The one fixed to the wall was also decorated with horns from a water buffalo.

More log hives at the Gurung Museum. The one fixed to the wall was also decorated with horns from a water buffalo.

Honey pots inside the Gurung Museum, Ghandruk

Honey pots inside the Gurung Museum, Ghandruk

In the process of climbing to Ghandruk, we had seen across the gorge the village of Landruk. This village had been in sight for much of the day, and over dinner that night out trek guide explained that below Landruk was a large cliff face with many wild hives. Each year in April, the village of Landruk holds a honey-hunting festival, during which the honey is harvested from these wild hives.

The village of Landruk, Nepal, which each year in April holds a ‘honey-hunting’ festival

The village of Landruk, Nepal, which each year in April holds a ‘honey-hunting’ festival

Some 10 days later, whilst descending from Namche Bazarr, on the Everest side of Nepal, we found a cliff-face with many of these wild hives hanging suspended from the cliff. These hives were at an altitude of 3450m, and the temperatures were getting down to minus territory at night. These giant combs are home to Apis laboriosa, the largest honeybee in the world, and each winter the bee colonies migrate to lower altitudes (around 850m), to ensure their survival. The laboriosa combs are built as one large comb per hive, up to 1m long, and the honey is stored in one corner. The Nepalese honey hunters harvest the honey twice each year from both these and the log hives.

The large combs of the giant honeybee, Apis laboriosa, hang suspended from a cliff-face at an altitude of 3450m, near Ghat, Nepal

The large combs of the giant honeybee, Apis laboriosa, hang suspended from a cliff-face at an altitude of 3450m, near Ghat, Nepal

Author: Des Cannon