Jimmy and the Wild Honey Hunters


Jimmy and the Wild Honey Hunters

Jimmy Doherty travels to Nepal to meet an ancient group of people who risk their lives to farm their local honey.


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Transcript


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'Hi, all. So, we should be ready to go in a minute. Over.'

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That is just the biggest beehive in the world.

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My name's Jimmy Doherty. I'm a pig farmer from Suffolk.

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So what am I doing 200ft up on a rope ladder

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being attacked by giant bees?

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The answer's -

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honey.

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I love it, always have.

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As beautiful as honey is, I've never risked my life for it.

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But that's exactly what the honey hunters of Nepal do.

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They scale massive cliffs and take on two million giant bees

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just to get their hands on honey.

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You can't buy this in the supermarket.

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Soon their autumn harvest will begin.

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And they've agreed to let me take part.

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I'm terrified.

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But it's my only chance to see these amazing bees

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and taste their legendary honey.

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Oh, my word.

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I've been farming pigs for five years,

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but before this I was doing a PhD in insect biology.

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Today I'm still fascinated by insects.

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The few beehives I have keep my interest alive.

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Well, I love all insects, insects are my real passion,

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but I think particularly bees because, obviously being a farmer,

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you know, bees have been farmed for thousands and thousands of years.

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There's actual honeycombs still preserved in the pyramids in Egypt.

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Look at that honey there.

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The key to looking after bees is to be quite calm.

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Move slowly,

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which is completely against my nature, cos I'm quite erratic,

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so that's probably why I get stung.

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I've been stung on the nipple before,

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and do you know,

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I thought, "Shall I go to hospital because of the pain?"

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You know, we're not only talking honey here,

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we're talking pollination of so many different plants.

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Without bees it could be argued that half the world's crops

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wouldn't come around, they wouldn't be fertilised -

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you need pollination to produce a huge variety of crops.

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You wouldn't get apples on the trees.

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It's so important that bees are around.

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A whole range of crops rely on them as pollinators.

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Bees provide a fertilising service,

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and in return plants give the bees food,

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nectar.

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The bees perform their magic on this sweet liquid to make honey.

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They mix the nectar with saliva

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and spit this into chambers throughout the comb.

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Enzymes go to work, breaking down the complex sugars of the nectar.

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Over time water evaporates, leaving behind pure honey.

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What often surprises people is the sheer variety of honey flavours -

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there are literally thousands.

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And it's simply because

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all the world's flowers have slightly different tasting nectars.

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In the same way they have different scents.

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Take my own bees.

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Each jar here represents a different type of plant

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that the bees have harvested,

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so this little chap here

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would have gone to something like apple blossom

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early in the season, nice and light.

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Then we've got all things like borage, you go onto clover,

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and then finally we've got the ivy honey,

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which is the last flower to come out

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which the bees will go to.

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Each honey tastes different, so if I taste this one here...

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..Straight away you think, "Yeah, honey."

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Taste this one here...

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Completely different.

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Here, I mean, I've never tasted ivy, but this is really dark and rich.

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It's almost like drinking a really good port or something.

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It's unique.

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But the Nepalese honey, is it gonna be something really special,

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because it's a lot more work to collect it.

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I mean, my honey, you know, I go down to the hives,

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get the honey, jar it up, fantastic.

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The Nepalese honey, you know, I've got go up a cliffside to get it.

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But we'll see.

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Yeah, it's got to go a long way to beat that.

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One thing I'm sure of

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is that the honey from Nepal will be very different to mine.

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The bees of the region feed on flowering plants

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that blossom high in the Himalayas.

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And it's these flowers that give the honeys of the area

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their own distinctive flavours.

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By far the best way to taste them is fresh out of the hive.

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Long before bees were ever domesticated

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people harvested the honey of wild bees,

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and Nepal is one of the few places in the world

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where this carries on today.

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These are the giant cliff bees - the biggest honey bees in the world.

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They live in huge combs built high on cliff faces.

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Collecting their honey requires great skill and courage.

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The honey hunters arm themselves with a rope ladder, a basket

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and simple cutting tools.

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They're keeping alive an ancient tradition.

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I want to know exactly what makes this honey so special

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that people are willing to risk their lives for it.

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So I've come to meet the people, the bees,

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and experience the honey harvest first hand.

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With the autumn harvest only days away,

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my journey into the honey hunters' world has begun.

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I'm in Kathmandu - Nepal's capital city.

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It's noisy, colourful and full of life.

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It's steeped in culture and religion.

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And before I leave for the hills

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I'm hoping to take a little of it's spirituality with me.

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I've come to one of the city's Buddhist temples or stupas,

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to ask for a blessing -

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a bit of insurance from the gods that I will be looked after.

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-Thank you.

-This means you...

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Means protection, OK?

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-This is protection?

-Protection.

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-So this is protection against the bee stings?

-Yes.

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Perfect!

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PRAYS IN NEPALI

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From Kathmandu I face almost a whole day of travelling,

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beginning with five hours on the road.

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This is it. It feels like the real adventure is now beginning.

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And there's no turning back.

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Getting out amongst the villages and farmland of Nepal,

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it quickly becomes apparent just what a beautiful country this is.

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But for me it's the people that make this place so special -

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they don't seem to let anything stand in their way.

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These areas are no longer lost in time.

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The modern world is coming,

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creeping up the hillside in the guise of a digger.

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We've just about got to the end of the road here.

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The new road will open up these once remote places

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to the rest of the world.

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For now, at least, it remains a three-hour hike

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to reach the honey hunters' village.

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Its uphill all the way.

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For the local guys it appears to be a walk in the park,

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even with 30 kilos of our kit on their backs.

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I'm heading for the tiny hillside settlement of Taprang,

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surrounded by Himalayan peaks and home to honey hunters.

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Just entering the village feels like I'm stepping back in time.

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Namaste.

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Namaste.

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There's just animals and people, just intermingled.

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There's no separate paddocks for the animals and the people.

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It's all jumbled up, it's brilliant.

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Looks like the whole village has turned out!

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I hope they're not gonna be disappointed!

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Even the dog.

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Namaste.

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Namaste.

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Namaste.

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Namaste.

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Wow, what's all this?

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Namaste.

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Namaste.

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Oh, I get a seat!

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Woooh!

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Oh.

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It's a long way.

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Oh, well, ah!

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How great is this?

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Namaste.

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He's turned into a red Indian! You look like Hiawatha!

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Thank you.

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Thank you.

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Thank you, my love!

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I should have brought a big ring of sausages.

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-Have I got something on my nose?

-Yeah.

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Pleasure to meet you.

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Oh, no, thank you!

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This is the captain, who's an ex-Indian Gurkha,

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and is basically the co-ordinator for the honey hunters here,

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a very, very important man.

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He's the top guy when it comes to honey hunting.

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It's a real pleasure to meet you.

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I won't let you down when it comes to collecting the honey.

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Does he think I'll make a good honey hunter?

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MAN SPEAKS NEPALI

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Tell him to lie.

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Oh, that's good.

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The laughing was a good thing!

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Yeah, climb up the ladder.

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I'll be up there like a rat up a drainpipe!

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What a welcome.

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From what I can gather, they don't get too many visitors.

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The captain speaks very little English.

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But he's still keen to give me a guided tour.

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Before the harvest begins, I'm eager to learn more

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about the special relationship these people have with bees.

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Wow, lots of buffalo.

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Little hole.

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Namaste.

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Look, there's a... For bees?

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Oh, wow, so you have a beehive...

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You have a beehive inside the house?

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That's very clever. So you can go inside to collect the honey?

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But these are domestic bees, not the wild bees?

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OK, so these are like my bees I have at home.

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But it's a great idea. I could try that at home.

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Five buffalo, a handful of chickens and a house full of bees.

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Bees and honey are right at the heart of this community,

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and, of course, bees don't just provide the villagers with honey,

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they also pollinate many of their crops.

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The captain's promised me a taste of the honey from the domestic bees

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that live inside the walls of the houses.

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He's invited me to join himself and the youngest honey hunter

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in the valley this evening.

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I'm taking along some of my own honey for them to try.

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What are you doing? How are you doing?

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Now, I've got something special for you to try.

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You've got some of your honey here, haven't you?

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OK, well, I've got some of my honey.

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You're probably one of the oldest honey hunters,

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and you're one of the youngest honey hunters,

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so I want you to try my honey to see what you think.

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Sweet?

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Yeah, sweet. Sweet.

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Not that impressed!

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Then I've got some honeycomb.

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Try a little bit of that.

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See what you think of that.

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-Sweet?

-It's good, yeah.

-You like that one?

-Yeah.

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With the honeycomb in, similar to the honey that you collect.

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Now, let me try your honey.

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Let's try this.

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Hmm.

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That's very good.

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I can see why you looked at mine and went, "Hmm..."

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Cos that is excellent.

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But honey from Nepal and honey from England,

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different parts of the world...

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But the thing that brings us together are the bees and the honey.

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It's the love of the honey.

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Sharing a love of honey is fantastic.

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I hope this will tie me in with the community for the rest of my stay.

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This honey from the domestic bees is lovely.

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But it's really just whetted my appetite

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for the wild honey from the giant bees,

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which we'll soon be harvesting.

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I'm starting to realise just what a beautiful place this is.

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Nestled beneath the Himalayas, at 1,500 metres,

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the village of Taprang is part of the Annapurna conservation area -

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an area protected for its wildlife.

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It's breathtaking.

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I've never seen so many birds of prey.

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I'm keen to head down the valley

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to see the cliff where the giant honey bees live.

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The captain's going to be my guide.

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It's a four-hour walk -

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a journey the honey hunters only make twice a year,

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for the spring and autumn harvests.

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But these paths are always busy,

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they're the only routes in and out of the village.

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It's like Blackpool beach, isn't it?

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All rice.

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-Namaste.

-Namaste!

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Recent heavy rains have caused a few landslides in the area,

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making the going a little tricky as we approach the cliff with the bees.

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Whereabouts?

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Where... Oh.

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Oh, God. Yeah, look at that!

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Oh, my word.

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Ohhh! Oh, no, you never told me it'd be like this!

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It looks like magic!

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Doesn't it?

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It looks like a big Mexican wave.

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I've never seen that before.

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That is just beautiful.

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Each of these massive combs can contain 100,000 wild bees.

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Together they look like a single super organism.

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This is their greatest defence,

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particularly against their old enemy -

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the hornet.

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When under attack,

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they do this synchronised flicking of their abdomens,

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creating those astonishing waves.

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An intimidating mass of bees,

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designed to make any predator think twice.

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But hornets don't give up easily.

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They hang around the nests

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waiting to intercept individual bees as they return from foraging.

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Unlucky ones are literally knocked to the ground...

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..Where a fellow hornet or two is waiting to strike.

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But it would take an army of hornets

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to have any real impact on these bees.

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There are over two million on this cliff alone.

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I've never seen so many bees in my life.

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And they're all outside, they're all fairly angry

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cos there's lots of hornets flying around attacking them,

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and then I've gotta go up there on a ladder.

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And not only that,

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I've then got to cut one of these things off and lower it,

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and you think about and you think, "Well, yeah, can't be that bad",

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until you get here.

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And I tell you what, it makes you really appreciate

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the bravery of these guys,

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and it makes you appreciate the value of the honey.

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Next time you go and pick a jar of honey up and you see a jar of honey,

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the blood sweat and tears

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that goes into collecting wild honey in Nepal is beyond belief.

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It's a world away from my beehives back home.

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I can't help but be bowled over by these giant bees -

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they're extraordinary.

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They live at high altitudes, where normal bees just couldn't survive.

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It's all to do with their size -

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they're twice as large as European honey bees,

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enabling them to cope with lower oxygen levels,

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and their extra body mass safeguards them against the cold.

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Visiting the bee cliff makes me wonder

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if the honey's really worth the great lengths

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the honey hunters go to collect it.

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The captain doesn't seem to know when the harvest will start,

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so it looks like I'm in for a bit of a wait.

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To be honest, I just want to get on with it -

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hanging around is only gonna make me more nervous.

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SINGING AND CLAPPING

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Back in the village it's party time.

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I'm being treated to some local singing and dancing.

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Although I don't think it's just for my benefit.

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Up here, at least for the time being, there's no TV or internet.

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It's a typical Friday night in Taprang.

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Another beautiful autumn morning.

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When I arrived I expected the honey harvest

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to start pretty much straightaway.

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Now I've been told it's not going to happen

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for at least a couple more days.

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Pinning the honey hunters down is a nightmare.

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They're deeply superstitious.

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They'll never harvest on a full or new moon

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or the first day of the month.

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The weather has to be set right, and the combs have to be full of honey.

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I'm going to have to be patient.

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At least it'll give me a chance to get to know the villagers

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and how they lead their lives.

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In Nepal, like much of Asia, rice is the staple food.

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This is farming like we used to do 100 years ago -

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slow and labour intensive.

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If you think about it, right,

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this whole area from that tree line,

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this tree line all the way round here and up to that tree line there

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has produced that small pile of rice. OK?

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That was all hand cut,

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all hand thrashed out.

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Then it's hand sorted,

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and then all the stalks are put back on this pile,

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and the three cattle walk round, followed by these two girls,

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bashing it down, separating it out, and then that's the animal fodder,

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and it's done for all the hillsides all over this area.

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You can see all the terracing.

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It's a lot of work for, what, six sacks of rice?

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Rice is what keeps these people alive.

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So I understand why they work so hard to harvest it.

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Honey is more of a luxury item, yet they take great risks to collect it.

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Traditionally it would have been the only sweetener available,

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but today they keep bees and sugar can be bought.

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There must be something very special about the flavour of the wild honey.

0:24:120:24:17

There are some fruit trees in blossom, but very little else.

0:24:170:24:21

What nectars are available will determine its taste.

0:24:210:24:24

The bees will be harvesting what food they can

0:24:240:24:27

before the last of the season's flowers disappear.

0:24:270:24:30

Another day, and I'm still waiting to hear

0:24:360:24:39

when the honey harvest will start.

0:24:390:24:41

So I'm off to another cliff to spend more time with the giant bees.

0:24:430:24:47

I'm hoping to get a closer look at them.

0:24:470:24:50

I'm quite paranoid at the moment

0:24:510:24:53

cos I've just started to come up the hill

0:24:530:24:55

and it's getting wetter and wetter, more and more humid,

0:24:550:24:58

and the whole place is alive with leeches. They're everywhere.

0:24:580:25:03

Look, there they are, look! Hundreds of the bloody things.

0:25:030:25:06

Look at the buggers, look, all over me.

0:25:060:25:10

Goodbye.

0:25:100:25:12

For every one you knock off, another two jump on.

0:25:120:25:17

Oh, oh, look... Get off!

0:25:170:25:18

Look. Yeah, you bugger.

0:25:200:25:23

Oh, wow. There we go.

0:25:280:25:31

That's where I'm heading -

0:25:310:25:33

that big cliff.

0:25:330:25:34

As long as it hasn't got any leeches, I don't mind.

0:25:340:25:37

Jeez, look at this.

0:25:490:25:52

Oh, my God.

0:25:570:25:59

We're so close.

0:26:040:26:05

I reckon no more than 40 feet away.

0:26:050:26:09

Look at that.

0:26:120:26:14

That's what these hives look like.

0:26:160:26:19

Massive combs, just hanging off the cliff.

0:26:190:26:23

This one's obviously fallen down and the brood's been lost,

0:26:250:26:29

and the honey's all been taken.

0:26:290:26:30

But these things are so heavy cos they're packed with honey.

0:26:300:26:34

That's a...

0:26:350:26:37

That's a fairly smallish one.

0:26:370:26:40

There's ones up there that are twice, if not three times the size.

0:26:410:26:46

These combs can grow up to three metres in length,

0:26:490:26:52

and now, when they're full of honey, can weigh as much as 50 kilos.

0:26:520:26:57

You definitely wouldn't want one falling on your head.

0:26:570:26:59

What I love is how the bees all work for one another.

0:27:030:27:06

Just like in my hives, each bee has its role.

0:27:060:27:10

Some workers have the job of collecting food.

0:27:100:27:12

That's pollen as well as nectar.

0:27:120:27:14

They buzz amongst the colony,

0:27:160:27:18

their bee dances pointing others in the direction of the food source.

0:27:180:27:22

Other workers are detailed to gather water.

0:27:260:27:29

It helps keep the colony cool.

0:27:290:27:32

They share the water around, drop by drop.

0:27:370:27:39

Others stand around fanning their wings -

0:27:450:27:47

another way to reduce the heat.

0:27:470:27:49

If the waxy combs get too hot,

0:27:530:27:55

they can actually melt and fall of the cliff.

0:27:550:27:58

A disaster for any bee colony.

0:27:580:28:02

Right now the combs are at their most impressive,

0:28:030:28:07

bursting with bees and honey.

0:28:070:28:09

This is why the honey hunters have waited until now

0:28:090:28:13

before starting the harvest.

0:28:130:28:14

This is as close as I'm gonna get without using a ladder or the ropes.

0:28:140:28:19

And the sheer number of bees is incredible.

0:28:200:28:23

Because I saw them on the other cliff

0:28:230:28:25

and they were quite high up and out the way, you know,

0:28:250:28:28

like little black disks.

0:28:280:28:30

But now, to see them here,

0:28:300:28:33

you know, I know what I've got ahead of me.

0:28:330:28:36

I've just heard that the honey harvest is going to happen tomorrow.

0:28:460:28:50

At last the timing's right and the weather forecast is good.

0:28:500:28:54

Before the big day there's one more person I want to meet

0:28:570:29:00

to better understand

0:29:000:29:01

what the tradition of honey hunting means to this community.

0:29:010:29:05

The interpreter is taking me to meet the oldest

0:29:060:29:09

and most experienced honey hunter in the village.

0:29:090:29:12

He's been climbing down the cliffs for over 50 years.

0:29:150:29:19

He lives alone and has a very simple way of life.

0:29:200:29:24

The first thing I want to know is how old he is.

0:29:280:29:32

He is running on 77.

0:29:320:29:34

77 years old?

0:29:340:29:37

And you still climb up the ladder?

0:29:370:29:40

Yes, he can.

0:29:410:29:42

That's incredible!

0:29:420:29:44

Harvesting the honey is very, very difficult and very dangerous.

0:29:440:29:48

I mean, what does the honey mean to him?

0:29:480:29:51

HE SPEAKS NEPALI

0:29:510:29:54

For him, it's like a priceless item.

0:29:570:30:00

It's priceless to him?

0:30:000:30:02

If he could offer me one piece of advice,

0:30:020:30:06

what would it be?

0:30:060:30:07

HE SPEAKS NEPALI

0:30:070:30:12

First advice is for the safety matter.

0:30:170:30:21

You have to remember and respect the gods of the cliff.

0:30:210:30:25

To respect the gods?

0:30:250:30:27

Remember and respect the gods of the cliff for the safety.

0:30:270:30:32

Well, the more and more that I learn about the honey hunters,

0:30:320:30:36

the more respect I have for them, for their bravery,

0:30:360:30:39

but also, the more nervous I'm becoming.

0:30:390:30:44

The fear is growing inside of the task ahead.

0:30:440:30:48

How does he handle the fear, or does he get frightened any more?

0:30:480:30:52

How does he handle that?

0:30:520:30:54

HE SPEAKS NEPALI

0:30:540:30:58

The first time, you'll feel the fear.

0:31:000:31:04

Then after that, you gonna get habituate with it.

0:31:040:31:07

One thing is sure that the concentration on holding

0:31:070:31:11

that ladder will be so great that I can't tell you!

0:31:110:31:14

I'm gonna be like that.

0:31:140:31:16

HE SPEAKS NEPALI

0:31:160:31:18

THEY LAUGH

0:31:180:31:20

You have to be very careful of your life.

0:31:220:31:25

The old honey hunter's right.

0:31:350:31:37

I've got to take this seriously.

0:31:370:31:39

People have died collecting wild honey.

0:31:410:31:43

But I've come here to harvest it and I'm determined to see it through.

0:31:430:31:48

Tomorrow's the big day when all the honey hunters gather,

0:31:490:31:52

and they're gonna make their long trek down to the river valley,

0:31:520:31:58

and I hope I'm up to it, really.

0:31:580:32:01

It's a rite of passage because you've gotta prove your mettle

0:32:010:32:05

to be able to climb up that ladder and take that honey.

0:32:050:32:08

I don't want to let myself down in front of all these wise old guys that have been doing it for years.

0:32:080:32:13

What I can't do is muck around.

0:32:180:32:21

And I can't afford to lose them their honey harvest.

0:32:210:32:25

Ah, thank you very much.

0:32:350:32:37

It's time to say goodbye to the villagers.

0:32:370:32:39

We're going to camp down by the cliff for the duration of the harvest.

0:32:390:32:44

This is the farewell ceremony, so basically, the whole village

0:32:480:32:53

has turned out to sort of say goodbye. It's quite sweet.

0:32:530:32:56

And they put flowers behind your ears and over your neck and paint all your face up.

0:32:560:33:02

Does it look good? Yeah!

0:33:020:33:04

Yeah? Have I got enough on?

0:33:040:33:07

-Yeah.

-Yeah? Say goodbye.

0:33:070:33:10

Bye. Bye.

0:33:100:33:13

Excellent. Smell amazing. Smell lovely.

0:33:130:33:16

Well, this is it, we're on our way.

0:33:280:33:31

There's a real togetherness about the honey hunters,

0:33:340:33:37

a band of brothers mentality.

0:33:370:33:40

This is a big social event for the men of the village.

0:33:400:33:44

It's a tradition.

0:33:440:33:46

They're treading in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.

0:33:460:33:49

Some are worried that the younger men show little interest.

0:33:510:33:56

That must be hard to take for some of the old boys.

0:33:560:33:59

Honey hunting is clearly an important part of who they are.

0:34:010:34:04

I feel a real sense of pride being part of this.

0:34:080:34:11

We'd work together for the next few days of the harvest.

0:34:140:34:16

There's our camp by the river.

0:34:200:34:23

From now on, it's all about bees and honey.

0:34:230:34:27

In an attempt to distract the bees and make them less likely to attack,

0:34:350:34:38

the honey hunters are simulating a forest fire.

0:34:380:34:41

The bees' survival instinct kicks in.

0:34:430:34:46

They move up the comb to gorge on the honey that's near the top,

0:34:460:34:49

revealing the bright yellow brood section.

0:34:490:34:52

It's here that the bee larvae develop and grow.

0:34:520:34:55

The final preparations are being made.

0:35:030:35:05

I've got one day to watch and learn,

0:35:050:35:08

so I really need to pay attention. Tomorrow, it'll be me on the cliff.

0:35:080:35:13

Well, this is the first part of the of the honey harvest.

0:35:150:35:18

The ladder's gonna be pulled right to the top, fastened off,

0:35:180:35:22

and then the honey hunter will climb down.

0:35:220:35:26

You'd end up like a pancake if you hit the floor, that's for sure.

0:35:260:35:29

Just gonna put my suit on now,

0:35:330:35:36

because the sun's come out and...

0:35:360:35:40

the sky is just full of bees and they're not happy at all.

0:35:400:35:45

And although we're at the bottom of the cliff,

0:35:450:35:47

we are putting more smoke up,

0:35:470:35:50

we could still get stung pretty badly, so it's time to suit up.

0:35:500:35:55

I can't get it on quick enough.

0:35:560:35:58

Once the ladder's tied off, it's time to make an offering to the cliff gods.

0:36:010:36:06

The honey hunters always sacrifice a sheep in their honour.

0:36:060:36:10

It'll be butchered and cooked up for lunch, but first the liver must be checked

0:36:120:36:16

to see whether it's going to be a good or a bad harvest

0:36:160:36:19

and most importantly, a safe one.

0:36:190:36:22

-Is it good?

-So, if there is line, it is good symptom.

0:36:220:36:26

-So because there's a line there, and that bit is clear, there's gonna be no accidents.

-No accident.

0:36:260:36:33

But because the gall bladder is small, there's not much honey.

0:36:330:36:38

-Not much honey.

-OK, OK. Not much honey.

0:36:380:36:41

There's one good thing, there's not gonna be any accidents.

0:36:410:36:44

-What about being stung?

-Stung what?

0:36:440:36:47

Can you tell if we're gonna get stung or not?

0:36:470:36:50

-Stung?

-Yeah, bee sting.

-No, no, we cannot forecast for this.

0:36:500:36:53

Oh, OK, I'll keep the suit on, then.

0:36:530:36:57

Keep the suit on.

0:36:570:36:59

Joking aside, these guys are remarkably unfazed by the bees.

0:37:010:37:07

They're not wearing much safety gear.

0:37:070:37:09

Maybe they're used to the stings, I'm definitely not taking any chances.

0:37:090:37:14

These are wild bees, and we're about to take away their honey.

0:37:140:37:18

There's a team coordinating things from the bottom, and a guy perched

0:37:200:37:24

in the tree at the top to help with lowering and raising the cutting tools, and later, the basket.

0:37:240:37:29

First down the ladder is the young honey hunter.

0:37:310:37:33

He's 200 foot above the ground, with no safety rope

0:37:330:37:38

and only a simple veil to protect him from stings.

0:37:380:37:41

I feel sick just watching him.

0:37:430:37:46

The first thing he's got to do is to cut away the waxy yellow brood section.

0:37:510:37:56

He can then get on with harvesting the honey at the top of the comb.

0:37:560:38:00

There's nothing easy about any of this.

0:38:070:38:11

He's got to get that basket into position,

0:38:110:38:14

but just trying to manoeuvre those poles looks so hard.

0:38:140:38:18

He's using his foot to hold the stick for the basket and then...

0:38:180:38:23

the other hands to chisel away the honey section now. It's impossible.

0:38:230:38:29

How do you know which bits...?

0:38:310:38:33

Oh, that's the honey. Oh, hit that kid in the head, oh, my God!

0:38:350:38:39

It's knocked him out.

0:38:410:38:42

My God, hit him right in the shoulder. Oh, my God.

0:38:450:38:50

Sit down. Jesus.

0:38:510:38:55

A whole clump of honeycomb

0:38:550:38:57

just hit that guy slap bang on the shoulder.

0:38:570:39:01

He's getting up walking.

0:39:030:39:04

-How is he?

-Oh, he's fine.

0:39:130:39:16

No concussion?

0:39:160:39:18

-Oh, no, there is no sign of any head injury or anything like that.

-You OK?

0:39:180:39:22

OK.

0:39:220:39:24

This is why we've got a medic on location -

0:39:250:39:27

it underlines just how hazardous this whole thing is.

0:39:270:39:31

That's why I'm wearing the helmet.

0:39:330:39:35

This guy's having a real tough time of it.

0:39:390:39:42

He's not even wearing gloves, he hasn't got shoes on,

0:39:420:39:46

he must be getting sting after sting after sting.

0:39:460:39:48

After watching this guy, I'm a little bit more confident of what I've got to do.

0:39:500:39:55

My main worry is getting that technique right, not being stung,

0:39:550:39:59

not falling to my death and being able to climb down that ladder properly.

0:39:590:40:03

As dangerous as it looks, the honey hunters know what they're doing.

0:40:050:40:09

They also understand the bees.

0:40:090:40:11

It's the middle of November, and soon it will be too cold for the bees to live at this altitude.

0:40:160:40:22

They'll have to abandon their combs and migrate to more sheltered places further down the valley.

0:40:220:40:28

The hunters time the harvest to take place when the colony is strongest,

0:40:280:40:33

just before the bees leave for winter.

0:40:330:40:35

This minimises the impact on the bees' population.

0:40:350:40:38

And importantly, the honey hunters never harvest all of the combs.

0:40:420:40:46

They leave more than half untouched.

0:40:460:40:49

Their sensitive approach means there will always be honey to harvest.

0:40:490:40:54

Tomorrow, I will be first down the ladder.

0:40:570:41:00

No-one from outside the region has ever harvested honey at the cliff before. It's a real honour.

0:41:000:41:06

I'm trying to put the fear to the back of my mind

0:41:100:41:13

and just focus on being a part of something really special.

0:41:130:41:16

I want to show them I can do it, and earn the right to taste that honey.

0:41:180:41:22

D-Day - this is it.

0:41:500:41:53

I'm no longer just an observer.

0:41:530:41:56

It's my turn.

0:41:560:41:57

Up here at the top of the cliff, I feel very alone.

0:41:570:42:02

200 foot below, there's an audience of honey hunters.

0:42:020:42:06

It must be like waiting for the executioner.

0:42:060:42:08

Whoa.

0:42:150:42:17

Repeat that, over.

0:42:210:42:24

GARBLED SOUND OVER RADIO

0:42:240:42:26

If I said I wasn't nervous at all, I'm afraid I'd be a liar.

0:42:290:42:34

It's really weird cos it's just suddenly there, final, bosh, ladder.

0:42:340:42:40

-OK, Jimmy, when you're ready.

-I'm off.

0:42:400:42:43

Oh, my word.

0:42:470:42:48

That is just the biggest beehive in the world.

0:43:050:43:11

God, that's tiring.

0:43:160:43:17

HE LAUGHS

0:43:210:43:23

Finally, I'm face to face with these amazing bees.

0:43:320:43:36

The honey's right there. All I need to do now

0:43:360:43:39

is steady my nerves, forget about being so high up on a rope ladder

0:43:390:43:43

and get on with the harvest.

0:43:430:43:46

This looked hard from the ground. Actually doing it is almost impossible.

0:43:530:43:58

It's fiddly, tiring, sweaty, uncomfortable.

0:43:580:44:02

I've got to get another toggle into the comb so it's then supported by the ropes.

0:44:030:44:08

That's it. Both toggles are in.

0:44:130:44:16

All I need to do now is cut the brood section away and the honey's all mine.

0:44:160:44:21

It's going.

0:44:270:44:29

Oh, the stick's buggered.

0:44:290:44:33

I can't do anything without a cutting tool.

0:44:330:44:35

This is really frustrating.

0:44:350:44:37

I was so close to getting the honey.

0:44:370:44:40

I'm going to have to wait around for the guys to make me a new one.

0:44:420:44:46

It does at least give me a chance to really take in these bees.

0:44:480:44:51

It's amazing being close up to these things.

0:44:550:44:59

The sheer size of them. When you see them on the ground

0:44:590:45:02

when they're abandoned, they still look impressive but nothing like the real thing.

0:45:020:45:08

But the longer I hang around up here, the more bees that are trying to sting me.

0:45:140:45:19

I reckon I've had at least two stings already,

0:45:190:45:21

and our medic warned me last night that seven can be fatal.

0:45:210:45:25

That's number three sting.

0:45:340:45:37

Weirdly, the stings aren't bothering me too much,

0:45:390:45:42

it's hanging onto this ladder. That's the really tough bit, it's exhausting.

0:45:420:45:48

I reckon I've been waiting up here for 20 minutes or more,

0:45:480:45:51

but at last the cutting tool is ready.

0:45:510:45:54

I can finally get back to business.

0:45:540:45:57

Oh.

0:46:000:46:03

Just sheer exhaustion to move these sticks around.

0:46:060:46:11

Can you make it any awkwarder?

0:46:140:46:17

HE LAUGHS

0:46:170:46:19

What makes this even harder is that the basket is kept upright

0:46:190:46:22

by a rope held by someone at the top of the cliff.

0:46:220:46:26

They can't speak English and I can't speak Nepali.

0:46:260:46:30

This is becoming a nightmare.

0:46:300:46:34

Can they pull their rope up a little bit? Up!

0:46:340:46:37

Up a little bit!

0:46:370:46:40

Little bit more! Stop!

0:46:440:46:50

This has got to be the hardest thing I've ever done, but I've now managed

0:46:520:46:56

to somehow position the basket beneath the comb.

0:46:560:46:59

I've got to get some of that honey.

0:46:590:47:02

My arms are shaking. I can hardly hold these sticks, I can't take much more of this.

0:47:120:47:18

I must have been up here for about an hour, but at last I've got some honey.

0:47:180:47:23

That's it, I can't take any more.

0:47:300:47:33

The honey's on its way down, and so am I.

0:47:400:47:43

There'd better be some left for me!

0:47:450:47:47

These guys don't hang around.

0:47:490:47:52

They eat most of the harvest straightaway. The fresher, the better.

0:47:520:47:56

Look at, that's what it's all about,

0:47:590:48:03

pure honey,

0:48:030:48:05

liquid gold. Amazing.

0:48:050:48:08

Mmm, oh!

0:48:140:48:17

Very good.

0:48:170:48:20

That is amazing.

0:48:200:48:22

It's almost...

0:48:230:48:25

lemony, citrusy.

0:48:250:48:27

That is absolutely amazing.

0:48:290:48:31

That is worth every effort.

0:48:310:48:35

When I was up the ladder, covered in bees, I kept thinking, "This is crazy,"

0:48:400:48:45

but back on the ground eating the honey, it all makes sense.

0:48:450:48:50

I didn't know honey could taste that good.

0:48:500:48:52

Pleasure working with you.

0:48:540:48:56

-Thank you.

-I now understand what you guys go through and what it means to collect honey.

0:48:560:49:01

Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me have an insight into your world.

0:49:010:49:06

-Very, very well.

-Very, very well?

0:49:060:49:08

Thank you very much, namaste.

0:49:080:49:10

Namaste, thank you.

0:49:100:49:12

For the honey hunters, there's a lot more to all this than simply honey.

0:49:160:49:20

The harvest brings them together. It's a special occasion.

0:49:200:49:24

Their intimate knowledge of the giant cliff bees has grown over thousands of years.

0:49:260:49:32

They understand their behaviour,

0:49:320:49:35

and their traditional methods ensure a sustainable honey harvest.

0:49:350:49:39

It's an amazing process to go through

0:49:420:49:46

and it's a real privilege to actually have been part of something

0:49:460:49:50

that's been going on for thousands of years.

0:49:500:49:52

In an age dominated by processed foods, artificial flavours

0:49:520:49:56

and sweeteners, honey is without doubt a product we should all celebrate.

0:49:560:50:00

It's 100% natural.

0:50:040:50:05

It's pure and simple.

0:50:050:50:08

The variety of flavours I get from my bees still amazes me.

0:50:080:50:12

Through it, I can taste the changing seasons,

0:50:120:50:15

but I'll never forget the taste of that wild honey

0:50:150:50:19

from the giant bees in Nepal.

0:50:190:50:23

For me, it will always be the taste of the Himalayas.

0:50:230:50:27

That honey was the best-tasting honey ever,

0:50:270:50:32

because not only was it sweet and delicious, but there was so much effort

0:50:320:50:36

involved to collect it, and there's so much tradition associated with this collecting process.

0:50:360:50:41

But I probably will never, ever climb down a ladder for a pot of honey again!

0:50:410:50:45

Back home in Suffolk, and bees are still very much in my mind.

0:50:550:50:59

They've been working their magic pollinating my runner beans and other plants.

0:50:590:51:03

Brilliant crop on here. Absolutely heavy with runner beans.

0:51:050:51:10

Look at that. Falling off.

0:51:100:51:12

Isn't good gardening good bees?

0:51:120:51:15

These marigolds.

0:51:220:51:23

That's something that reminds me of Nepal. Those big, long garlands that they made for us.

0:51:260:51:32

It seems everything is geared to insects, and bees in particular.

0:51:360:51:39

The flowers, even here. We let this onion go to seed

0:51:390:51:43

and the bee has to pollinate it even before we can collect the onion seeds.

0:51:430:51:47

Wow. Look at these guys here.

0:51:500:51:52

You know, with bees,

0:51:530:51:56

it's so much more than just honey.

0:51:560:51:59

Look at this. Courgettes, marrows, there's the flower.

0:51:590:52:04

The pollination happens.

0:52:040:52:06

Look at that.

0:52:090:52:10

Imagine a world without bees.

0:52:180:52:20

No peas or runner beans for your roast dinner...

0:52:220:52:25

..and no apple pie for pudding.

0:52:270:52:29

Look at that. Five minutes walking round the garden, picking all those lovely crops.

0:52:370:52:43

You'd never imagine it's all down to bees.

0:52:430:52:48

A bit of gardening as well.

0:52:480:52:49

With the bees busy pollinating so many plants,

0:52:520:52:56

back at the hives, there's another crop that needs harvesting.

0:52:560:52:59

Just got to ease the wax off there

0:53:020:53:06

to release that honey.

0:53:060:53:09

Look at that.

0:53:090:53:10

This is lovely, really. You can't get more natural than this.

0:53:160:53:19

But the sad thing is,

0:53:190:53:20

bees in this country,

0:53:200:53:24

and bees globally, are having a pretty hard time of it.

0:53:240:53:29

There's a little mite that's spreading across bee colonies.

0:53:300:53:34

Over three or four years, it can cause the whole hive to collapse.

0:53:340:53:38

Lots of people think that's sad, a few bees die.

0:53:380:53:42

But it's so important that our bees survive

0:53:420:53:45

because a third of our crops depend on them.

0:53:450:53:50

And if bees disappeared,

0:53:500:53:53

I reckon humans would find it pretty hard to exist on this planet without them.

0:53:530:53:57

The crisis bees are facing is an issue that will affect me,

0:54:010:54:05

and all farmers, including those in Nepal.

0:54:050:54:09

It's estimated that through agriculture,

0:54:090:54:12

the value of bees to the world's economy is nearly £100 billion.

0:54:120:54:17

And of course, no bees would mean no more honey.

0:54:170:54:22

This year's English honey crop alone is 25% down on last year

0:54:220:54:27

and there's a real chance supplies will run out by Christmas,

0:54:270:54:30

making this summer's crop all the more special.

0:54:300:54:34

Here we go. The moment of truth.

0:54:340:54:38

Now! Wow. Look at that.

0:54:380:54:40

This is pure and simple, sweet and delicious.

0:54:440:54:48

There we go.

0:54:480:54:51

All that hard work from all those bees collecting the nectar from the flowers round here.

0:54:510:54:57

And for me, it's like capturing a moment of time, you know,

0:54:570:55:00

the lovely warm summer, reflected in the jar.

0:55:000:55:05

Jarring up the honey, you know,

0:55:110:55:15

it's such a simple thing. It takes you straight back to Nepal.

0:55:150:55:20

And that whole trip, it suddenly makes you realise how important bees are to society.

0:55:200:55:26

For them, it's the centre of everything.

0:55:260:55:28

It's the highlight of their year, to go and collect this wild honey.

0:55:300:55:35

I think we all should sit back and think how important these creatures are.

0:55:350:55:39

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:55:530:55:56

E-mail [email protected]

0:55:560:55:58

Jimmy Doherty travels to Nepal to meet an ancient group of people who risk their lives to farm their local honey.

A keen beekeeper with a passion for honey, Jimmy has always been blown away by the sheer variety of flavours, appreciating a good honey like others enjoy a fine wine. So when he heard about an ancient group of people in Nepal who are willing to risk their lives to taste their local honey, he knew he wanted to share the experience.

As a 'honey hunter' Jimmy must scale a massive cliff to reach the home of more than two million bees and dangle 200 feet up to get their honey. If successful, the reward is not only to learn more about these amazing bees, but also to taste one of nature's finest bounties - beautiful wild honey.


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