For generations, villagers living around the Sundarbans have been collecting wild honey from April to June every year. Searching for honey in the mangroves is not an easy task. The forest itself is a challenge, navigating through dense mangroves in search of bee hives requires a high level of skill and experience.
Also, there are venomous snakes inside the forest. In the muddy waters of Sundarbans lives the saltwater crocodile. The biggest danger in the mangroves is the Bengal tiger. Just four days ago, a honey collector was mauled to death by a tiger in the Satkhira range of the Sundarbans. Two days later in a separate event, another moual (honey collector) was injured in a tiger attack, but was lucky enough to be rescued by fellow mouals.
This year I got a chance to visit the honey hunters and see the process of collecting wild honey.
We boarded a tourist vessel on the afternoon of March 30 from Khulna and started cruising towards the western part of Sundarbans. After cruising for six to seven hours, we stopped near Nalian for overnight stay.
The next day we resumed our journey early in the morning and reached Burigoalini in Shyamnagar Upazila in Satkhira in the early afternoon. Later that afternoon we visited the honey collectors in the village who were preparing for their honey hunting journey. We saw their traditional prayer which is held for the wellbeing and success of the honey collectors.
On the morning of April 1, we visited a forest range office where the honey collectors gathered to collect their pass. About 200 boats collected pass, each boat consisting of seven to eight people. After getting the pass the honey collectors started racing towards the forest in search of beehives.
We followed a group of honey collectors to see the collection process. We cruised for around two hours, and then stopped near a canal and entered the jungle with the honey collectors. We walked through dense mangroves, canals for around two hours.
Meanwhile the honey collectors found two beehives but they were not suitable for collection so we came back to our vessel. In the afternoon we followed the honey collectors again but as we were getting off from the boat, suddenly we were attacked by bees.
We panicked and hurriedly got onto the boat trying to escape that place. But our effort was not successful as some of our teammates had several bee stings. So, we had to come back to our launch.
In the early morning the next day, we entered the forest again after the honey collectors, they were divided into teams to find as many beehives as they could. They were using different shouts and buffalo horn to communicate.
After walking through dense mangrove for 10 to 15 minutes they found a beehive in a tree branch. We covered ourselves as much as we could and cautiously reached the beehive. There were thousands of wild bees in that hive.
The honey collectors gathered some leaves and made torches out of them to generate smoke. Once the smoke forced the bees to fly away one of them quickly climbed the tree and started cutting the honeycombs. They gathered the pieces in a bamboo basket. Although the smoke forced the bees away, some stayed and attacked some of us. Then we quickly left that place and started searching again.
Our search continued till noon and we found three more beehives. Throughout the search the honey collectors were shouting and bursting crackers to scare away the tigers in that area. At noon we returned to our vessel. But on the way to our vessel, we met a group of fishermen who told us that they saw a tiger nearby that morning.
We felt relieved that we didn't face it and came back safely. After lunch we left the honey collectors who would stay another 13 days in the jungle in search of honey. We started our cruise in the afternoon and reached Khulna the next day.
This was an amazing adventure to see the process of collecting wild honey so closely. Definitely it was an experience of a lifetime.