Beekeeping in Nepal with BlinkNow.org
I hopped on back of a motorbike as the driver, Sandip, started the engine. Piper did the same before we took off down a long dirt road. As we buzzed down the road, I thought we were going to hit a goat herder who was tending to his goats. Fortunately, using the horn on a vehicle is the common method of letting someone know that you are coming. Sandip used the horn flawlessly, as the herder stepped aside and let us pass. This occurred many more times throughout the journey to a rural part of Surkhet, Nepal with goat herders being replaced by water buffalo, dogs and even a few cars. While in Kathmandu, Piper and I became accustomed to the constant sound of car horns while traveling down the streets. At first it was shocking considering that people in the U.S. use their horns quite rarely and whenever a car horn is blown, a dirty look always ensues. However, Nepal is not the U.S. and the car horn is so important to Nepali drivers that it is the one thing which they thoroughly evaluate during a test drive.
We cruised out of the center of Surkhet, to a more rural area where a very friendly beekeeper lives. As we motored along, I soaked in the beautiful view of the lush, green hills which surround Surkhet. Piper and I had arrived a mere 24 hours before, which made our trip out to the countryside that much more spectacular. We passed rows upon rows of eucalyptus trees, soccer fields, countless goats and cows and other everyday sights for people living in Surkhet but certainly not people living back on the other side of the world. Midway through the ride there was a river crossing which could make one uneasy, however, in the fifteen minutes which Sandip had been driving, he completely convinced me that he was a fantastic driver who knows the roads well and was able to easily cross the river without incident. Another maneuver which made me laugh out of pure disbelief was one which we executed many times before arriving at the apiary. Along the paved roads are many speed bumps which are quite effective for cars. Motorbikes, however, are far more mobile than large cars meaning that it was easy for Sandip and the driver who was driving Piper to simply go off-road for a second or two as they swerved around the speed bumps in a masterful display of driving skill.
After the road turned to dirt again, we arrived at a small house directly across from an army camp, again, not a sight Piper nor I are used to seeing. When we arrived, I immediately noticed a group of hives situated next to the house. I was surprised to see these langstroth hives which are commonly used around the United States. Fortunately, that meant that teaching the kids and other Kopila folks who are interested in the bees would be significantly easier than I was initially expecting since I was preparing for a more simple style of hive which requires far fewer materials. As we passed the first hive, I glanced down and immediately noticed a couple of dead hornets lying on top of the hive cover. These hornets were both jet black and bright orange which made them quite intimidating. I glanced back at Piper who had also just seen the hornets and a wave of terror rushed over both our faces as the same thought crossed our minds “Uh, oh.”
We peeked inside the front door of the little house which appeared to be vacant. Sandip removed his shoes and continued in, we followed suit and stayed right behind. He called out to someone upstairs in Nepali and they quickly appeared at the top of the staircase. There was a quick exchange before the woman disappeared into another room. She reappeared soon after with a veil and a small cloth. When we got outside, she lit the little cloth on fire to use as a smoker as she opened a hive to show us. Normally I would have taken a step back to avoid being flown into by a group of bees, but the woman who was showing us around remained quite calm and so did the bees, so I stayed inches away from this hive not knowing what to expect when she eventually opened it up.
As the cover came off, I was surprised and relieved to find that the bees were docile. Few attackers came charging out and all of us observers were able to stay calm, without the fear of being stung. The beekeeper pulled out a couple of frames, showing us the vast stores of honey, pollen and countless brood (baby bees) which was all very encouraging. I observed the beautifully dark wax and honey which filled the frames. The dark honey was unlike anything I had ever seen in a hive. The honey which fills my hives is quite different simply due to the different varieties of plants from which the bees choose to harvest. Along with the few curious bees, the pungent smell of sweet honey came surging out as well. If there is a constant from one beehive to the next, it is the terrific smells which can be found within any and every beehive. Carefully the beekeeper placed the frames back into their proper positions and closed the hive. As she did so, I couldn't help but think about how fortunate I had been up to this point with the bees. Who would have known that there happened to be beekeepers in Surkhet, Nepal, and while in Kathmandu prior to arriving at Kopila, Piper and I visited a little store called The Beekeeping Shop near Kathmandu. While we were there, I tried my hardest to communicate with the owner of the shop who was a very nice man. It took a little while and lots of hand motions but eventually we came to the conclusion that I should visit the agriculture office while in Surkhet. I don’t think even this man could’ve imagined how amazing the beekeeping scene in Surkhet actually turned out to be. Before we left this friendly woman’s home, Sandip asked her how much the hives would cost. Unlike the U.S., beekeepers in Surkhet sell already established hives by the frame, not by the overall hive. She told Sandip a very reasonable price, said one final namaste and waved goodbye as we hopped on the bikes and drove off.
A couple of days later, Sandip, Sarah (one of the fellows), the soccer coach named Gopi and I took off for another bee-hunting and planning expedition. We began by visiting the new land where Kopila Valley High School will be located. Sarah has been working on plans for the new land which was very helpful for me when deciding where to place the hives. As we walked around, I inspected every corner of the land, trying to picture where we should locate the new hives. At one point, we crossed a little bridge which had recently been constructed in order to allow people to cross a little river. When we arrived at the other side, I was filled with hope as I laid eyes on a perfect area for the bees. It was secluded enough so that the bees wouldn’t bother anyone walking by, but close enough to the school so that the kids could check in on the bees whenever they wanted, the location couldn’t have been better. My only concern was that the location might be a little bit too damp, especially now during monsoon season when it rains nearly every day. Sandip told me that he knew of some construction workers who could build anything which I requested. I thought for a while while we went back to the school for lunch about what the construction workers should build. What first came to mind was a simple stone platform large enough for the beehives to sit atop. It was a simple idea, essentially a rectangle of concrete made to elevate the hives so that water and other little creatures wouldn’t enter the hive and disturb the bees. When we returned to the new land later in the day, we fortunately ran into the construction workers who were doing some work nearby. Sandip called them over and we were introduced. We walked over to the soon-to-be location of the hives and we cleared a small area where the stands were set to be built. I communicated through Sandip exactly what I had been thinking about during lunch and he relayed the information to the workers. We happened to be standing near a pile of large rocks which the workers wanted to use to build the hive stands. I was very happy to hear this because it meant that they would have to use less cement in the process of creating the stands, an idea which I really supported. Once we agreed on using rocks, the workers immediately began grabbing the largest ones and carrying them over to the future location of the hives. These guys really meant business.
After returning to the new land later in the day, Sandip and I immediately went to where the men had been working. As we were crossing the bridge, I caught a glimpse of the new stands, they looked great. When we got closer, I realized that the workers weren’t quite finished yet, but I couldn’t have cared less. The hive stands were exactly what I had described, but when seeing them nearly done, they looked even better than the ideal ones which I had previously pictured in my head. As soon as the workers returned from their lunch break, I thanked them thoroughly for their hard work. They replied through Sandip that they would finish their work soon and they laid out their price for their hard days’ work. As Sandip, Sarah, Gopi and I left the new land, I felt a great sense of relief, bees were actually coming to Kopila. After months of communication and discussion, the first steps were finally being made to establishing a couple of beehives at the future site of the Kopila Valley High School.
Later that day, our little crew of four drove to a corn field where a beekeeper had lined up many of his hives. As we got off of the bikes, I checked out the hives, all of which seemed to be doing quite well. We crossed the street to where the beekeeper lives and walked into his yard. The house was surrounded by dozens of rice paddies and a few farm animals who were taking shelter in the shade of the nearby houses. We knocked at the door and were graciously greeted by the beekeeper's wife who immediately gave us a place to sit, one of the many kind gestures which we would experience that day. After talking with this woman for a few minutes, her husband emerged from the house and introduced himself. Once Sundip had explained why we were outside of his house, the beekeeper disappeared into his house and emerged with three pieces of gear, a cloth smoker, a hive tool and a veil. I admired the simplicity of his style of beekeeping, a style which I would like to adopt back home. I have a great toolbox which is full of some fantastic little gadgets, but watching this master beekeeper inspect his hives with only three pieces of gear was very eye opening. While opening the hives, he explained the two types of bees which he owned, asian and european. At the time, I was only familiar with the european types because they are the bees which fill my hives, but after listening to this man and doing a little bit of research, I also learned much about the fascinating asian honeybee. When he began to remove frames, bees started going everywhere, but they weren’t angry. This was not a sight to which I was very accustomed. Usually when I have the same volume of bees flying around me, they tend to be angry, but not these bees. The beekeeper removed a couple of frames and cut honeycomb from both of them. Once he had filled a metal plate with beautiful honeycomb, his wife grabbed it and disappeared back into the house. Once he put the hive back together, the bees settled down and we walked back to the patio. We enjoyed some light conversation as we waited for a taste of the delicious honeycomb. Soon enough, the beekeeper’s wife reappeared with a few little bowls, each with a small chunk of honeycomb sitting at the bottom. It was clear that she had selected the best honeycomb from each of the slabs since all of ours was filled with honey, there wasn’t an empty cell in any of the comb which we had received. Our conversation continued for a while and during this time, I decided that we were going to purchase the Kopila Valley Beehives from this man. I made this decision not only because he was extremely gracious and friendly but also because he happens to live very close to the new land, meaning that if the Kopila Beekeepers ever had any questions and they couldn’t reach me at the time, he would be a perfect resource. He was happy to help and because of him, Kopila Valley now has two little hives located at the future sight of Kopila Valley High School.
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