National Geographic : 2017 Jul
88 A dirt road has been cut to within a couple days’ march of his village, Saddi, and work has begun on a tourist trekking route that will penetrate into the upper reaches of the valley, connecting Saddi and its sister villages to a popular trekking area just over a pass from the well-known circuits of the Khumbu region. A politician has promised to build a small airport in the area. Kulung elders like Mauli still refer to Kath- mandu as “Nepal,” a place apart from where they live. In their minds the capital is a for- eign country, a distant neighbor of their own tiny realm. But the world around them is changing so fast that the boundaries—and the magic—that have long defined this ancient community are beginning to fade away. Mauli sits BesiDe the Fire pit in his ram- shackle, one-room home. The mud walls, riddled with cracks from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 2015, look as if they could cave in at any moment. Most homes visible from his doorway have bright blue metal roofs, but his is made of thatched grass, a sign of his poverty. He may be the only one of the small band of hunters allowed to actually rip hives from the rock walls with his own two hands—but clearly the honor does not convey a great deal of cash. It’s been 42 years since Mauli had the dream that put him on this path. It came when he was 15, the night after he assisted his father with a honey harvest for the first time. “I saw two beautiful women,” he recalls. “Sud- denly I found myself trapped in a spiderweb on the side of a cliff. I was struggling to get free when I saw a large white monkey above me. It dropped its tail down, and the women helped me grab it. Then the monkey lifted me up, and I escaped.” The elders, one of them his father, told him that the monkey was Rangkemi, the guardian spirit of bees and monkeys—a sometimes wrath- ful energy that inhabits dangerous places where few humans dare to go. They assured him that he would be guaranteed safe passage onto the cliffs, that the spirit would not retaliate against him and his family when he took the precious honey. On that day Mauli shouldered the rare and difficult burden of a honey hunter. In the decades since, he has risked his life every spring and fall to har- vest the sweet, mind-bending substance from the same cliffs his father harvested a generation ago. Mauli was born under the light of a bamboo torch across the valley in the village of Chheskam. It had no formal school, and his classroom was the steep hillside terraces where he spent his youth cutting grass and farming. Poverty and isolation mean early death for many Kulung. Mauli had four brothers, but two of them died; he has been married and widowed three times, leaving him alone to care for his four daughters, two sons, five grandchildren, and the few other relatives who scurry in and out of his hut at all hours. As we sit beside the fire pit, Mauli reaches into the hip pocket of his rough wool jacket, grabs a pinch of homegrown tobacco, and deftly rolls it into a scrap of dried corn husk. He shoves the stubby cigarette into the coals and brings it to his lips. As he exhales, his cloudy, bloodshot eyes re- veal the soul of a man who is worn out. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he says. “ The MAP: RILEY D. CHAMPINE, NGM STAFF SOURCES: HUMANITARIAN DATA EXCHANGE; USGS; NASA 0mi 10 0km 10 29,035 ft 8,850 m Mt. Everest NEPAL CHINA HonguArunDudhKoshiLikhuKhola KHUMBU Saddi Salleri Chheskam Lukla 6,000 ft 1,830 m HIMALA YA Honey cliffs 0mi 150 0km 150 NEPAL ASIA MAP AREA Kathmandu CHINA INDIA NEPAL n Society Grant Your National Geographic Society membership helped fund this project.