The Beekeeper in Kathmandu

Laxman Gurung meeting with Indigenous women in Chitwan District about agroecology and beekeeping in 2013.

Laxman Gurung picks me up in the morning and we ride from Thamel on his motorcycle toward the hills which surround the Kathmandu valley. You can barely see them through the haze. I had remembered to bring a mask to cover my mouth and nose, but forgotten sunglasses. The air pollution is not only seen, but felt by the eyes, which sting from the particles of dust and smoke. I squint and the eyelashes filter a little bit the smog which kills 42,000 annually in Nepal; the dirty air which is five times higher than the World Health Organization’s standard. But who’s counting their breaths?

Gradually we emerge from the brown cloud as we ascend the side of the valley. As we approach the forest, which can suddenly be seen as green not gray, the air temperature drops, the breeze blows and life is suddenly beautiful again. The green on the eyes feels like a soothing hug, I tell him. He has brought me to where water comes from: Muhan Pokhari, above Budhanilkantha. Below, pilgrims  worship Vishnu. A large retro-modern office stands next to the shrine where the god rests on coils of stone in water. Nearby a school for five hundred local children crumbles. Laxman encourages me to notice. We look upstream into the forest. He tells me that he doesn’t like to take people here normally because it’s too sensitive for him…

Laxman is a beekeeper who moved to Kathmandu from Nalang in the Dhading district. He describes himself as an agricultural economist and an ecological activist, and I met him the previous week during a two day seminar about ecosocialism. He wanted to bring me here, to show me this. “For the Tamang and Newari who used to live here, the jungle was god,” he begins. “Then things started to run on commerce. And now there are hotels in the jungle. It was public land but the real estate mafia helped politicians get elected, who changed the laws, which turned it into private land – a commodity. Now you can’t enter without paying. You’re not allowed to even touch a leaf. And look at the water.” Chemicals, milky, flow downstream from the ecotourist hotels. This water, he explains, flows all the way to Chobhar, at the opposite end of the valley; the source of water for everyone downstream. “It used to gush clean, now it’s a dirty trickle…”

He continues: “The whole story is right here, from the Tamang to the corporates. To protect the natural order we have to go to those heroes – the original guardians of the jungle. If we want to change society, we must go to those original people. Not to give them money, but to try to understand them. To learn their language. To just be there with them! They feed us, you know?”

He worked for years as a technical water assessor, supervising mini-hydro projects: 57 districts and over 400 cooperatives. He concludes: “People are not seeking money. People are seeking life.”

Later, at his small-is-beautiful home on the hillside, he continues to talk about those original guardians, who still survive. “In the Gurung religion they worship jungle, water, soil. There are no separations between these. There is no symbol either, no idol – only an ancient tree. And their ancestors. They worship the water which comes from the jungle every autumn, which is then used to irrigate the rice paddy field. They worship the paddy by sacrificing a cock. The ancestors are in the jungle; their thoughts and feelings flow with the water into the paddy. So for a good harvest, farmers have to worship the ancestors and keep them happy. They worship stone, soil, water, jungle, trees, grain. Come in September and see for yourself. There are no symbols. This can be the symbol of our movement. Water is god, trees are god, hills are god… Even today, indigenous people who climb over the Thorong-la pass between Manang and Mustang pay for their passage to the gods with leaves and branches…. I studied so many theories and books and huge documents, but the truth is hiding, already in our society. You don’t need to go to university to find it.”

Laxman shares with me the wisdom of his mother, who raised him on her own after his father passed away, when he was four, and there was no money and so no hospital… “Don’t worry so much about survival… Even an insect can survive! Life has seasons – it’s not always going to be summer, or winter, or monsoon, or drought,” she told him. “We should try to make life meaningful.”

He also inherited communism from his mother. Not just communism, he clarifies, but love for the commune. So he became a beekeeper. And then he organized the beekeepers – he’s the president of the Nepal Beekeeping Association. It took him years – the beekeepers didn’t want to talk politics – but he persevered and they grew to trust him, because he was a beekeeper too. I ask him to say more about bees and about communism.

“Of course! It’s the commune concept. Bees work without fees or charges. See how they serve agriculture – without laziness! They’re up early every morning to pollinate; this is what guarantees the yield.” He highlights two principle points we need to understand. “Number one: Communal society. We can learn this from the bees. Number two: How to manage ecology, and life, without any charge.” They aren’t just making honey for themselves and sharing it equally, he explains, they’re also helping the whole ecosystem. I agree enthusiastically – it’s so important to understand this, particularly with colony collapse disorder which threatens bees everywhere, alongside and not at all unrelated to the capitalist individualism which is unraveling human culture everywhere. Not just important, he says: “It’s compulsory! We have have to build an international network around bees. They have to be a key part of the ecosocialist concept and movement.”

And he goes on to tell a story. “A few years ago I lost 25 hives in one night. I inspected. One farmer had used pesticide on his mustard crop. My bees went there. Now, I can value my loss economically, personally: About $100 per hive, so I lost $2500. But how can we value the loss ecologically, socially? Each hive has 20,000 bees – that’s 500,000 bees gone; no longer pollinating, no longer guaranteeing the harvest… I’ve seen eight species of bee go extinct. Eight years ago I brought European bees from India… It hurts me. Not because I like to distinguish between European and native bees; but to see those species disappear… and I had to take out a loan… Anyway, we need to put bees on the agenda. Without preserving bees we can’t imagine agriculture. And can we imagine humanity without agriculture?”

I ask him about the activities of his union. They are working to make this a government issue, a common issue, not just about beekeepers. They lobby for reduced use of pesticides. They have had some success at the local government level, alongside others who share the same cause. The Karnali province is going organic.[1] But bees are “transboundary resources” – and don’t follow the imaginary lines between provinces or nation states. So his work with the union, and his personal experience as a beekeeper, led him into another struggle, where power and poison swirl together, in the Kathmandu valley.

He spent years in Kathmandu advocating for labels to be put on food to indicate whether or not pesticides had been used in cultivation. For his efforts he was thrown in jail for three days – for infringing upon consumers’ rights, he was told – and then released without charges. He’s learning: “Don’t seek the masses. Seek people of quality… Look at the mandarin tree: It has thousands of leaves, and hundreds of branches, but only a dozen fruit.”

I recognize and record. I tell him that he’s one of those quality people, a rare mandarin who actually knows his own society. He disagrees: “society is never stable. It is always changing… Look around: up to the forest on the ridge, down to the city in the valley – less than ten kilometers from the jungle to the city center. The same ecological location, but different realities. Now the time is coming to review the meaning of development. A big road, a smooth road, a private water tap in the private house? One generation’s prosperity?”

He takes me further uphill. Goats, chickens, and tiny plots with polycultures: tomato, maize, beans, pumpkin, ganja, mint, and more I can’t recognize. We have come from tourist Thamel, through the  traffic of the pedestrian poor and the motorcycle middle class and the electric car rich, past the temple-state-corporate-hotelier complex, up the valley side where people still work the soil and breathe fresh air and drink the cleanest water that flows down the mountains. Above the last of these modest homesteads there is a fenced off area with a small altar, and water flowing from a stone tap. It’s not clear which deity presides, except the flowing water, which Laxman drinks from his hands with gusto.

“In the name of safe drinking water, development experts are advocating private taps,” he explains. “First, this creates social segregation. The village which used to gather at the taps gathers no longer. Next it leads to the payment system – to meters, to private service provision instead of community self-management. Finally, people lose control. They lose the right to water. The streams start on their land but they get hijacked.”

Clean water sounds simple and straightforward but follow the stream up to where it gets polluted and find yourself up against the most powerful local mafias. Saving the bees seems innocent enough, but follow this fight to its conclusion and find yourself up against the international megamachine. What’s killing the bees? Neonicotinoids – chemical compounds in pesticides.[2] Who makes them? Among a few others, Monsanto. Monsanto, recently merged with Bayer. And so, the humble beekeeper is up against Big Ag and Big Pharma, the poison and medical cartels who hustle the world coming and going, living and dying, minting and murdering millions by the minute. No wonder he’s a communist.

But the good news is that beekeepers like Laxman aren’t just fighting the problem – they’re custodians and caregivers of the solution. The bees! – whose quantum dancing puzzles and enchants the best minds of the 21st century.[3] “A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells,” wrote Karl Marx.[4] The bees, who are still ahead of the Marxists.[5] The bees — who are ecosocialists; who model egalitarian society and ecosystem management. The bees – who inspire revolutionary artists.[6] The bees, who teach children about sex! The bees – who make human civilization as we know it possible. “If a bee disappeared off the face of the Earth,” Albert Einstein is often quoted, “man would only have four years left to live.”  The bees – whose honey is still good to eat thousands of years later.[7]The bees – symbol and substance and struggle and sweetness, of the world we wish to see.


[1]    “Campaign to build pesticide-free province gains pace,” by Rastriya Samachar Samiti, March 2024, The Himalayan Times:

[2]    “The Playbook for Poisoning the Earth,” by Lee Fang, 2020:  / “Monsanto’s global weedkiller harms honeybees, research finds,” by Damian Carrington, 2018:

[3]    Two examples from East and West: “Honey bees receive flight instruction and vector course by following dance, shows study,” by Zhang Nahhan, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2023:  /  “Network-based diffusion analysis reveals context-specific dominance of dance communication in foraging honeybees,” by Matthew J. Hasenjager, William Hoppitt, and Ellouise Leadbeater, 2020:

[4]    Capital, Volume 1, Part 3, Chapter 7, Karl Marx, 1867

[5]    “Do Bees Produce Value? A conversation between an ecological economist and a Marxist geographer,” by Giorgios Kallis, 2017:

[6]    “The Beehive Design Collective is a wildly motivated, all-volunteer, activist arts collective dedicated to ‘cross-pollinating the grassroots’”:

[7]    The archaeology of honey so far… North Africa: ~3000 year old honey found in King Tut’s tomb. Caucasus: over ~6300 year old honey found in Georgia. All still good to eat.