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A bitter honeybee experience

Our experience with honeybee attack and lessons learned.

Me along with my 17 friends from gir planned a kayaking and adventure trip with Wilderness India (a Surat based organisation which arranges adventure tours) to the dang forest on 23-25 October. On the last day we had planned a trek to Nahvi mountain in the Shayadri range of Maharashtra.

Nahvi is a fort built on a 4200ft mountain by Shivaji which has beautiful views from the top of the mountains of the entire Shayadri range. We started the climb at about 6pm and reached the top at 9pm at night. We did not need to use our torches because the entire mountain was lit with moonlight and almost everything was fairly visible. The trek has some very steep and risky climbs but the view from the top is breathtaking. After reaching the top, we piteched our tents, made tea, had snacks and slept.

The next morning, after breakfast we packed our bags and were about to descend, when a single honeybee started hovering above my head and stung me on my ear. As a reaction, I instantly shook my head and slapped the bee to kill it. It had left its sting inside my ear and as soon as I killed it, it released pheromone (A chemical substance which produces smell on stinging of a bee to attract other bees).

Within 5 seconds 3-4 more bees flew in and stung me on my face. My friends instantly took me to the bonfire that we had lit last night and kept me over the smoke of that fire to distract bees.

The series of things that occurred in the next 1 minute is one of the most frightening event in our life.

- Thousands of honeybees flew in and started attacking entire group.

- Some of us started running and screaming for help.

- Myself, and two other friends got severely stung by more than 20 bees.

- One member got entirely covered with bees and they all started stinging him.

-There is a small 9 feet deep water well on top of the mountain which is built by Shivaji and had dirty and stagnant water filled inside it. One of the member jumped into the well and we all followed him to the well. It was exactly like a "JALYAWALA BAUG MASSACRE)

All this happened in less than a minute. No one had thought of how deep would be the well, would there be stones or just mud in the well, how dirty the water is etc. Luckily the well had just waist deep water and mud but the water was stagnant and extremely dirty and cold. The bees started hovering above the well and still kept stinging on our heads as only our heads were above water. We started splashing the water to drive away the bees but nothing worked. (AFTER READING FEW PAPERS ON BEE ATTACKS, I NOW KNOW THAT JUMPING IN THE WATER IS THE LEAST OPTION THAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER AS THE HONEYBEES WAIT FOR YOU TO COME OUT)

The water was chilling cold and we started to shiver after a while.

There were crabs inside the water but we felt safer in there compared to the bees outside. We started removing the bee-stings from each others body (bees leave there stings inside our body when they sting). No one had except 4 of us remembered to keep our mobile phones outside and all the phones were now wet. After staying in the dirty, cold water for about an hour our leader (volunteer of Wilderness India) dared and decided to go out and call someone for help. He climbed up the well and ran instantly to covert himself with sleeping bags. After that he called a local villager whose number we had taken because we thought we would ask him to prepare tea for us when we return.

We told the local that we are attacked by honeybees and all of us are in the well since one hour. the local immediately said he is coming with few more people. After about 30 minutes there were 4 villagers(they were grazing cattle on the mountain and the guy whom we called passed the message to them so that they can reach up fast for help) at the location. They asked us to leave the area immediately and do not worry about anything. They pulled us out of the well and asked to cover our faces with our sleeping bags and start to descend. The carried marigold flowers and kept on rubbing the petals, the smell of that flower kept the bees away from us (on asking, first they said it is because the flowers were holy).

From the papers i read on bee attacks and its cure, it is now confirmed that marigold smell is a natural repellent to bees. It took us 3 hours to get down the mountain. The bees were following us but we were now safe because of the flowers and the sleeping bags. they followed us till about 2 kms. By the time we reached down I had started feeling sleepy, and 2 other friends who were severely affected started vomiting and diarrhoea. Wilderness India’s team was very well aware of the local area and knew exactly where the nearest hospital was. They took us there and all of us started getting the basic first aid.

We are now safe and back but I feel like sharing few learnings from our experience and papers that I read with friends who stays and works in jungles and take adventure camps.

- Always carry a blanket, sleeping bag or something to cover yourself incase of bee attack (even if it is a one day outing).

- Incase of bee attack, don't kill it as killing a bee will attract more bees with aggressive attitude.

- The best thing to do is to run as fast as you can(we were on a mountain ridge and hence we could not run).

- Try to run against the wind as the speed of the bees will be reduced against the wind.

- Diving in a waterbody is the 2nd option that must be considered ( the bees wait for you to get out and this can take hours).

- Carry a kerosene lamp (Bees do not like that smell and hence keeps away).

- Keep a local villager with you (even if you are familiar with the place).

- Avoid using deodorant sprays as bees get irritated by that and gets aggressive.

- If there is anything precious, it is our life. (None of us thought about our mobile phones getting damaged, none of us thought about the schedule we had planned for the next day, none of us thought about the dirty water. All we cared about was to save our lives).

- NATURE IS THE ULTIMATE STRENGTH. IT HAS POWER TO KILL, IT HAS POWER TO SAVE.

- NATURE ALWAYS GOVES A SOLUTION WITH A PROBLEM (the only way we could save ourselves on that mountain was a waterbody and there was one!!)

- IF THERE IS GOD, HE IS IN THE FORM OF NATURE.

After this experience, we do not think it is risky to go to such places and we will not stop going to mountains because we feel that it was a natural event. All we can do is learn lessons and take precautions.

In the end, this not just our world. It belongs to everyone and everyone has a right to do its natural thing.

I thank everyone who was with me and specially Wilderness India because of the amazing positivity, willpower and support they have shown in such a helpless and difficult situation.

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Being a nature and adventure lover since my childhood, I have spent most of free times in jungles and mountains. By profession, I am a renewable energy engineer and design solar PV systems but my heart and soul remains in the wilderness