Her clientele include world’s who-is-who. The honey lady of Kashmir’s journey with beekeeping started by chance, rather by choice. Ubeer Naqushbandi tells her story
Her clientele include Mick Jagger, lead vocalist and co-founder of The Rolling Stone; Tunji Banjo, a former professional footballer of Nigerian-Irish decent; Yash Chopra, late Bollywood producer and Karan Singh, the last Dogra heir of Kashmir.
Meet Haseena Khan, who is in her late fifties, and known to her foreign clients as ‘The honey lady of Kashmir’.
Located on the banks of a Nallah that joins Dal and Nigeen Lakes, Haseena’s ‘Oriental Apiary’ is among the famous addresses in Naidyaar.
Haseena’s journey with bee keeping started when, as a young girl, she would be entrusted the safety of wooden boxes by her father. “My father used to teach me how to keep honey boxes safe from wasps that would hover over them,” recalls Haseena.
Without any formal training or degree Hassena has learned the art of beekeeping from her father Ahmed Ali Khan.
In fact, Haseena’s father had learned the art of bee keeping from an Englishman, who was a teacher at Tyndale Biscoe School. “He took it as a hobby,” says Haseena.
Eventually, because of circumstances, her father had to take up beekeeping as a full time profession. “My grandfather who used to deal with Kashmir arts suffered huge losses in business. Thus leaving my young father with no option but to earn for himself,” says Haseena. “And he knew nothing but beekeeping.”
In order to overcome the losses Haseena’s grandfather Haji Jaffar Khan, sold his ancestral property at Sheikh Bagh, for a paltry sum to late PM of Kashmir Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s brother Majeed Bakshi. “It now houses present day Pamposh hotel,” says Haseena. “After selling the property he then moved to Naidyar.”
Located on the banks of River Jhelum, Naidyar, proved to be perfect place for beekeeping. It had everything from gushing water streams, scented flowers, and easy accessibility to customers who would pass the area on a Shikara. “People, mostly foreigners used, to come on Shikaras to buy honey from my father’s apiary,” recalls Haseena. “Life was back on track for our family.”
But the normalcy was short lived. In July 1987, a mysterious disease named Warwa spread like wild fire and destroyed honey bees across Kashmir. “My father had to burn all the frames in our apiary. It was heartbreaking but he had no choice,” says Haseena.
But Haseena’s father didn’t lose heart, instead, he purchased new boxes and bought Italian breed of honey bees. “This breed had more yield than the ones we used to keep earlier,” says Haseena.
The Italian bees proved lucky for Haseena’s father as business grew manifolds. But Haseena’s father’s sudden death put business on hold for a time being. “A few days before his death my father made me promise that I will continue running Oriental Apiary,” says Haseena. “I am carrying forward his legacy.”
After her father’s death, the first major order that Haseena got was from a Delhi based merchant named Ved Prakash Sharma.
Over the years Hassena has learned how to stay ahead of her competitors by perfecting the art of beekeeping. “During winters when there are no flowers around I feed bees manually,” says Haseena.
After every yield Haseena makes sure that adequate amount of honey for bees to sustain through winters. That is why, perhaps doctors tell their patients: if possible, get it from Haseena. Within no time Haseena’s customer base has grown to far off places like Norway and Australia. “Business automatically grows when you treat your customers well,” feels Haseena. “Besides, bees produce what they eat. So it is important to feed them well.”
Haseena is pained by the fact that a number of beekeepers feed their bees sugar to get artificial sweetness. “It is wrong.”
Haseena, who runs her apiary from Srinagar, transfers her colonies, around 200 in number, to Sonamarg during ‘blossoming period’ necessary for honey-bees to suck nectar in plenty. Honey is extracted twice a year, one during late spring and second at the onset of spring. Haseena collects around 4 quintals of honey every season, depending upon climatic conditions.
Haseena remembers how one day a customer landed at her doorstep looking for best quality honey. “He was different from other customers. He started inquiring about small details related to my apiary,” recalls Haseena.
He left without saying a word. After a few months a parcel arrived at Oriental Apiary. It contained a book titled ‘ABC&XYZ of Bee Culture’. The parcel had a letter too which read: Haseena you are doing a wonderful work, really impressed.
“It was from noted entomologist Amos Eves of Canada,” says Haseena, who now understood who the mysterious visitor was.
Haseena is the second person from Kashmir to find a mention in Lovely Planet Guide Book.
How to Start
To start an apiary wooden boxes are required in which a maximum of 10-12 frames are inside. Then bees are put inside it. One swarm has one queen bee, drones and workers ranging from 10-15 thousand in number. Royal honey is special food prepared by worker bees for the Queen bee.
During summers these boxes are carried to places near forests where ample amount of orchid blossom is present.
In winter these boxes need extra care, in order to protect bees from cold, grass and cotton is put between frames called as winter padding.
Benefits of Honey
Honey is considered as tonic for various ailments which heals wounds, arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases, hair fall, infertility, jaundice and even can be good for expectant mothers. It is beneficial for treatment of various types of cancers, claims Haseena. Propalis or the dark coloured honey is effective in treating throat infection. Sting of bees cures joint problem by improving blood circulation, claims Haseena.
“I managed to sail though ups and down in life just because I am surrounded by sweetness all the time,” says Haseena.