We spent the night in a bhatti

“...it’s amazing all the new and odd flavors that your hands add to the rice, especially dirty ones.”

After 48 years languishing in a box, a letter dated 1965, hand written by a 13-year old Lincoln School boy to relatives in America, has been found by an American family that used to live in Kathmandu. In it, young Regon Unsoeld described his first trek with two other boys his age and a school teacher. Together they crossed the mid-hills from Gorkha’s now defunct Paluntar Airfield (where they landed in a lumbering old DC-3 Dakota aircraft) through Lamjung and Kaski districts to Pokhara.

Trekking was a new experience for the boys, and the age of Himalayan treks had not yet arrived. What Regon described was a slice-of-life glimpse of a more pristine Nepal of nearly a half century ago when the main routes of travel were still relatively unknown to outsiders. The trailside inns, called bhattis, were mostly used by locals, by Gurkha soldiers on their way home on leave, by a few American Peace Corps volunteers posted to the hinterland, and by mail men plying the ‘hulaki bato’, the ‘postal trail’ west of Kathmandu.

Written from a boy’s perspective, Regon’s letter comes complete with original sketches, on lined, yellow paper torn from a standard 3-ring pad. It is clear that the boys were especially impressed with sleeping on the floor in bhattis, eating rice and lentils with their fingers, and crossing a rickety bridge with missing planks high over the raging Marsiangdi river in the dark.

Their first night out on the trail was American Thanksgiving, and in addition to the standard fare that the inn-keep served they enjoyed a number of seasonal delicacies that Regon’s ‘mom’ had prepared and sent with him for the occasion. After that, however, each mid-morning and evening meal was simple rice, lentils and spicey vegetables and in the afternoon by a hot drink at a trailside teashop. /DM

The letter
Dear Grandmother, Grandad...[et al]
Over Thanksgiving Vacation, ...my teacher ...took two other boys and me on a 4-day trek. We started by flying from Kathmandu to Bharatpur, a southern border town. There our flight was held up for 6 hours due to heavy fog at Gorkha, our destination. Finally we got there. We lit out for Kunchha with our 30 pound packs but only got to Tharku Ghat where we spent the night in a bhatti (a kind of trailside inn where you can eat and sleep). There we had Thanksgiving Dinner. It consisted of rice, dal (a split-lentil in soup that goes on the rice), meat, canned chicken, chicken gravy, peanuts, prunes, raisins, dates, water, lemonade, and squash and mincemeat pies with hard sauce (biscuit-size pies) that mom made.
Although we didn’t mention it until later, it’s amazing all the new and odd flavors that your hands add to the rice, especially dirty ones. (The Nepalese eat with their hands and so did we.)

A bhatti is made of clay, bamboo and leaves. Rising from the clay floor are woven bamboo and leaf walls and roof. At night, wall sections are put across the openings.

As we crossed the bridge into Tharku Ghat, our flashlight beams picked out all the holes and missing rails. Ugh!
The rickety bridge over the Marsiangdi River at Tarkughat
The next day we passed through Kunchha, the town where [our teacher] lived when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer. We passed that night in a bhatti in the valley beyond Kunchha.

The next (third) day we hiked up and over and down to Pokhara Valley. We slept in a bhatti and went on to Pokhara the next day. From Pokhara we flew back to Kathmandu.

Regon Unsoeld (Kathmandu)

Our guest contributor, Regon Unsoeld, has fond memories of Kathmandu’s  Lincoln School and of the treks he took with friends into the hills and mountains. Today, Regon teaches high school in Tumwater, Washington (USA).