Featured image: Everest and Spectacular Himalaya Range from Pattale, 2017
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 3 September 2018
Trek 1 Pattale to Juke, Solukhumbu District, lower Everest region, Nepal
Pattale to Juke: There & Back, March 2013
The reason for this article is that Nepal is changing. The major treks are becoming crowded. Some tourists want to go to less visited places. We visited Pattale village in March 2013 and in late 2017. Much had changed in 5 years.
New roads are being pushed through into regions that were once isolated. One good example of this is Upper Mustang, which was once a long walk up the windy and gritty Kali Gandaki River to the former Tibetan Kingdom of Lo and its remote villages. Part of the construction of new roads is a subtle competition in influence between India and China. But other nations are also involved in providing aid, such as the Japanese, who are responsible for part of the excellent road along the Sunkoshi River, in the middle part of the journey to Okhaldhunga and Pattale in the Solukhumbu or lower Everest region.
Also the nature of the trekking fraternity is changing as well. Indians and Chinese are newer trekkers, and now middle class Nepalis have begun to be curious about their own country.
Similarly, a few years ago Pattale was difficult enough to reach that only intrepid tourists ever came. Still a nine-hour jeep ride, the newly tarred road is now the main route to Salleri the district headquarters of the Solukhumbu District.
Since the end of the Maoist insurgency many fit trekkers are again taking the harder route into the Everest region from Jiri Bazaar via Junbesi and Taksindu to Namche Bazaar, rather than flying to Lukla. Some of these are also diverting to climb Pikey Peak, which brings them into the Pattale area.
At 2840 metres Pattale provides sweeping views of the Everest Range, if the weather is right. I suspect that trekking from Pattale will grow quickly from now on. The village in late 2017 had that air of expectancy and change. We may bemoan civilization impinging on what used to be out of the way places, but it is improving the lives of locals.
A huge statue of Buddha is going to be erected beyond 2018 on a levelled hill just outside of Pattale — to promote tourism in the area. It probably will! There is room for a parking area for busloads of pilgrims. However, this will take some time and perhaps now is the time to trek from Pattale, before everything changes.
This article covers a trek in 2013 along the valley bottoms with an excellent introduction to Nepali village life. The next article on Pattale covers a trek we did with our friend Teresa’s Slow Trekking in November 2017 higher up along the rim of summer pastures from Pattale to Pikey Peak and then down to Paphlu via Junbesi and Taksindu La. Another interesting trek would be from Pattale to Pikey Peak then back to Kancha’s lodge with a very steep climb down to Juke village and back to Pattale. This could be done with Teresa or Dorje and Kancha because they have lodges at critical points. (See Further Information below).
Our longest trip to Nepal was in March/April 2013. Other parts of the trip are covered in Everest Trekking 1, Everest Trekking 2 and Postcard from Boudhanath Stupa. The reason we wanted to go to Pattale was twofold.
1 We’d become involved, particularly Denise, with a Foundation (formed by previous trekkers with Teresa) who had set up a health clinic in Dorje’s village of Pattale. We’d agreed to take some money to the Committee who ran the clinic and to report back on how things were going. Dorje as mentioned previously is Teresa’s head guide and a close friend.
The Health Clinic, now five years old, came about when Dorje was asked what most his village needed, and after consultation within the village, a primary health care post was the outcome.
2 On our first trip to Langtang in 2005, we went with the two brothers Kancha (youngest boy/son) and Pancha, recommended by Teresa. Kancha is also Dorje’s brother-in-law. In 2009 we went again to Langtang with a group of friends and decided to let Teresa do the hard work organising. On this trip Dorje was the guide and Kancha was Teresa’s guide/porter.
We knew from our first trip that Kancha unlike Dorje and Pancha preferred to be a farmer rather than to guide tourists. On that first trip Kancha spoke of his village Juke in such glowing terms that we said that we’d like him to take us there one day. In 2013 we decided to do this.
Kathmandu to Pattale
We were picked up from our accommodation in Kopan, by Kancha and Dorje, at the ungodly hour of 5.30 am. We arrived quickly to the side of the Ring Road, where the 4-Wheel drive vehicles leave from. It wasn’t until 6.30 am that we were underway. We’d paid for 5 seats for the four of us, so that us soft Westerners would have more room. I’m glad we did so, as it was an arduous journey.
Although there were patches of wonderful road built by the Japanese along the Sunkoshi River, whenever you came to a bridge it was either temporary or frequently there was no bridge and a diversion of several kilometres up into the hills on dodgy road was needed to get around the tributary stream. Once we crossed the river and headed uphill towards Okhaldunga the road though dirt was a little better. After 11-hours travel we arrived in Okhaldunga in the dark.
Escape from Kathmandu 1989 by Kim Stanley Robinson is a funny and outlandish series of stories about a group of ex-pats living in Kathmandu. He nails Kathmandu as a dusty, dirty city with food that all tastes like cardboard, which transforms when you return from trek into this cosmopolitan paradise containing the best food you’ve ever tasted. Similarly, he is brutal about the towns one reaches at the end of long bus rides, full of fields-of-shit and gruesome accommodation.
Okhaldhunga bazaar has elements of that description. The accommodation was grim, but anything was better than sitting in the jeep hour after hour. Next morning refreshed we walked out of Okhaldhunga downhill in lovely country to Mission Hospital. We thought that Mission was the ideal place to send sick people from Pattale. It used to be a four-hour walk for locals, sometimes carrying a stretcher, but with the rough dirt road, it was probably only three hours by vehicle.
We had to be careful about what we said because the Pattale clinic was not fully official. We were treated very cordially for unannounced guests and given a tour of the hospital. Mission Hospital is a Scandinavian Christian Community Hospital that has been operating in the area for over fifty years. It is a good model and undertakes an amazing amount of complex surgery and community health work through permanent and volunteer staff. At the end of our visit we were lobbied to encourage pregnant women to come down to Mission Hospital with a companion for up to two weeks before delivery.
After a quick early lunch, we headed of for Pattale. This was preliminary to our trekking in the Everest region and proved to be good acclimatisation. We started off confidently, following local trails through beautiful pine forests and scenery. However, both Denise and I soon became worried that we weren’t really prepared for trekking (shortness of breath) and as the afternoon drew on we felt that we’d trained inadequately and might not be able to trek Everest.
Eventually, as dusk was settling we arrived at a teashop on the road. We were exhausted and Dorje could see we weren’t going to get any further. Kancha had gone ahead that morning by bus with all our gear and the supplies we were bringing to the village.
While we had tea and some snacks, Dorje used his mobile to call ahead. Friends of his from Pattale came by motorcycle to pick us up. We felt like failures. I was chauffeured into Pattale on the back of Ram the headmaster’s bike.
In 2017, on a better road, we passed the spot of our ‘shame’ and looking down into the valley, we couldn’t believe now how far we’d climbed in an afternoon. We were champions!
Dorje’s family who are Tamang moved into the Gurung village of Pattale early in the Maoist insurgency from the village of Tihure (about an hour-and-a-half away for fit locals). Dorje always felt that they had a struggle for acceptance. Dorje’s father Di (Neewa Dawa) and mother Ama still live there and we stayed in their house. The kitchen was dirt-floored with a functional clay stove and doors to the street. This was the
centre of activity in the house and where guests were received. While we were there it was even busier than usual. In the back were wooden floored bedrooms with storerooms and a toilet/bathroom downstairs. I kept hitting my head on the wooden door lintels particularly the one to our bedroom, which was hidden by a cloth.
Next door lived Lek, who is a Magar, a dear older friend to Dorje and his family. Subas Lek’s son has been my guide/porter on two occasions. He is a wonderful young man and now runs his own trekking company (see below).
We spent a few days in the village talking with the village committee formally and informally, getting to know people and doing short walks into the surrounding countryside, familiarising ourselves with the area. We left the formal meetings buried in khatas (the Tibetan ceremonial gift scarves) and learned enough to write a comprehensive report on how the clinic was going.
Pattale is beautifully situated with fabulous views of Everest and the Himalayan mountain range and wonderful rhododendron trees and forests almost everywhere.
In Nepal spring and autumn (fall) are the main trekking seasons. In spring, one has marvellous rhododendron forests to enjoy, but the build-up of dust in the air often means that views of mountains from a distance are poor. Often in the Kathmandu Valley and in Pokhara one doesn’t see any mountains at all. The monsoon washes the dust out of the air and the views of mountains from a distance in autumn are magnificent.
In spring 2013, the views of the mountains were good, occasionally framed by rhododendrons. However, the mountain views were more pristine in the autumn of 2017.
Juke there and back
After a few days we left Pattale early morning to walk down to Kurung. This took us a few hours but local children walk down to the highschool in Kurung every morning and back every afternoon. It takes them an hour each way. We lingered a short while in Kurung because Dorje had attended highschool here and had also taught at the highschool after he finished (this is not unusual). We kept descending through farmland and interesting Sherpa houses to Sisa Khola (on the river) where we had lunch. After which we ascended, and Denise and I found the going harder. We passed a big school at Tapting but did not stop. We had lovely views towards Juke and snowy hills beyond, one of which I think was Pikey Peak. It had snowed lightly overnight.
We were exhausted by the time we arrived in Juke at dusk. It was a long day. We visited Kancha’s house briefly but went to sleep early.
Next day we interacted with Durga, Kancha’s wife, and his children, familiarised ourselves with the village and its surrounds, including meeting many of the inhabitants at various times, especially at a formal afternoon tea and singsong.
In the morning we visited a flour mill on the stream that Kancha had donated to the community. Kancha described to us how he’d purchased the millstone and employed four porters to carry it to the village. It took them four days and he had to pay a large amount of money for each carrying stage (how porters are paid), because of the weight. The stone and the transport made it an expensive gift, but a mill is essential to a community in Nepal.
We also walked up across the stream and up the hill to the school, which gave us wonderful panoramic views down on Juke and across and up to Pattale. The school was not open and is only intermittently.
Juke, a primarily Tamang village, like most remote Nepali villages was populated almost exclusively by women and children. The men are away working, either in the trekking industry, labouring, in hospitality or working overseas most of the time. Kancha was one of the few males who farmed there as often as he could. Doma’s husband Lakpa (a previous/guide porter on our second Langtang trek), for example, was working in Korea.
We’d found the same previously in the upper Helambu Valley at the end of the Langtang trek. Helambu is a relatively wealthy Sherpa area not far from Kathmandu where the men are involved in hospitality or trading in winter and nowadays stay away for much longer periods. There is little regular employment in Nepal and work in India and overseas offers better prospects.
The people of these remote valleys are remarkably self-sufficient. Kancha, for example, as well as being competent with agriculture and livestock, is a handyman or jack-of-all-trades. He can build a house from scratch and do numerous other activities necessary for survival. Should civilisation collapse, these village people could carry on as if nothing had happened. The Solukhumbu had not had a political representative for 19 years until a couple of years ago. They are still a little worried about how this is going to affect them.
During the Maoist insurgency, there was a large battle fought above Pattale on the way to Tuhure. In remote villages, such as Juke the Maoists came in and demanded accommodation food and blankets. They also wanted to take young men and women for recruits. They commandeered scarce resources and one couldn’t say no. Then, the army came through and beat you up for helping the Maoists. Perhaps the only thing that made Kancha smile about this time was that the Maoists trashed the large house of the wealthy landlord, who was absent in Kathmandu.
We were made extremely welcome in Juke and learned more about village life in Nepal than we’d had the opportunity to before.
We stayed two nights. On the second morning Denise stayed in bed while I went off somewhere with Kancha and Dorje (an unusual scenario, as I like my sleep). When we returned, Denise had been plied with rakshi by Durga and a couple of her friends and was slightly tipsy. My return was the excuse for several more glasses. As this was 7.30 am, I sipped and discreetly tipped mine into the agricultural drain outside the room when no-one was looking. Denise was too polite.
Rakshi is the drink that one gets mostly in villages throughout Nepal it is distilled from a brewed mash, mostly from Kodo a variety of millet, but it can be made from other things such as wheat, potatoes or rice.
We had trouble getting away from the village after lunch as gifts and khata were distributed endlessly and the women seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. Denise was still recovering from the rakshi, so we only made it to Sisa Khola that evening and slept in adequate accommodation beside the river.
On the way down, there was a big ceremony at the school at Tapting, we missed the main part which was a celebration of a large donation from foreigners by a local big-man trekking guide. New polar-fleece jackets with the school name on them had been given to virtually everyone.
Sisa Khola being the lowest place we reached on the journey was more fertile than Juke or Pattale. There was one particularly lovely house outside of the village. The walk back-up to Pattale next morning wasn’t onerous with many interesting things to see on the way.
We spent a few more days at Pattale familiarising ourselves further with the area and returned via the same tedious jeep ride, at least directly from Pattale this time. The airport at Paphlu wasn’t functional to Kathmandu at this time.
Key Words: Pattale, Juke, Solukhumbu, lower Everest, Mount Everest, Himalaya Range, village life, rakshi, trek, trekking, Nepal
Dorje & Teresa
We choose to go ethical trekking rather than relying on commercial companies or hiring porters individually. Although we began trekking in Nepal by hiring our guide through the Internet. More ethical or responsible trekking can sometimes be slightly more expensive, but for a middle class Westerner Nepal is always cheap. Teresa only does package tours (she is responsible for you from landing to departure). Dorje does both packages and daily rate treks.
Dorje Tamang comes from Pattale in the Solukhumbu District or Lower Everest Region though he now lives in Kathmandu. I have known Dorje well for over ten years and would recommend him highly as a trekking organiser and guide. His email is: [email protected]. Dorje is honest, trustworthy and extremely experienced in organising and conducting treks anywhere in Nepal.
Dorje Tamang is also known as Nawa Tamang or Chyang. All Nepalese have these different nicknames. Tamang is Dorje’s ethnic group, other ethnic groups from the mountain areas of Nepal are Sherpa, Gurung, Rai and others.
Teresa Williams of SlowTrekking offers both full trekking and a cultural tour, which is a great introduction to the country. Her website also contains useful information about conditions, what to wear and what to expect in Nepal. This is an ethical company that respects the local culture and treats her guide porters well and responsibly. Dorje and Lahar are her senior guide/organisers.
Subas Lek’s son is Dorje’s next door neighbour in Pattale. I had Subas as my own guide/porter on our second Langtang trek in 2009 and on our Everest Trek on 2013. Subas is a charming and intelligent young man. On our first trek I could see he had great potential but he was unsure of what he could do given the limitations of work in Nepal. As well as improving his English, labouring and teaching, he developed his ambitions on his own. He also worked in a Chinese Restaurant in Pokhara for a time and learned to speak Chinese. I met him on our ABC trek in late 2017 and was very impressed with how far he has come. He has formed his own trekking company and conducts tours for English speakers, other Europeans, especially French and Italians and Chinese speakers.
Subas’s Step Himalaya Trek Pvt Ltd website
What trip advisor says about Subas and Step Himalaya
Pattale Community Health Centre and Bright Futures
Bright Futures is another small NGO in Patan in Kathmandu that we support.
Both can be accessed through Teresa’s Website, as can an outline of Dorje’s good work after the earthquakes. Dorje is still involved in other development work with individual supporters. Donations are always welcome. Donating direct to worthwhile small NGOs is in my view a far better approach than donating to large organisations because every dollar of your support goes directly to the project.
Mission Hospital also has its own website with some limited information about what they do.