The sleepy Dzukou Valley in Nagaland is one of Northeast India’s best kept secrets. Find out why it is every trekker’s dream to explore this part of paradise. By Sugato Tripathy
There is something elemental about the mountains, which leaves most of us dreamy eyed and transcends us to a silent state of being. The dazzling white snow-capped ones are not the only ones that reserve the right to stun us. The hills of the mystical Dzukou Valley on the border of Manipur and Nagaland in Northeast India offer a view, which is absolute storybook splendour. The incredible topography where dense green hills of various altitudinal range, shape and size, run into each other and blend seamlessly under an exhilarating green carpet.
My tour company had recommended a full day for the trek and termed it as a “light-moderate journey.” Little did I know before signing the contract that the four hours (one-way) trek would involve vertiginous climbs and precarious descends combined with slippery narrow pathways, gushing streams, and tall overgrown bushes blinding your vision intermittently. Dzukou Valley can be approached via two routes. The shorter, steeper, and more difficult route is through Zakhama Village, and usually preferred by experienced trekkers. The longer route, which involves relatively easier ascends and descends is through Viswema Village. Since this is a eight to nine-hour-long trek (both ways combined), it is advisable to take a porter to carry water, food, and even tents; add sleeping bags and warm clothing to the list if you wish to spend the night there. Preferably, take the services of a local travel agency, which usually provides a porter and a guide. They also take care of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) required for all Indian and foreign tourists to visit places in Nagaland.
The four-wheeler path ends at Viswema Village (25 km from capital Kohima). You can also choose to start from Zakhma village (20 km from Kohima). We started from the base village of Viswema. The trekking path at the beginning is a narrow dirt road with protruding stones, uneven pebbles, and muddy slush pools. The second level of the trek is a steep winding climb via stone slabs cut in a whimsical manner. The 1,200 odd stairs to the top of the hill cut through a dense forest of bamboo, oak, chestnut, birch, and maple trees. When my body started cramping after half an hour, I realised that my two days’ crash course in the gym to get ready for the trek wasn’t enough. However, my guide and the porter seemed to be walking on a different terrain. Skipping, jumping, and swerving like hey were in a children’s park playing the joy rides with ease and fun. “We once came here with our friends and covered the trek in 2.5 hours,” chided Ruzono, my guide. Unfortunately, it didn’t help in speeding me up. “The pathway and the surrounding are always damp and moist as the place receives rainfall for close to eight months a year,” informed my porter Zang, seeing me slip several times, involuntarily accompanied with a sheepish smile.
Once we trekked up the mountain (which took about two hours), the view was rewarding. Clouds floated beneath us and it marked the entrance of Dzukou Valley. As we embarked on the trek path, the topography changed abruptly. The hills became lush green. Identical sloping mountains emerged on either side at the base of which meandered the narrow River Dzukou. The trek path has been carved out of the sloping hills and thus moves along the natural curve. All along the route, the unconventional landscape enchants you. Charred black tree trunks and branches dot the gorgeous slopes throughout the trek forming the perfect juxtaposition between the green hills and the blooming flowers. Apart from the famous white lilies endemic to this region, there are a plethora of other exotic wild flowers
that bloom seasonally. Since the entire valley is filled with a type of tough bamboo bush, it makes the place look like a large freshly mowed lawn.
Legendary stories about the locale from ancient folklores of Nagaland make the trek even more interesting. An uncanny feature is the presence of numerous charred black tree trunks and branches. These black woods seem like installations of modern art sculptures in a quirky terrain. I wondered about the reason for their existence. Was it because of forest fire? Or, some killer fungi? “Dzukou is haunted by spirits,” said Ruzono in a hushed tone. “They don’t let the trees bear leaves. The reason why the grass and flowers around the trees bloom, but the trees don’t. It is a cursed land.” Zang seemed to disagree. “There is no such thing. The locals methodically burn the trees every year to keep the spirits happy and at bay,” he said. I was already regretting my question when I heard the word ‘spirit’ twice! There are many theories floating around the charred woods. The more believable one indicates an unprecedented forest fire. I also learnt that Dzukou in the local dialect means ‘dull and soulless,’—an irony considering its spectacular scenery.
The four-hour-long trek can be arduous and challenging for the inexperienced or first timers. However, the mesmerising view at the end justified every effort put into reaching here. Reminiscent of the sand dunes in the Thar (Rajasthan) or the cold desert of Nubra Valley (Kashmir), numerous smooth shaped hills rolled into each other in an intertwined pattern. Rows of white lily and purple shrubs were interspersed with myriad shapes of black tree trunks on green wavy grassland. The grandeur of the sight was stunning and the sense of peace absolute. All the trekkers who reached along with me shared an unspoken joy of watching nature’s elemental beauty offered as the perfect reward at the end. Trek further down to the valley to reach the river and you find yourself in the midst of a wonderland. It is impossible to describe Dzukou Valley in phrases that aren’t clichés—breathtaking, enchanting, and unforgettable.
Dimapur is the nearest air terminal. Daily flights operate between the nearest metro, Kolkata, and Dimapur. Cabs charge INR 2,000 onwards for one way. The ideal base to start the trek is Viswema village or Zakhma village, both at an hours’ drive from capital, Kohima.
June to September is the period when the flowers are in full bloom. However, trekking in the monsoons can be a bit difficult.
Trekkers and nature-lovers.
Once you’ve reached at the end of the trek path (where the rest houses are built), go further below and explore the River Dzukou. The place also has a helipad, where tourists have their packed lunch while enjoying views of the hills.