Discovering Nagaland - Into the Frozen Dzukou Valley
A few steep steps through the mountainous rain-forest, and I found myself distancing from our last visible group member. We were instructed to stay together and it was unfair to keep the group waiting for me. I was already questioning if I should have signed up for this. I am not great at group activities and I would have been better alone at my own pace.
Kiko joined behind me, and offered to help with my bag for the steep ascend. Kiko was our 24 year old trek guide from Jakhama and a trekking enthusiast herself who had already taken up around 50 treks. Every few steps uphill and I would be panting for breath, begging for a halt, asking her how many more steps. Only to be disappointed to know I was not even 50% through. An hour of climbing and many halts in-between, we were finally on top of the mountain. I was glad the trek through the rain-forest was over and believe me, it was the most arduous part of the trek.
This place offered a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, valleys and plains of Nagaland.
The first encounter of the Dzukou Valley -
What followed next was, some hours long walk through a narrow way passing from the dense bamboo-grass forest. The way still had surprises and compelled us to be mindful of our every step ahead. A little distraction and you were bound to land on your face. Every once in a while I stopped for those astonishing views that the valley was throwing at us. A poster perfect view of the endlessly stretched uniform grassland, made us curious to discover what lies ahead.
The valley's major attraction is its dwarf-bamboo vegetation spread all across the valley. The only thing that breaks the monochrome of these grass blades are charred barks of lifeless trees which must have been burnt by forest fires in the region.
Here is a recent article I read, which mentions of the forest fires and how the invasive dwarf-bamboos have been dominating over the earlier existing trees of the forest lands.
One will be pleasantly surprised by the dense rain-forests covering the mountain in the beginning of the trek and the stark contrast of the bamboo grasslands across the Dzukou Valley.
Half way through the monotonous walk, we could spot the sole guesthouse of Dzukou. The only musing on our trek were strangers on their way back and their random greetings or encouragement to keep walking. Every turn on the serpentine invisible route, only deceived our idea of the distance yet to be covered.
Roko, our other guide, was leading us through the remaining route. We reached the guesthouse, well past the afternoon. Kiko had hurried to the guesthouse before us, to get some delicious meals cooked by the time we reached.
We filled our hungry souls and rested our tired soles for the first time in hours. My feet were already wobbly.
A few steps behind the VIP guestrooms were two wooden benches facing the valley. By now we had started feeling the winter wind in our ears. Packing ourselves in our beanie caps, thermals, jackets and boots, we walked up to the empty benches. Barely enough to sit, but sufficient enough to fall in love with the Dzukou Valley.
The charismatic sunset of Dzukou Valley -
This was the closest we could ever get to Nagaland's raw untouched beauty. As we sat in silence, the nature was whispering its magic spell into our ears. Little chirping birds flying back home, the hissing bamboo grasses swaying in the wind and the endless stretches of greens soothing the soul. The setting sun was painting the sky in the most charismatic shades of orange and red. A cluster of clouds added to the drama unfolding in the sky.
Sitting there, I was in disbelief of what had just conspired in front of my eyes. Was this better than the sunsets I witnessed at the Radhanagar beach of Havelock Island, or the one in Ao Nang of Krabi Island, or that of the little hill town, Vagamon!
Why did the sun surprise me at every new destination when it is the same sun I had seen from my balcony back at home?
As soon as the darkness took over, the excruciating winter winds were giving us chills. No amount of layering helped. We warmed ourselves around the fire while chatting with the group members and getting to know each other better. Kiko cooked a pot of rice and lentil porridge on the firewood which took hours. She struggled to contain the heat from the fire because of the harsh winds. However, that felt like the yummiest meal I had ever had.
We retired for the day, packed in our sleeping bags and blankets. My feet were hurting now and the chilling air simply would not allow me to fall asleep. I must say that was the hardest night of my Nagaland tour.
A walk into the frozen Dzukou Valley -
Morning did start sooner than expected, when we heard Roko knocking at the door. "Girls, would you be coming down the valley or would you like to stay back" were his words. The time was around 5:30 a.m. In no time we jumped out of our sleeping bags, layered up in our thermals, jackets, gloves and mask and ready to head into the frozen valley.
A trek to the Dzukou valley in December is never complete without witnessing the frozen views of the valley. So we marched into the valley, yesterday's green grassland now seemed blue with the dwarf-bamboo leaves frozen. A few descends and ascends, following behind Roko, we noticed our eyebrows and eyelashes were covered in frost. We did not dare to touch a single frozen leaf on the way afraid of the coldness. So our hands were tucked in our pockets. A glance now and then into the valley and we could see only white sheets of frost all around.
A mystical Dzukou valley unfolded in front of our eyes.
About an hour later, we were in front of a river stream, which had a frozen crystalline ice layer over it and the sound of water calmly flowing underneath. Holding on to each other we crossed the river, careful enough to not lose the balance. The least we wanted was to get drenched in cold stream of water. We were now in the center of the valley, with a beautiful panoramic view of the entire frozen valley.
The sun came up from behind the mountains and every ray of light reaching the frozen valley, gave it a magical glow. The frost on every little leaflet was melting to form little droplets that reflected VIBGYOR colour light around it. The valley seemed like a bed of tiny glittering lights. We stood under a little cave witnessing all the magic unfold in front of us.
The sun crawled higher and we could feel the warmth in the surrounding. We hiked back to the guesthouse feeling heavy on our feet.
A quick breakfast and it was time to head back to our base camp in Jakhama. The descend completed only by the afternoon.
The feet were tired and wobbly, the hairs messy, the muscles aching, the body smelled of sweat and dust, and all that the soul experienced was NIRVANA.
ALso read -
The Dzukou Valley Trek Guide
Sharing an apprehensive guide to Dzukou Valley Trek below -
About the Dzukou Valley of Nagaland -
The Dzukou Valley, a special highlight of Northeast India, lies between Nagaland and Manipur and often termed the 'No Man's Land' as it is an disputed territory claimed by both these states.
The Dzukou valley has never been inhibited by any living beings, inspite of its abundance in greenery, beautiful landscapes, clear water streams flowing through the valley. The harsh weather conditions are blamed for the same.
The name 'Dzukou' or 'Dzuku' in Angami dialect means 'Dull and Soulless' and has many tribal folklores related to the valley, passed over generations of oral history.
The Dzukou valley has its seasonal magic spells if I may say so. Through the summer-monsoon season the valley is filled with lilies stretched across the valley. While the onset of winters mean waking up to the white frost covered slopes of the Dzukou valley.
The Dzukou Valley Trek -
The Dzukou valley trek was the major highlight of our trip to Nagaland. I had researched the internet mostly about this place than any other attraction we had in the planned itinerary. Those poster perfect landscape pictures of Dzukou that the internet throws at you, adds to your curiosity and the longing to be there some day.
Difficulty level of the trek -
Moderate to Difficult. (Easy if you are a seasoned trekker)
Accessing the Dzukou Valley -
We headed for the most awaited trek on the second morning of our tour. We were briefed to carry only the absolute essentials for the trek as we had to stay there overnight.
Dzukou can be accessed from Kohima in Nagaland, however there are some groups who have even accessed it from Manipur.
Jakhama and Visvema are the two entry points to the Dzukou valley. Both these villages are easily approachable from Kohima.
The Jakhama route is quite steep though shorter in distance. The approach through Visvema is recommended for your first visit and also for people looking for easier trekking routes. (However the easiness is relative to the Jakhama route, this one too gives you surprises through the trek).
It can take around 5-6 hours to reach the top where the guest house/dormitory is located.
Best time to visit Dzukou Valley -
The valley is accessible throughout the year.
Come between May to September if you would want to see the Dzukou lillies.
Be careful during the monsoons as the route could be slippery and murky.
Visit between December to February for witnessing the frozen valley. You may even be lucky to see a snowfall there. You could also club it with your visit to the Hornbill festival like us.
Accommodations in Dzukou Valley-
To witness the beauty of the valley, its recommended that you stay overnight and trek down into the valley the next morning and witness the beautiful sunrise.
Accommodations are pretty basic here.
There are two large dormitory rooms where you can spend the night. Also two VIP rooms are available which are often pre-booked. The VIP rooms just have wooden beds and an attached bathroom.
People even put up their own tents around the dormitory.
Food is not available and you are expected to carry something along
Water has to be sourced from the nearby water stream.
Essentials to carry along -
Warm layers of clothing as the temperature dips to sub-zero by night. Include Beanies, Thermals, Jackets, 2 layers of socks and hand gloves. Masks to help you breath in the cold winds.
One water bottle and one flask for warm water.
Wear a sturdy trekking shoes, to avoid hurting your feet.
Power banks for mobiles or cameras. There is no electricity supply to charge your electronics.
Energy bars or nuts or trail mix to keep you full through the trek.
**Do not carry very heavy backpacks, as it may cause difficulty in your trek.
Tip - Though the Dzukou valley trek can be done alone, I would recommend to join a group tour or hire a guide from Visvema / Jakhama Village. At times you may end up taking the wrong route and lose your way. One must reach the guesthouse before sunset as it may get very dark and difficult to navigate.
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