‘Dzukou Valley is a magical place’ is the only thing we had heard from everyone whom we had interacted with. But each one of us who had set foot on this valley bordering the states of Nagaland and Manipur had our own description based on who saw it when.
I was there during early winter with warm days and freezing nights but without snowfall.
Along with a guide, I started to ascend an unassumingly steep path from Jakhama around 11.30 am. Although we were climbing at noon, it felt as if it was post-sunset. The entire trail was encompassed in a thick canopy of trees through which the sunlight could hardly penetrate. The body heat generated by burning calories seemed insufficient to keep us warm. As the hike progressed, the trail only got steeper at almost an 80-degree gradient. After climbing for a couple of hours, the forests suddenly opened to the blue skies. Before my eyes could adjust to the bright light, I was staring at my first glimpse of the valley. I was at a loss of breath. Not because of the tiring climb or the strong cold winds that were making it difficult for me to stand; but because I was transported to a spellbinding world. The setting sun was engulfing the green rolling hills.
We continued our walk. The trail on the edge of the cliff, the green hills appearing one after the other and the sky changing its shade with every second, kept us going until we had finally made it to the dormitory for the night’s stay. Even as we approached our destination at 4.30 pm, the sky continued to mesmerise us by illuminating the silhouettes of the surrounding hills while turning from red to black. With the engulfing darkness, I had started to freeze and shiver as the temperature dropped to single digits. But I did not move from there as I kept staring at what was the clearest night sky I had seen in a long while. So many stars twinkled over the Dzukou Valley! As reality started to hit me hard, I started to get cramps in my feet and had to hurriedly go and warm myself with my thermals and the firewood that was lit to cook food in the kitchen. With the passing night, the temperature dropped further. Our thermals and sleeping bags didn’t seem enough. We borrowed additional blankets to help ourselves in the large hall which had just walls, a roof, and a wooden floor to sleep on.
I woke up at 5 am the following morning and stepped out for the hike down to the valley. The morning light was still dim, and I felt the earth below my feet crackling. It did not take me too long to realise that all the grass on which I was walking and the entire valley that surrounded me, were frozen. The temperature had dropped below zero in the night and the frozen valley looked splendid from the distance! My guide and I walked down to the valley to witness what was supposed to be the main reason we had embarked on this trek to Dzukou — the sunrise! We walked past what the locals call the cave and walked over a frozen stream. We clenched bits of frozen waterfalls along the way too… And when the sun rose above and shone over the valley — it looked surreal. It seemed like the phrase ‘frozen in time’ was framed after someone saw this place. The frozen dew drops reflected the lights of the rising sun. I was experiencing a medley of emotions within me at the sight of the beautiful valley, that was beyond my ability to describe. No, I’m not exaggerating!
The valley gets its green colour from a peculiar kind of bamboo grass that grows there. The same valley looks as if it is covered in red/ pink during monsoon. That’s when the lilies, endemic to Dzukou Valley bloom. And come during the peak of winter, the entire valley is painted white in snow. The valley does not fail to mesmerise people irrespective of the season they visit here and each has their own description. Well, after spending a good amount of time appreciating the frozen meadow, we returned to the guest house. After breakfast, we packed up to head back to Kohima.
We decided to take the Vishema route for our return. It was a brilliant decision, I guess! The sky seemed surreal with every turn in the trail. The valley too looked magical at every corner. Unlike our onward ascent, this was flat land that we were walking on mostly. Apart from a short trail of very steep rocks to slide down from, it was an easy descent to the base. A pre-booked Sumo was waiting to pick us back to Kohima. Dzukou Valley is truly one of those places, which is better experienced than written about.
How to reachThe valley can be hiked from either Nagaland or Manipur sides. From the Nagaland side, there are two approach trails of different difficulty levels, one from Jakhama and Vishema. Both starting points can be reached by taxi from Kohima.
Stay: A basic dormitory is the only place to stay. You can hire sleeping bags and blankets on a chargeable basis there. Clean Indian-type washrooms are available.
Food: Basic rice and curry can be cooked on order or noodles can be bought at the dormitory.
Best time to visit: Every season offers a different experience and the valley is open throughout the year. There is an entrance fee to be paid at the dormitory for the maintenance of the entire area.
(Published 05 November 2023, 04:02 IST)