The backpacking plan for this year's New Year's Eve was planned long ahead in July itself (Such was my excitement!). I prefer to spend the big day away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My idea is to end the year and start the next year doing what I love the most: Hiking.
Fun fact: I happened to be the first (and the only) one in the entire country to make a reservation for my spot that early in July itself and until December no one else had hopped on that boat. Hearing this from the founder of the trekking agency, ChaloHoppo, did feel quite a bit overwhelming.
Getting my leave approved at work was quite a bit of a hurdle. Fortunately, the odds were eventually in my favor and I was given a go-ahead for my plans. I had been eagerly looking forward to this trip because this was to be my first ever experience of trekking in subzero temperature. My excitement peaked when I was told to bring trekking gears that were an absolute necessity for the subzero temperature at Dzukou valley. There's no way one should think of ignoring these instructions and I will put a list of other such things at the end of this blog.
Why Dzukou Valley?
Dzukou Valley- the land of flowers- located at the border of the Indian states of Nagaland is one of Northeast India's most prized possessions. Dzukou in the Angami Naga dialect translates to "cold water" which refers to the ice cold stream serenading through the valley. The verdant rolling hills of the Dzukou Valley have evoked many a travel musings. The stark purity of the lush greenery and the crystal blue water is a beauty so divine that it calls nature lovers from all around the globe.
How to Reach Dzukou Valley?
The most convenient flights are available to Dimapur and Guwahati. What I did to bring down the budget was to board a flight to Guwahati and then take the train to Dimapur.
Day 1: Dzukou Valley, here I come!
I met the other fellow adventurists at Guwahati Railway Station and we bonded over the train ride. We reached Dimapur early next morning. Although Kohima is only 70km away from Dimapur, Google Maps made it clear that it would take us about 4 hours to reach there, excluding any landslide induced stops along the way (which isn't all that rare in this route). While we were on the road, we made a pit stop for a quick brunch. Some of my fellow mates didn't mind treating themselves to pork and rice for their first meal of the day. Once we were in Kohima, we were greeted by Nicholas, who happens to be a local trekking enthusiast and a big fan of Ed Sheeran. He accompanied us to our campsite at Zakhama. Ah! This place was so picturesque that it filled me with promises of a bunch of amazing few days in Nagaland.
We were all gearing up for the hiking the next day. We had to stock up on some groceries and ready to eat packaged foods. Some of my mates volunteered to cook dinner that night. The ladies prepared Pav bhaji and I must acknowledge that it was absolutely delicious. We were then invited to attend a fashion show at Zakhama. I was wide-mouthed with astonishment at how those women could walk without their teeth chattering in the cold while flaunting off backless dresses when the temperature was well below 5 degree Celsius!
When we got back, I decided to be a sloth bear and sip rice beer as much as I could while feasting on cooked snail soup for the first time ever. It was indeed delicious and tasted much like prawns.
Day 2: Trek to Dzukou Valley
We were all stuffing our bag packs last minute, making sure we don't leave behind anything essential. This information is very crucial when one is off to the trail. There are two routes to the Dzukou Valley: one trail starts off from Zakhama which is pretty steep and takes about 5 hours to reach there, and another one starts from Viswema and is a trek of about 4 hours. We chose the latter one. The first one hour was a steep climb which was followed by a trek through the plain terrain for next couple of hours through the valley.
Along the climb, we took our break sessions to snack on munchies which were mostly brought in by a Gujju girl. She was the Monica of our squad (high-five my fellow F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fans!). The more snacks we had, the happier she got. I was keeping track of the time as we ascended the peak. I wanted to finish the trek before the usual trek time (which is about 4 hours). Before coming on this trip, I had religiously followed my leg workout sessions at the gym which did prove to be of great help for my calf muscles when the time came because I could, after all, finish the trek an hour earlier than the usual.
Once at the peak, all of us enjoyed our moments of solitude. The breathtaking beauty of the view made my heart race and soothed my soul all at the same time. Pure unadulterated beauty as far as the eyes could see. The thin clouds flirted and caressed the smooth hills. You could take a photo from just about any imaginable angle and it would still turn out to be absolutely Instagram worthy. That's just how beautiful it is.
In this part of the country, the sun sets early around 4 p.m. and the temperature drops drastically post that, which we felt quite obviously at the peak. We were spent the night at the guest house in Dzukou Valley. It was a modest shelter at the peak with a huge dorm that didn't come with beds. The hack to survive the subzero temperature is to warm your sleeping bags and yourself too by the crackling bonfire.
We were chilling (or shall I say warming?!) by the bonfire as we waited for dinner. I would like to explicitly mention that every northeastern cuisine is delectable and very organic in its own way. Soon it was time to cozy up in our sleeping bags with as many layers of woolen clothes as possible and call it a night. The hot water bags helped to keep us warmer in our sleeping bags.
Day 3. The Last Day
Sunrises are beautiful but it does take courage to wake up for one in the bone-numbing cold. Oh! We were very courageous though. The moment had come to walk into the valley and watch the sunrise in all its glory. As the sun sets early here, it is obvious that the sun rises very early as well. We woke up at 5 a.m., started walking through the meadows and this is what it looked like! We took our time to walk carefully over the frozen river vessels because in the past there had been instances where people have drowned in the lake when the thin layers of ice broke!
We got back to our base camp and had Maggi with Kingfishers for breakfast. That's right! We sipped beers right in the early hours. We were pumping ourselves to walk back the trail and finish it in less time than usual. I was looking forward to reaching our campsite back at Zakhama and drown myself in rice beer and savor local Naga dishes.
It was already dusk by the time we reached Zakhama. We were all eagerly waiting to start the New Year countdown with wine. Our host had invited some of his folks who were extremely good at karaoke. The evening kept getting better and a lively bonfire kept our bodies warm. Our hearts were already warm with the new experiences and friendships that this trip gifted us. This is exactly how I had wanted for things to turn out and I couldn't have been happier! Over the course of the last couple of days, what were once unfamiliar faces now felt like family. We were a bunch of very different people coming from different parts of the country but we all had these few things in common: the passion to travel, the idea of spending the New Year's night far from home and away from the city, to keep the promises that we had made to ourselves.
Another beautiful trip had come to an end. We parted our ways with promises to stay in touch. Cheers to a life filled with new adventures and new friendships!
The best time to visit this offbeat tourist destination of North-East India is between October and May. However, if you are a pluviophile, June-September would be a great time to visit this alluring valley as the monsoon casts its magical spell upon the valley in ways you can't begin to imagine; the flowers are in full bloom dotting the valley a myriad hue and swaying in rhythm to the fresh monsoon breeze.
Dzukou Valley is characteristically off the beaten road and that means be prepared for steep and narrow paths paved with mud and stones!
Precautions - If you choose to hike during monsoon watch out for leeches as they are crawling in plenty. Stock up on lots of dry fruits and warm clothes as the temperature in Dzukou valley usually plummets without any warnings. There are many trekking shops in and around Kohima where you can either buy or rent sleeping bags and tents. Avoid arriving at Nagaland on weekends as public transportation is mostly unavailable.
Checklist (Raincoats, Gloves, Woollen socks, Headlamps, Bodywarmers, Flask, Hot water Bag are absolutely essential)