Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair

Tripoto

" There is in many of us, a desire to both live a civilized life and experience, if only temporarily, a wilder, less controlled world."

Jonathan Glancey in 'Nagaland: A Journey to India's Forgotten Frontier', a book I was reading while traveling through Nagaland, realizing with each passing page, how little I've known about this part of India. The book, if anything, is a love letter to Nagaland, from a son of the 'Raj' who traveled extensively through Nagaland. The result of a yearning conceived during his childhood on hearing stories about this mystical land from his father who served in the British Army during the colonial rule in India. Intrigued by the descriptive accounts of Glancey's encounter with the extraordinary Naga landscape and its people, I couldn't wait to begin my own expedition. Reading this book, sitting comfortably on a couch at Nino's lovely homestay in Kohima, I was in love with Nagaland already.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 1/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Dzükou Valley, Nagaland:

DzükouValley is located in Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, a place that has seen some turbulent times for almost a century. During the Second World War, the Japanese troops witnessed defeat here in a battle that came to be known as the 'Stalingrad of the East'. Around 10,000 lives were lost. Nagaland became a part of India when the British left in 1947. Ever since then, several freedom factions, now referred to as 'insurgents', have been caught in an unremitting struggle for an 'Independent Nagaland' or as they like to say, 'Kuknalim'.

'Dzükou' means 'cold water' in Angami, the language of one of the 16 main Naga tribes, referring to the cold water running through the serpentine streams in the valley. Also popularly known as the 'Valley of Flowers', during July to September, Dzükou transforms into a spectacle with lilies and rhododendrons blooming in every corner. The rare Dzükou lily is found here.

Standing tall at 2438 m above sea level, at the border of Manipur and Nagaland and right behind the Japfu Peak (3048 m), Dzükou Valley has also been the subject of a long ongoing territorial dispute between the North East Indian states of Manipur and Nagaland. It's heartbreaking to see that a place this beautiful has been through such turmoil and continues to do so.

Dzükou Valley is one of the most recommended treks in Nagaland, yet the information available on it is very sketchy and incomplete. For two female backpackers, who were also novice trekkers, this wasn't a very good beginning.

Now there are two trekking routes to the valley. The route via Jakhama village is a 5-6 hour trek, and the one via Viswema village is around 3 hours. This was a vital piece of information that we didn't possess! A little ahead of where our cab dropped us, we came across three different routes with no sign of civilization around or network. Our very helpful, but clueless driver offered to do a quick recce of the three routes, and suggested one of them quite confidently with no explanation. My friend and I took a leap of faith and followed that path. With each step forward, I felt anxious and farther and farther away from familiarity. But a few calculated guesses and a couple of hours later we reached the first checkpoint.

Let me point out here, that in our genius minds, we thought we were on the 3 hour route. We weren't.

Chapter II - There are always flowers for those who want to see them

We walked through a dense green jungle on a rugged turf that consisted of mud, thick tree roots and stones. These stones were laid down to form a rough staircase like structure for the most part. One couldn't help but wonder how much strength, time and effort this herculean task must have taken, simply to make the mountains a little friendlier for some whimsical fools seeking adventure. As exhausting as the trek was, the wilderness was just as fascinating. The whole medley of singing birds, comforting cold breeze, and a sporadic pitter patter of the rain, felt like a symphony in play to welcome those who walked past these majestic mountains.

But after nearly 4-5 hours since we had started the trek, unquestionably our patience and energy had started to wane slowly. This part of the trek was also the most difficult. The path became more narrow, slippery and steep, with boulder sized stones to climb over. The jungle was so thick that we couldn't even see how far we were from the top. Without saying a word to each other, we knuckled ourselves down to get there somehow.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 2/10 by tanushreesingh.586

A while later we heard something that sounded like a gentle adulation of victory. The whirring sound of the wind meant that we had reached the top! All fatigue, thirst and hunger were forgotten in that moment. It was incredible to see how the geography of the land was drastically different on the other side of the mountain. Like two different sides of the same coin. There were no thick jungles, only plain and winding golden green mountains which were to lead us to the valley.

By the time we reached the final checkpoint, almost 7 hours since we had started, it was dark and the temperature had dropped drastically. With the help of a single solar powered light in the whole valley, we quickly made fire and cooked food. I don't know if it were the spices or the hunger and exhaustion that made it taste so good.

There was a rest house here, a long concrete structure with a roof over it and wooden logs on the floor to sleep on. With no energy to pitch a tent, we took out our sleeping bags and slept on the logs. But for hours during the night, I could hear singing and loud chanting from a distance; a mystery to be solved the next day.

Chapter III - Writings on the wall

The next morning, I dragged my aching bones out of my sleeping bag and looked around. Every inch of the rest house, including the ceiling, was covered in hand scribbled notes by people who had visited Dzükou. This wasn't just an ordinary structure. It was a collective testimonial of all the brave, bored and curious souls who had ventured here over the years. In that moment I didn't feel we were alone there anymore.

Desperate to finally catch a clear view of the valley, I ran outside. In front of me stood golden green mountains, and nestled between them were these gentle rolling valleys, with clouds swiftly drifting above them. I lost track of time as I sat on a makeshift wooden bench staring at this marvel. It was one of those rare moments when you have something so remarkable in front of you, that all you can do is sit in silence without a single thought in your head that has anything to do with the world beyond.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 3/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Chapter IV - Hallelujah

Remembering the sounds I heard last night, I went over to the other rest house, not too far away, and came across a group of young locals who were preparing to return that day. I got chatting with them and asked what last night was about. The less shy one among them smiled and said "Oh well, something happened and we just had to pray and we got lost in it. We all belong to the same church group, you see." These were regular youngsters in their early 20's. Their clothes were trendy and their hairstyles were the kind I only the brave ones dare to experiment with. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Christianity and English were introduced in Nagaland only in the late 19th Century by the British and the American Missionaries. But the Nagas loved singing from time immemorial, and especially together. As Glancey stated in his book, this was probably one of the main reasons why the Christian missions were so successful here and Nagaland is now one of the largest Baptist states in the world. There's a story about how Godhula, an Assamese Christian who assisted the American Missionaries, was kept in a makeshift hut surrounded by guards. This was during the time when the Nagas didn't trust any outsider. He sang hymns all night so beautifully that the Nagas were soon tempted to join in with him. During my later visit to a Church next Sunday, I saw the same spirit as I witnessed probably the most harmonious choir singing in the entire history of my convent upbringing.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 4/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Chapter IV - Hello Sister!

For me, one of the best things about backpacking is meeting other like-minded travelers. There's comfort and joy in meeting a stranger as adventurous as you or lost as you, and sharing stories with each other. We were told that there were other trekkers camping down at the base of the valley which was only an hour away.

When we reached down there, crossing a meandering stream along the way, we realized that we were the only ones here. It was incredibly beautiful no doubt, but the temperature dropped all of a sudden and it was eerily quiet. There was nothing but a small empty cave in the middle of the valley, two clueless 'trekkers' and not a single soul kilometers away. We were short on food supplies and the unexpected rains made us wonder if we would even be able to make fire to survive the night. Sadly, all signs pointed back to the rest house.

It rained endlessly on our way back and it was freezing cold. On reaching we lay flat on the ground in forfeit, not knowing how to survive the cold that day. A moment later I heard a sweet "Hello sister!" Two words that I now very fondly associate with Nagaland. Even on our way back from Dzukou we met several locals and almost every single one of them greeted us with "Hello Sister!" There is a sweet honesty in the way Nagas speak. It's a tone that hits your ears like gospel truth. As a woman, in all of my solo travels, I never felt so comfortable in the company of the locals anywhere as much as I did in Nagaland.

The man who called out to me was one of the caretakers who were doing the next weekly shift to man the rest house and had just arrived. He invited us inside their section of the rest house, which we didn't even know existed until then. It had fire inside! We sat there for hours trying to get our bodies back to normal temperature. We cooked our remaining food there and asked them about the shorter way back, taking proper directions this time and thanked them for saving our lives.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 5/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Chapter V - So long and thank you for the eggs!

After two nights at the beautiful Dzükou Valley and with no food on us, we were ready to head back to Kohima. After trekking on an empty stomach for a couple of hours, and getting lost a few times, we came across two huts on our way. On looking inside we found nobody, but there were crates of eggs in one hut and supplies to make fire with in the other. Hunger got best of us and we took four eggs and cooked scrambled eggs. I know for a fact that had I trekked any further without food in my stomach, I would have passed out at some point. Those two huts saved our lives and we felt guilty and satisfied, both at the same time. We left some money and a thank you note behind in both the huts and trekked back, finally making it to Viswema, where our trek was supposed to begin two days ago.

Chapter IV — Hallelujah

Remembering the sounds I heard last night, I went over to the other rest house, not too far away, and came across a group of young locals who were preparing to return that day. I got chatting with them and asked what last night was about. The less shy one among them smiled and said “Oh well, something happened and we just had to pray and we got lost in it. We all belong to the same church group, you see.” These were regular youngsters in their early 20’s. Their clothes were trendy and their hairstyles were the kind I only the brave ones dare to experiment with. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Christianity and English were introduced in Nagaland only in the late 19th Century by the British and the American Missionaries. But the Nagas loved singing from time immemorial, and especially together. As Glancey stated in his book, this was probably one of the main reasons why the Christian missions were so successful here and Nagaland is now one of the largest Baptist states in the world. There’s a story about how Godhula, an Assamese Christian who assisted the American Missionaries, was kept in a makeshift hut surrounded by guards. This was during the time when the Nagas didn’t trust any outsider. He sang hymns all night so beautifully that the Nagas were soon tempted to join in with him. During my later visit to a Church next Sunday, I saw the same spirit as I witnessed probably the most harmonious choir singing in the entire history of my convent upbringing.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 6/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Chapter IV — Hello Sister!

For me, one of the best things about backpacking is meeting other like-minded travelers. There’s comfort and joy in meeting a stranger as adventurous as you or lost as you, and sharing stories with each other. We were told that there were other trekkers camping down at the base of the valley which was only an hour away.

When we reached down there, crossing a meandering stream along the way, we realized that we were the only ones here. It was incredibly beautiful no doubt, but the temperature dropped all of a sudden and it was eerily quiet. There was nothing but a small empty cave in the middle of the valley, two clueless ‘trekkers’ and not a single soul kilometers away. We were short on food supplies and the unexpected rains made us wonder if we would even be able to make fire to survive the night. Sadly, all signs pointed back to the rest house.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 7/10 by tanushreesingh.586

It rained endlessly on our way back and it was freezing cold. On reaching we lay flat on the ground in forfeit, not knowing how to survive the cold that day. A moment later I heard a sweet “Hello sister!” Two words that I now very fondly associate with Nagaland. Even on our way back from Dzukou we met several locals and almost every single one of them greeted us with “Hello Sister!” There is a sweet honesty in the way Nagas speak. It’s a tone that hits your ears like gospel truth. As a woman, in all of my solo travels, I never felt so comfortable in the company of the locals anywhere as much as I did in Nagaland.

The man who called out to me was one of the caretakers who were doing the next weekly shift to man the rest house and had just arrived. He invited us inside their section of the rest house, which we didn’t even know existed until then. It had fire inside! We sat there for hours trying to get our bodies back to normal temperature. We cooked our remaining food there and asked them about the shorter way back, taking proper directions this time and thanked them for saving our lives.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 8/10 by tanushreesingh.586

Chapter V — So long and thank you for the eggs!

After two nights at the beautiful Dzükou Valley and with no food on us, we were ready to head back to Kohima. After trekking on an empty stomach for a couple of hours, and getting lost a few times, we came across two huts on our way. On looking inside we found nobody, but there were crates of eggs in one hut and supplies to make fire with in the other. Hunger got best of us and we took four eggs and cooked scrambled eggs. I know for a fact that had I trekked any further without food in my stomach, I would have passed out at some point. Those two huts saved our lives and we felt guilty and satisfied, both at the same time. We left some money and a thank you note behind in both the huts and trekked back, finally making it to Viswema, where our trek was supposed to begin two days ago.

Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 9/10 by tanushreesingh.586
Photo of Dzükou Valley - An Adventure and the Beginning of a Love Affair 10/10 by tanushreesingh.586

A Note to Nagaland: Dzükou Valley wasn't just an adventure, but the beginning of a very strong fondness for the hills, I knew so little of. Seemingly daunting and mysterious in the beginning, until you make friends with them, but beautiful nevertheless. I might have lost my way a few times in Dzükou, but what I found was way beyond what I had imagined. It is rare and strange, to realize just how much at home a new place and its people can make you feel. To me Nagaland was just that. A comforting Déjà vu. What I wouldn't give to be back again! Thank you, Nagaland.

This blog was originally published on 'Tanushree Singh'

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