I am not sure how to describe or explain this. It is a short and easy trek that everyone else seems to have done with consummate ease. But for me, it took two attempts and even after that, I barely made it to the entry point of the valley and could not really explore it in a way it deserved. I wanted to call this post “one and a half failures” but people have complained about too much negativity in my tone in the past. So, let me just cut the self-loathing and have a look at Dzukou through these two trips, one failure, and one half-success.
Dzukou Valley Trek: Attempt 1 (September 2017)
As my regular readers know, I started this blog with a trek to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand in 2010. Since then, I have had a fascination of such areas, desolated high altitude valleys, that can be reached only after a trek. I have known about Dzukou since then but I never managed to make it due to my base in Delhi and excessive focus on Himachal.
Nevertheless, I arrived in Kohima with a lot of expectations this September. While rains are always to be expected in the northeast, this year, it had rained even more than usual. I initially planned it in August but gave up due to the same reason. Ideally, September is too late for the wildflowers but considering the rains, I expected them to remain. I knew it will still rain but I expected it to be less severe, which was my first mistake.
The primary decision I had to make here is regarding the route (Details in the guide section at the bottom). I decided to take one from Viswema village, the one that is longer but easier according to other reports. The village is 22 KMs from Kohima and the second mistake I made here is to start from Kohima in the morning instead of looking for some nearby accommodation the previous day. I waited for the complimentary breakfast at my homestay, took a slow city bus to the Network Stand, and then took a slow shared car to Viswema. It was already 10 AM by the time I was at the start of the trekking point.
The trekking point at Viswema is located just on the other side of the village, by the side of the road. There are a couple of small shops and a garage too. I talked to one of the guys who advised me to by a sheet of plastic for INR 30 from the nearby shop. This was the wisest advice I received in this trip. He also asked me to hire a car from the village but that would have been too expensive for a budget traveller.
Actually, it is a motorable road from Viswema that leads one to the actual trekking point, after which, one has to complete a steep but short hike. I was told that this stretch is around 6-7 KMs and I was hoping to cover it in 2 hours. However, I expected a completely straight road, which was another silly assumption on my part. It is actually a gradual incline, and so walking is not as easy as it sounds, especially as I was carrying all my luggage including the laptop as I wanted to stay up there for a couple of days.
The initial hike was still pleasant. I quickly knocked-off a couple of kilometres. Viswema was looking like a dream from that altitude. I clicked one good photograph but a thick veil of mist appeared out of nowhere and obliterated the whole landscape in front of my eyes within two minutes of that capture.
I kept going but soon it started raining. I tried to continue but the rain got progressively heavier and not having waterproof shoes was beginning to cost me. By that time, I had covered an awkward amount of distance. I had come too far to return while I still had to cover a lot more to reach my destination. I was worried about my equipment too so I paused, and waited for a while. The rain subsided but it had taken away almost an hour of my valuable time. Due to unfavorable timezone arrangements, it gets dark pretty quickly in the Northeast. It was already past noon and I had no more than 4 hours in hand. On the positive side, there was a large Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis Lidderdalii) on the road. I almost stepped on it but saw it at the last moment. Then I captured it… digitally.
The road was longer than I’d imagined. It must have been 8-9 KMs from the main road and the light was fading fast. Finally, I reached the end of the road and it was already past 3.30 PM. Here, I found a hut, and a building that was under construction. I am sure in the future this will be turned into a tourist facility but at that point of time, there was no one. I noticed the steep trekking trail going upwards inside the jungle. Another non-steep route was going straight. So, it was a bit confusing and there was no signage to guide the trekkers. I decided to take the steep one.
The first few steps went well, but after that the trek was getting progressively more difficult. Due to the rains, a hilly stream was overflowing and merging with the steps, making it very difficult to move. While this stretch is short, it is covered by a thick, evergreen canopy, making it even darker. Soon, I was finding it very hard to see and beginning to question my decision and wisdom. At one point, I completely stopped because I could not see the trail ahead. Was it even the correct route?
Today, in hindsight, I can say that I was on the right path and I was almost there, barely 200 metres away from salvation. But at that moment, it was pretty dark and I had no idea what was happening. Maybe the rains had also obliterated some parts of the trail, which led to the confusion along with the lack of signage in the beginning. I paused for five minutes but the visibility dropped further and the rains also started again. With a heavy heart, I decided to come back.
The return turned out to be even harder. It was no more than 5 PM but it was pitch dark inside the jungle. I missed the trail at some point, slipped at a few points, found myself in a very awkward spot and could not proceed further although I knew I was not far. I was not carrying a torch either and my phone was dead too. I considered my options. One option was to sit still in the jungle for the next 12 hours and wait for the morning light. But in that case, another burst of rain would have been a terrifying prospect, along with the arrival of any kind of wild carnivore.
Just at that point, it occurred to me that I still had a functioning camera. I cursed myself for my stupidity and took it out. While we underestimate the glow of the camera screen under normal circumstances, in that primal darkness, it worked like a torch. I could finally see the trail, which was just two feet away from my spot. The next half an hour was tiresome but finally, I managed to come out of the jungle and reached the hut.
I think constructions use this hut occasionally but there was no one that night. Now, I could keep walking and tried reaching the main road. But I was tired already and that would have taken at least 3 hours more and it would have been hard to get a transport to Kohima from there. I was also not sure if there was any accommodation option in Viswema. Even if it was there, I would have reached after 9 PM and as far as I had seen, these places become desolated after 6 PM. So, I finally decided to spend the night in that hut and start moving in the morning. The room was locked but there was enough space in the porch. There were some mats, a bench, utensils, and various other items, suggesting that I was not the first person to stay there.
My material, as well as social, needs have always been very modest. So, I was happy to find a place to lie down after a tough day. I was fine with the desolation but the only problem was food. I had not had anything after the breakfast. I knew that accommodation and food will be available in the valley but now I had no option left. I checked all accessible corners of the hut and finally found a bottle of Kissan Jam. It was mostly empty, except a few drops at the bottom of the bottle. I had to use my toothbrush bring that out and had my first morsel in 12 hours. It reminded me of Adrien Brody in The Pianist, when he receives some normal food after many days of struggle. I have always been against excessive glamorization of travel writing, but yes, sometimes it can make you look like a Hollywood star, although there was no one to witness that glorious moment.
I dozed off soon, but was woken up by the sound of something jumping on the tin roof. I could not really see anything but the sleep had departed already. I opened my laptop to check time. It was 1 PM. I thought of watching a movie and wait for the morning. But the only unwatched film with me was Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba. It was too experimental a film to be watched when one was physically drained. But I think it had the desired impact and I was feeling sleepy again. After that, there was no interruption that night, or at least, I did not realize.
I woke up at around 4.30 AM after that and it was already pretty bright. I even considered going back to the valley. But I was too tired and also, I soon realized that my camera had accumulated a lot of vapour inside and it was no longer usable. This will remain a great regret for me because I could not take a single photograph of my shelter. Anyway, I walked fast, reached the highway by 7 AM, and then caught a cab to Kohima to end my ordeal.
Dzukou Attempt 2: December 2017
I returned to Nagaland after 3 months and this time I was no alone. I have already published my Pfutsero Travelogue. After that, we arrived in the same area. Being in a group meant that we had better bargains and were saving money on accommodation and transport. However, this also meant that we were finding it hard to coordinate and although we planned to go for the trek every day for the next 4-5 days, we could never collectively make up our minds to leave on time. I did not even want to visit Hornbill Festival but that is where we ended up every day and downed ourselves in rice wine and rice beer.
Finally, on the last full day of the trip, we decided to give it a try. By that time Johann and Devesh had left for Mon district and only Shubham was remaining of the original group. But he had a group of friends joining in and they also had their own vehicle. So, the first part of the trip was taken care of. We just drove to the steep trekking point, following the same route. The steep hike also seemed easier in the dry season. It took us around 50 minutes to negotiate this part, and in the process, I realized that I was very near to the top when I gave up last time.
After around 1.1 Km of a very steep hike, the valley finally opened up in front of us. I have done far longer treks but this was a reward comparable to many of them. It was a hazy, cloudy day but one glimpse of the valley was worth all the effort. It was also greener that my expectations although it was way past the peak season.
It is still 4-5 KMs after this point to the official resthouse of Dzukou. But it is a straight stretch where you just have to keep walking and the house was already visible in the horizon. We walked through dense foliage but the trail was very clear and we had no issues in reaching the destination in another hour and a half, including some photography breaks.
The people at the hut served some good fried rice and tea for us. There were already a lot of other people in the valley, most of them seemed to have stayed the night. By deciding to come on the last day, I already knew that I was not going to fully enjoy the valley. I tried hard to compensate and took a few more photographs but the weather was worsening. We spent no more than 3 hours at the top when the rains returned, reminding me of the previous attempt. This time though, I was not alone and nor did I have any luggage. So, we rushed back in a hurry and reached the car in a couple of hours, just before it got completely dark.
So, in the end, finally I can say that I have set foot in the Dzukou Valley but in my heart, I know that much more had to be seen. I must return next year, during the flowering season. But till then, all I can do is remember that lonely, drenched night, and watch the remainder of Soy Cuba.
Dzukou valley DIY Travel Guide
How to reach Dzukou Valley?
There are two primary trek routes to Dzukou Valley. Both involve a bit of motorable road, and a bit of steep trekking, and then some straight walk in the valley.
- From Viswema Village (22 KM from Kohima + 8 to 9 KM motorable road + 1 KM steep hike + 4 to 5 KM straight walk in the valley to the resthouse)
- From Zakhama Village (16 KM from Kohima + 3 to 4 KM motorable road + 4-5 KM steep hike + 2 to 3 KM walk in the valley to the resthouse)
- There is also a route from Manipur side, but it is even more obscure and I have never met anyone who has done it.
How to reach Viswema form Kohima?
At Kohima, go to the Network AOC Stand (Don’t confuse it with NST stand, where you are most likely to arrive from Dimapur), from where you get shared cars to any of these villages at INR 40-50 per head.
How to get cars to the trekking point?
You can ask around after reaching Viswema. You can also take someone from Kohima but I am sure they will ask an exorbitant amount. From Viswema they tend to ask for INR 1000 but you can always bargain.
Where to Stay the night before Dzukou?
This is a tricky one. You can always start from Kohima, but it is better if you are staying nearby so that you can start early in the morning. The second time, we stayed in the one called Vicha Paying Guest at Kigwema and we had a good experience in this family run homestay. The stretch between Kohima and Zakhama has many homestays nowadays but they may not be functional all the time (For them, the Hornbill Festival is the peak season).
Will there be someone in the valley to help me?
Yes, there are a couple of appointed people who are supposed to man the guest house throughout the year.
What is the altitude of Dzukou Valley?
It is around 2400 metres.
Where to Stay in Dzukou?
You can stay in the valley at the rest house. Basically they have a big hall, which is called the dorm. You can hire blankets etc for INR 100 and help yourself out there. Otherwise, there is a solitary hut where you can get a private room for slightly more.
Can I get food in Dzukou?
Yes, there is a kitchen and they provide some basic food like tea, rice, maggi, etc.
What is the right season for Dzukou?
It can be accessed throughout the year. For the wild blossoms, visit it in the summer.
Are there any entry fees to the Valley?
Yes, they charge INR 100 as entry fee even if you don’t spend the night.
What about phone and data connectivity in the valley?
Most services work till Viswema. There is no real connectivity up in the valley. Sometimes you may capture some random signals but don’t get too excited.
Where do I get Old Monk before the trek?
Who cares? Get some local rice beer. You will have to ask around though. It may not be easily available (Unless your time it with Hornbill fest, where they sell it openly, but at a premium).