Hidden Gem of North-East India: Dzukou Valley
Dzukou Valley, also known as the Valley of Celestial Charm is once in a lifetime trekking experience.
As we reached the top, it seemed like we had entered a completely different world (I swear I am not exaggerating). The name Dzukou has derived from Viswema dialect, which means 'soulless and dull'. But it did not seem like that. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was told that it is a must-do trek in Northeast India.
After completing the unremittingly steep climb and walking for more than 3 hours, it all began to make sense. The entire Valley is a visual treat to the eyes. The entire valley is compiled of lush forests, emerald green hills, ever-running streams, and a myriad of colorful flowers that paint the vast canvas of the gorgeous valley and its meadows.
I had woken up early in the morning. It was cold. Usually, I hit the snooze button, but that day, I could not. I was excited about the trek. My packed bag was waiting for me to get ready and get started. After making my bed and warming up, I called my friends and left for breakfast.
At the breakfast table, we got several offers to hire a guide who could lead us on the trek. We had read that it is pretty easy to get lost whilst heading up taking the Jakhama route and there is no mountain dog that could come to our rescue. Yet, we declined all the offers and decided to proceed on our own. We thought we will follow some other group or find the way by ourselves - a mistake.
We started at 7:30 from Kohima and reached the trek start point by 8:15, covering a distance of nearly 18 kilometres. Unlike what we had speculated there was nobody at the start point of the trek. We decided to trek on our own.
It is essential to use a walking stick (or a trekking pole for that matter) whilst moving downhill, simply to avoid the extra pressure on the knees.
On our way, we broke tree branches to make walking sticks for ourselves. There were not many markings at the diverging paths. At every such instance, we took the path which that would go uphill.
In less than an hour, we reached an abandoned house from where there were three paths. Thankfully, on one of the walls of the house, somebody had craved a message using a stone. As the message informed, we went through the rest area to reach a stream.
Upon reaching the stream, the first thing that we did was to fill our bottles. The water coming down the hills is apparently more pure than packaged drinking water. Fill your bottle here unless you do not mind paying double the price for mineral water up on the hill.
We crossed the stream and followed the path laid out by the villagers. Since it was the month of December, we could see frozen dew accumulated on some of the plant leaves. Soon, we reached a point which marked the starting point of our adventure.
There was a path to our right which went uphill. Everything else about the path said that it could not be the correct route. But we took it anyway since it looked like the only route. About the route - Imagine a hill covered with small and big stones (some of which were big enough to be called a boulder). We started climbing that, hoping that it is the correct route.
When trekking in India, if you take a route where you do not find any rubbish in the form of plastic bottles, wrappers, etc., you are most probably on the wrong route.
We climbed the rocky terrain for nearly half an hour, using all our limbs, only to come to the conclusion that it was indeed the wrong route. That is when the most difficult chapter of our trek began - going down. We slipped and stumbled throughout the downhill trek, but somehow got to the bottom without any injury.
We decided to wait for other trekkers. Within a minute or two, one of us saw something odd across the rocky terrain. While the entire area was dotted with plants, there was a vacant space at one point. On further introspection, we realized it was a path - a very minute path led by a series of steps. We started climbing the stairs and it seemed like it would never end.
After a gruelling climb for nearly two hours, we reached the top of the hill. Thirsty and hungry, each one of us took out a bottle of juice our cameras and started taking pictures of the ethereal world laid out right in front of our eyes. Truly, it was a sight to behold.
What should have been a 20 odd minute walk, ended up being a 40-45 minute walk to the guest house - the only one in the entire valley - because of the numerous photos that we took.
When we reached the guest house, we were asked to pay a fee of INR 100 that is charged to keep the place clean. Since we wanted to stay there for at least one night, we were given the option of:
a. Dormitory (which was basically a huge hall without any bed or mattress to sleep on) for INR 50 per person per night
b. Cottage (with an attached bathroom) for INR 150 per person per night
We opted for a stay in a cottage owing to the strong winds and the fact that the temperature would drop below zero degrees. Add to that, we had to INR 50 per mattress, pillow, or blanket. We ended up taking three blankets and a mattress ... each.
The food was basic. As a vegetarian, I had limited options - rice or Maggi. The hours of climbing steep stairs made me have both of them. Built in the form of gable house, the cottages and dorms were more like a small kingdom nestled on the top of a hill.
After settling in, we decided to sit on one of the benches and soak the positive vibes of the place. Before I knew, I was laying on the soft, grassy ground in a peaceful environment. Prior to sunset, quite a few people had gathered around the sunset point to view the sun slowly dipping behind the hills - a surreal sight.
We had an early dinner which was followed by a session of a bonfire. Cold coupled with strong wind forced us to take shelter inside our respective cottages. Yes, no one stayed inside the dorm fearing the cold. We went to bed early, with our alarms set for 04:55 hours.
The next morning, I was up before the alarm went off. The excitement to see the sunrise defeated the desire to sleep a little more. That was not the case with others. After quite some effort, I managed to convince just three people to brave the cold and go to the helipad (yes, there is a helipad in close proximity to the guest houses) which promises an excellent view of the rising sun from behind the hills.
We reached the helipad by 5:15 hours, 10 minutes prior to the sunrise. To say that the view from there was absolutely surreal would be an understatement.
The colorful sky - orange and pink splashed on the blue background with yellowish horizon - marked with the moon in the west and bright yellow flowers on the ground had set the stage for what seemed like a welcoming ceremony. The cool, strong wind harshly blew my hair back and the sudden breeze frequently gave a tingly feeling running down my spine. The layers of winter wear apparently were not enough and the absence of tall trees did not help either. But I was lost ... lost in the sheer beauty of the place.
After the sunrise, we trekked down the hill, as suggested by one of the workers at the guesthouse. We were elated when we reached the bottom.
The stream was completely frozen. The leaves of the plants were covered with frost. Did I mention that it was really cold? But the reason why it was a beautiful experience because the sunlight made the leaves shine like diamonds. Truly, it was a sight to behold.
We crossed the stream using the bridge and explored the hidden gems of Dzukou Valley - a cave and a waterfall. To our surprise, we found a few people camping there. They had pitched a tent and had stayed there overnight.
By the time we started back for the guest house, it was already 09:00 hours. Soon after lunch, we headed back taking the Viswema route. It involved climbing down a thousand steps and then walking a distance of more than eight kilometres on a stretch of motorable road. On either side of the road, I saw a variety of tropical trees.
After covering about five kilometres on the road I found a carry van which was being loaded with firewoods. Fortunately for me, as I was way ahead, I got to hitchhike on it. Albeit I had to sit on the sharp firewoods while trying to balance myself throughout the bumpy journey, it was my most memorable ride thus far.
I took a picture of my legs as I tried to balance myself even when the carrier van came to a halt.
They dropped me at Jakhama where I found something interesting to indulge in while I waited for my friends.
Untouched by modern civilisation, Dzukou Valley, which is also called the Valley of Celestial Charm, has a tempting appeal to those who visit this heavenly abode. Go, visit. It is one of India's best kept secrets.
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