Dzuko - A piece of heaven on earth


 Clay Khongsai
I had often heard of Dzuko valley, yet never could get a chance to see this fairy tale valley inspite of my fairly adventurous habit of trekking since school days. Yes, I have seen and trekked several places in Uttarkhand extensively, Meghalaya( famous Double decker living root bridge at Nongriat, Cherrapunji) etc. But Dzuko has been like, “ so near yet so far”. June-July being the peak season and an ideal time to visit Dzuko valley, my mind wandered about how and when I could visit this enchanting place.
One fine day, opportunity came at an unexpected moment and I grabbed it, and no regret absolutely. This is how it happened.
The trek: On 13th July 2019, after some hours drive, we reached the last drop point at a semi jungle base, which is about half an hour climb from Viswema, Nagaland.
At about 11.40 am, the trio of myself, Angam Kamei Romanus and M. Pradip along with two other persons, with backpacks and basic provisions got ready to trek upwards in the forest. Pradeep pointed at a nearby step and told us that it is the new route which is steeper but nearer, and we decided to opt for that. The climb, definitely very steep, started through the off beat jungle route. The rain added to the slippery paths which one has to tread with extreme caution. In a few minutes, we were sweating and panting. At a distance, the forest echoed with some other trekkers voice and shout ahead of us. After some 30 minutes, we overtook a group of people/trekkers which included some girls. Inspite of the terrain, the rainfall and slippery stone steps and roots along the climb, we reached the top of the hill junction after almost an hour's climb. It was exhilarating and elating too, to have reached the high point, as from there, the trek was downhill with gradual slope.
 We stopped for some minutes to take water and bananas. Thereafter, feeling recharged, we were on our feet again. From now on though frequent on and off shower of rains, it was a gradual descent all the way. The vegetation also changed. During the climb, which was one side of the mountain, the route was through thick jungles. But now, the vegetation was completely changed to short growth of mostly bamboos along the undulated hills. Still, we took care not to fall or slip as the track was muddy and slippery. Then we came down to the normal trek route, more like a typical jhumming route of villagers in the hill. After a while, we heard some voices of other trekkers behind us and that's when we realised that we had overtaken some groups who took the longer route to the climb. While we marched at our own pace, taking care to avoid the thick growth beside the track, we were still able to overtake some more trekkers. After about an hour trek, we saw some groups returning. A smile or a hello was exchanged and some others encouraged us and told us the probable time that we may take to reach the base camp.
A few water points and slippery stones along the way made us slower and more careful. By this time we had trekked for about two and half hours counting from the top of the mountain. Not long thereafter, we spotted the base camp of Dzuko with dotted guest houses, where some basic accommodation is expected to be available.
The base camp: At 2.15pm, we reached the rest house run by SAYO( Southern Angami Youth Orgn). We straightaway registered ourselves at the office cum shop and hoped for some accommodation. But as luck would have it, all possible  accommodations in the main guest house was full. Still, we managed the dormitory which was being vacated by another group from Nagaland. The dormitory charge was minimal, just 50 rupees per person. The chilly weather due to the rain made the floor wet, dirty and cold, and our dirty shoes made it worse. Immediately we changed our clothing. The wet shoes rinsed at the tap water nearby, raincoats hung on the window sill, rugsacks stacked near the wall, and some plastic sheets on the floor to park ourselves. Though we took sleeping bags, we hired on payment basis some extra blankets to ensure that we were warm.
Apart from the dormitory( one small and one big), there were two other guest houses, both already booked and occupied. Around the guest houses and the dorms, quite a bit of tents were pitched by trekkers who preferred to stay in tents. Just to get our bearing right and feel the surrounding, we took a walk in the nearby areas and gazed at the valley of flowers down the hill and talked about the local myths and tales of Dzuko. My friend Angam Kamei was narrating about the original settlers of Dzuko and how and why they deserted this beautiful place. I dont know whether to believe or not, but it was an interesting tale. According to him, the story goes that once upon a time, there were people settled in this valley. But over a period of time, they were disturbed by the spirits/gods to sacrifice seven human beings if they do not want evil things to happen to them. The settlers requested instead to substitute with seven pigs. This was not accepted by the spirits, and thus fearing calamity, the settlers left and that’s how this valley got deserted. I looked around and wondered what i will find when we all go down to see the valley the next day. As darkness envelopes the place, and the intermittent rains continues, trekkers continue to pour in at late hours. A lot many seems to be from different parts of the country. Some from Punjab, Maharashtra, Assam, and of course many others from nearby states like Manipur and Nagaland too.
Later, when we were about to have our dinner, a group of trekkers consisting of young men and women probably from North India desperately came and approached us for spare blankets. Seeing their plight, we gave one of our hired blankets and told them to return by morning. They profusely thanked us and later pitched tents outside.
After a warm and simple food prepared by the guest house staffs, we decided to relax and lie down in our beds. Even as we lay down, many trekkers continue to arrive. By around 9.30pm, It was cold and I had not come prepared for that. Luckily, Angam had brought extra jackets which I borrowed, wore it and slept with it. Whew! I felt warm and lucky. I tugged in myself in the sleeping and slept off within a few minutes. I woke up once in the middle of the night due to noises made by late comers, but slept off again. The dormitory was jam packed with groups of men, women, young boys and us. Different tones of snoring noises competed. But thankfully I still managed to fall asleep soundly after a while. In the wee hours of the morning, someone's alarm went off around 4 am. That woke me up and quite a few others. Ironically the person who put on the alarm was not awake. Some of us shouted to put off the alarm, but it continued for some minutes. It went off after a while and I dozed off again. But I didn't sleep long and was awake by 4.40am. I looked around and found that quite a few early risers like me were already up. By 5 am, i woke up my team mates. Then we got up and went outside the dormitory. To my surprise, the outside, starting from the veranda, and every possible space on the ground nearby was filled with tents. By my estimate this weekend  trekkers to Dzuko must be anything between 500/600 counting all those who stayed in the two dorms, the rooms in two other guest houses, and the tents surrounding us. This reminded me of the traffic jam near the Everest summit in recent news. Later I was told that the caretaker of the guest houses was overwhelmed by the huge number of visitors.
 We then head for the tap water for brushing and thereafter morning toilets. There were two toilets and one bathroom and being the first few users in the morning, it was reasonably clean. After brushing and cleaning up and changing clothes, we were offered hot Niko cup eatables by a group of young men from our department who had also come in a group. That really warmth our stomach and it was such a pleasant thing to have in the cold morning. (To be contd)