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 Uttarakhand 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 were 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 surroundings, 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 don't know whether to believe it 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 did 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 would 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 seem 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 staff, 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 on 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 teammates. 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 warmed our stomach and it was such a pleasant thing to have in the cold morning.
To the valley: Before trekking down, we filled our water bottles from the tap water having been convinced that this water from the tap is the real mineral water by my two companions. By 7 am, we were off trekking down to the valley of flowers. The morning sky was a bit cloudy but no rain and therefore less mud along the path.
Still we put on our raincoats and did not take any chances. From this moment onwards, every view was beautiful and enchanting. Here and there we posed for photo shoots. We first went to a helipad site which is also an ideal place for pitching tents, though a bit of a distance from the guest house.
The view from the helipad to the surrounding was also very lovely and captivating. Then we continued our trek to the valley side. We took our time to enjoy the captivating scenery along the way. Some beautiful quotes from the bible verses were put up on board on dry blackened trees now and then.
After almost an hour trek down, we saw one of the most amazing landscapes filled with short bamboo interspersed with wild flowers. A little deviation on the eastern side brought us to a cliff point with gushing water below. It was a popular spot for youngsters, but i thought it would suit me more if I were to meditate here.
As we trekked down more, we soon realized that we were amidst the flowers on the gradient hill slopes everywhere. It was simply stunning and beautiful!. Here and there, we saw stones engraved with names or a set of stones put together for resting. After a while, we came across a stream that we have to cross if we have to go beyond.
But a wooden log was put on top to walk on it if one can balance well. We crossed by walking on the log without much problem. But soon there was one more rivulet which we had to wade through. It was cold, our shoes and trousers wet up to the knees, but it was clean and fast running.
We stopped for a while to see the landscape and then we climbed up to the height where a towering cross on top of a lower hill is located. On reaching the cross site, we looked around and everywhere was a sight to remember.
Beautiful flowers adorn most hillsides, and at a distance, people slowly streaming in towards our side from the base camp/rest house. Then we came down from the height and explored other places nearby. Pradeep said that he has heard people saying that white elephants used to roam this valley long ago.
One nice place we saw was stones fixed in such a way that one could sit with friends in a circle and can even have refreshment. We sat there for a while and discussed the peculiarity of the place. Hardly any grass, but lots of bamboos short and stunted. No big trees, no sound of birds or crickets, no fish or tadpoles visible in the water we waded through.
A geologist may have something to say about the place, but laymen like us have no explanations to these points we raised. We could not explore further as we planned to move back the same day. So, we trekked back to the base camp. The valley trek was to and fro was leisurely, and it took us about two and half hours in total.
Once back at the camp, we packed our things and got ourselves ready to leave. But before that, we had a light meal prepared by our fellow friends from our department who insisted that we take the meals prepared by them. We devoured whatever was on the plate and profusely thanked them.
The journey back: Thereafter, we commenced our return journey. When we were nearing the hill junction that starts the climb down, we decided to take the route taken by the rest and not the earlier route which we had taken. This was equally a challenging one.
Being steep and slippery, a lot of care especially on the knees had to be taken. Then we reached the drop point from where we boarded our vehicle and came back.
Summing up and observations: I would say that this has been one of the most beautiful places I have ever trekked in recent times. An amazing place, with unusual hill features yet beautiful. But what worries me is that most trekkers are not environmentally conscious.
Littering of mineral water bottles along the path, some plastic sheets simply being thrown away, empty sweet wrappers, and even in some places a pile of disposable plates, food remains, plastic cups were seen and looks ugly.
Perhaps, SAYO should lay down stringent guidelines regarding respect for the environment, those who litter can and should be fined, and also to instruct tour operators to adhere to basic dos and don'ts on littering. Else, this beautiful place will soon become another garbage dump of tourists and trekkers.
Without debating on whose territory the Dzuko belongs, Manipur Tourism Deptt can definitely construct roads and build rest houses on Manipur side too, so that trekkers and tourists can also use Manipur side for trekking into Dzuko valley.
If an approach road is built from the Manipur side, I am sure there will be more tourists coming via Manipur as we have better connectivity with outside states and the Tourism Deptt can earn good revenue out of it. This should be a win-win situation for both Manipur and Nagaland.

 This is an article being republished from 2019 due to it is relevancy and readers may please take note of its relevancy