Relatively less explored with a landscape that enthrals, the Dzukou Valley in Nagaland is a paradise that can make even the most discerning trekker an ardent fan. Text & photographs by Ranjan Pal
In the winter of last year, as I was planning my first extensive tour of the Northeast, I was advised by David Angami, founder of the adventure travel outfit India Trail, that I shouldn’t miss out on the Dzukou Valley in Nagaland. I must admit I was a bit sceptical and a tad blasé at first, having been on several magnificent high-altitude treks in the Great Himalayas, where I had crossed icy passes forbidding in their isolation and took in amazing vistas of soaring peaks that kissed impossibly blue skies. What could such a low-altitude ramble in the green hills of Nagaland offer to an experienced adventurer?
Few tourists even hear of the place. But David Angami persisted and sent me some images as well. I stared at them for longer than I thought I would. There was something hauntingly different about this lost green valley, and the idea of a trek to stretch our limbs at the end of our Northeastern adventure appealed to me. And so, Dzukou Valley was added as dessert to the main course of Kaziranga National Park and the Hornbill Festival.
It was a crisp winter morning in November, when the five of us found ourselves bumping along a hill track in a battered old Sumo towards the starting point of our adventure. There are two trails that take you to the hidden valley—the Viswema route and the Jakhama route, both named after the villages from where they are accessed. Being a shorter but sharper ascent, the Jakhama trail is definitely the one less taken, but we opted for the more leisurely Viswema route considering we were all in our senior citizenhood!
After reaching the end of the motorable road, we walked along the broad path before it turned abruptly into a man-made stone staircase that ascended through a thick forest of chestnut, juniper, and oak. This steep climb to the crest of the valley took us about an hour—a tough slog compensated by the occasional vistas of the valleys below us that appeared through breaks in the trees.
As we broke through the treeline, I was caught off guard by the sight before me. On one side was a panoramic view of the hills and valleys of Nagaland with small villages dotting the landscape; on the other, a narrow entrance into a surreal world. A carpet of green covered a shallow valley and stretched all the way to a small cluster of houses, visible as distant specks on the horizon. Burnt skeletons of trees stuck out of the green foliage everywhere, like black bristles on the scalp of a sleeping Frankenstein’s monster.
We ambled along in a single file in the bright sunlight, following a narrow trail cut through the foliage towards signs of human habitation. The rest houses appeared closer than they were, and it took us two hours to reach them. People try to make it to Dzukou Valley and back in one day, but this makes little sense if you want to relish the beauty of the place. We had decided on two nights and had opted for a full-service camping experience with tents, guide, and porters. But there are cheaper options too, and the rest houses have private rooms and dormitories with spartan sleeping and toilet facilities and a common firewood kitchen. These are maintained by the Southern Angami Youth Organisation (SAYO) and are the only human settlements allowed in the entire valley.
After unrolling our sleeping bags and settling into our tents, we snuggled with warm cups of tea in our hands to watch the main show. Sunset arrives very early in this far eastern corner of India, and the valley quickly began to darken before us. A series of small green hillocks undulated downwards to a plain covered in thickets of dwarf bamboo. To me, they looked like mysterious forms huddled under a vast blanket of green. Then the sun finally sank behind the line of dark hills.
We woke up in the cold light of dawn, as the shadows were being dispelled by sunlight. Younger bravehearts had woken long before us and scrambled down to experience the dawn in the frozen valley. We waited until the sun had warmed our older bones before venturing down. After crossing a few shallow but incredibly clear streams that flowed silently through the valley floor, we clambered up a small hillock to reach our final destination—a tall cross standing watch like a lone sentinel, its battered sheets of metal tattooed with graffiti over the years. Many Nagas are Christians today, their conversion dating back to the days of the Britishers, who thought converting them would transform the warrior culture and stop the constant feuds between villages. At the base of the cross, a small group of devotees from the Angami tribe sat huddled, carving out their names on smooth flat pebbles that they would later place in the clear waters for good luck. We joined them in silence.
During the high summer months of June and July, Dzukou Valley transforms into a botanist’s delight. A secret garden in the heart of the valley is carpeted with wildflowers and rhododendrons, with the star of the show being the rare pink Dzukou Lily, an endemic variety. For the foreign visitor, the added attraction of the valley is that it is still relatively undiscovered, probably because of its remote location and the fact that there is no luxury accommodation here. So, if you are an outdoors enthusiast looking for an outstanding offbeat adventure that will not tax you in terms of time, budget, or effort, look no further than Nagaland’s magical Dzukou Valley.
The trek starts from Viswema village in Nagaland, which is a 45-minute drive from Kohima. The closest airport to Kohima is at Dimapur, which serves direct flights to and from Guwahati, Imphal, and Kolkata. The drive from Dimapur to Kohima is about 78 km and takes approximately three hours.
Dzukou Valley has only one basic rest house offering two camp-like dorms and five private rooms. If you are basing yourself in Kohima, Hotel Vivor is a fairly new hotel with modern facilities located away from the crowded centre of the town (starts from INR 5,500). If you want to be in the heart of Kohima, then Hotel De Oriental Grand is a good option (starts from INR 5,000).
If you want to witness Dzukou Valley at its spectacular best, plan your visit during the flowering season of April-July. However, if you want to combine the trek with a general tour of Nagaland, then the festive season (October-December) would be ideal, as the Hornbill Festival takes place in early December in Kohima and Christmas is the most important festival for the Christian Nagas—in the course of a normal year.
Adventurous travellers, nature lovers.
The best way to experience Dzukou Valley is to let a professional adventure travel company like India Trail organise everything for you, including tents, guide, porters, permits, and all meals. (INR5,540 for three nights and four days per head for a couple, and INR10,867 per head for a four-person group).
The highlight of any trip to Nagaland has to be the Hornbill Festival, a vibrant celebration of the culture and heritage of the 16 distinct Naga tribes spanning the first 10 days of December. (The festival is set to go virtual this year). Don’t miss the guided Battle of Kohima Walk through Garrison Hill and the Kohima War Cemetery. Taking village walks through Khonoma, Dzulake, Kigwema, and Mima is an enjoyable way to discover Nagaland and understand how the society functions.