Into Dzukou Valley - A walk through the Lily of hope…
(A photo essay)
In the remote recess of the Naga hills, pushing open the hills connecting the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur, lies a valley of flower serenaded by pristine rivers. It is a valley of unparalleled beauty, dotted with precious flowers of rare species. Dzokou in Angami Naga dialect means ‘cold water’ referring to the ice cold stream that flows through the valley and freezes into ice in winter months. Alternative explanation refers to the Mao Naga word dziikou that means ‘dreamlike’ referring to its serenity as a dreamscape . A Mao legend talks of the intoxicating charm of the valley that is visited by lovers and where time stops still, moonlight being as bright as light of the day. Standing in the majesty of the the flower carpeted valley at the height of 2452 meters asl and right below the Japfü Peak, I entirely believe this Mao legend.
Photographer Nassif Ahmed described the Dzukou landscape somewhere as ‘a big golf course that has been made uneven by some celestial earthquakes’. Leaving aside the ominous ring to it, the description is indeed befitting.
Approaches to the valley :
The traditional route and the one that continues to be popular with the ones seeking some serious trekking is the one that starts by a little river in the edge of Jakhama village, off the NH39 and about 9 km away from Kohima town. From there it is a walk of around 6-8 hours depending on one’s pace till the sole rest house of the valley. From the rest house, the valley is lies at an hours descent away. But the trail from Jakhama involves some strenuous climbing over a path that crosses right through some dense forest covers and high hills. Along the way one goes almost right by Mt. Japfu, one of the second highest peak of the state standing tall at 3041 meters. There is this new road, however, developed over the last couple of years that has also gained popularity due to the convenience it provides. This road that forks out from NH39 (renamed NH 2) at Viswema village (14 km from Kohima town) takes one significantly closer to the valley approach, involving a super bumpy drive of about 30-40 mins from Visewma that definitely feels much longer. Evidently, sturdy SUVs and those old war horses like Maruti Gypsies are the only machines that braves these terrain.
The backbreaking joyride is followed by a steep hike of about 30-40 minutes along a waterfall and a mossy forest that has an air of antiquity about itself.
This takes one to a vantage point of a kind. An open area that overlooks at different corners of the state standing tall at an altitude of over 2000 metres. The panorama of dazzlingly green forest covers and undulating hills from this point is breathtaking, although the howling wind at times feels strong enough to blow you away. We had a stopover of about 15 mins here, a quick fix snacks break, sheltering from the ongoing drizzles in a shelter shed constructed by a particular clan. From this point, that I call ‘the balcony’, its a couple of hours of delightful walk till the rest house. It is a walk that is almost entirely over straight trails, without much climb or descent.
The landscape, the flora and fauna changes dramatically, almost as soon as one sets foot on this trail. It is as if you enter a different land, transcending through time, space and geography, as soon as you take the particular bend of the road and set foot on those wild trails cutting through bamboo shrubs.
The house on the Top : Dzukou valley Rest house
The rest house built by Nagaland state government is a cluster of charming wooden structures. It has two units one of which is called rather grandly as the ‘VIP guesthouse’ , evidently the one with individual rooms and attached bathroom. A supreme luxury given the terrain. The other house provides large dormitory rooms where sleeping gears are provided to the guests. The rates for the luxury was set at 300 rupees per night for this season and dorms were available for as low as 30 rupees a night.
What however seem to be quite a go with the young crowd is the provision of renting camping gears from the rest house to spend a night or two in the valley below.
Young people like Ayeto and Avi from the Kigewma village maintain the rest house and run the kitchen with food supplies that they carry on rucksacks from their village below. Guests can thus have some homely meal, at times with the additional bonanza of local herbs plucked in the afternoon. When we went we had carried some meat with us from Kohima that we gave Avi to prepare with some local ginger. The taste was divine and the setting perfect. Warm rice and meat with boiled blubbery leaves savoured around a crackling fire on a cold (July!) evening was delicious specially to our fatigued bodies. Most importantly, the rest house is maintaining a provisions store off late with basic necessities and light food. The little bit of extra charge put the on the items seems only too legitimate.
The valley of Flower and meandering rivers : on the Dzukou Lily trail
One reaches the valley with a slightly strenuous descent of about 45-60 minutes. The valley crisscrosses the hills around and makes a longish form. River Dzukou with pebble bed and water crystal clear meanders through the valley.
The valley is home to a rare species of mountain lily that is endemic to it. Called the Dzukou Lily it is now recognised as a protected species and people come to see its full bloom in the month of July when there is the ideal rainfall. As per some reports however, the bloom of this flower has reduced in last few years specially due to the fast growth of a particular type of bamboo and also due to incidents of repeated forest fire.
Legend has it that once the valley was the grazing ground of elephants that and as a lingering echo of a past long lost one can spot, lifting up the cover of ground shrubs, round shaped dents dotting the landscape, resembling the mammoth’s footprint.
The real charm of the valley lies in the potentials it provides for camping activities. Natural caves and rock formations, mostly by river Dzukou, presents the best possible places for the star gazers and the lovers of the outdoors. I would remember always the sight of those happy campers, sitting around some barbecue outside their cave camp (and some pitched tents) happily singing Don Wiliams. “I believe in you” will be forever be the Dzukou song for me.
And yet the wildflowers bloom…
The day I was returning from the valley the news came of Central Government (re)declaring ‘the whole of the state of Nagaland’ as ‘disturbed area’, thus continuing the enforcement of the rather inhuman Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state. True, the region around Dzukou has seen too much tears and bloodshed. The sheer irony of the fact that such a paradise of tranquility sits right in the middle of a zone brutalised by violence, fills one’s heart with a ensue of poignance. Nature is bountiful, kind and most beautiful in its creations. A visit to Dzukou valley, gives one some flickering hope about peoples ability to cherish the beautiful amidst all the bad, to preserve,nurture and celebrate the good in life in the midst of all that is depressing and suffocating. Dzukou, the valley of flower, is being looked after and celebrated by some of the most traumatised and violence ridden societies in the subcontinent, that is in the process of coming out from a long history of conflict which is far from over. And yet Don William is wafting in the air here humming,
“But I believe in love
I believe in music
I believe in magic
And I believe in you….”
For me this alone is soul satisfying. John Muir, the grand old American naturalist once wrote, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. I cannot agree more, Mr. Muir, from the enchanting flower beds of Dzukou valley. Come let us find love, peace and optimism in this valley of flower.
Photo and text - Dr. Kaustubh Deka
(Dr. Kaustubh Deka teaches Political Science at the Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi and is a former fellow with the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai)