Known as one of the most charming valleys of Nagaland, the Dzukou Valley is a spectacular visual treat of emerald green hills, lush forests, serpentine streams that freeze in winter, and myriad colourful blooms that dot the vast caldera of the valley and its meadows. It is by far the best-known trekking area in Nagaland and, after one has completed the unremittingly steep climb and the subsequent 2-3 hrs walk through low bamboo scrub, one begins to understand why.
The topography indicates that the valley is the bottom of a large crater or caldera of a long-extinct volcano, and one can look down upon it from the rim of the caldera. At 2,400m, there is a special kind of beauty, almost desolate, especially in the long shadows of early morning or late afternoon. Above the valley is a huge mountain hut (more a shed). Behind the hut there is a small pocket of remnant oak and rhododendron forest, with the occasional Magnolia campbellii. Beyond this are some small, steep hills that tempt one to climb for a better view. Half-way up, any signs of tracks disappear and one is left fighting endless bamboo thickets. The only other thing to do is to descend by an easy route 150m into the caldera, which is so big and open that it appears like a high-altitude mountain valley. It is very green, with extensive areas of bog and water plants and paths lined with primulas.
In the monsoon season, tourist brochures understandably tell of richly flowering meadows and a locally abundant pink lily. Sadly, bamboo and anything else that will catch fire is burnt, so there is little forest remaining around Dzukou Valley today. There are birds, but they are so conditioned to fear man that they are rarely to be seen. Locals are experts with catapults and rifles; indeed, we found one of our porters baking clay pellets over our cooking fire for catapult ammunition, and later discovered a woodpecker complete with feathers being slowbaked in the embers.
At present, it is a marvellous place for young people, travelling independently, to gain some trekking experience. As foreigners we were very much heartened to see its popularity. It’s clear that better maintained access trails, control over fires and hunting are badly needed. Ideally, there should be a resident warden based there, year round. interpretive information about the geology and natural history of the region would greatly enrich the visitor experience and enhance the status of the valley.
KOHIMA-DZUKOU TREKKERS’ HUT
DISTANCE 9 KM TIME 5 HOURS
Start early morning and follow NH39 from Kohima to Zakhama Check– Post (15 km by road), marked by a small tea-stall. Here, a INR 60 fee is charged for a good cause — the North Kohima Students Union uses it to maintain and keep the area clean. From the Zakhama Check-Post, walk along the stream on the 2-km jeepable road (jeeps not allowed), through forests of bamboo and deodar. Where the road ends, the path climbs steeply to the left spur along the stream, for 1 km. Follow the left bank that then meets with a resting shed. This is known as the Crying Child Valley as the beautiful tragopan pheasant, with its cry akin to a child’s wailing, inhabits this area. Walk along the right bank of the stream. From here onwards, the path is steep and, in places, you may need to get down on all fours. It is 5 km from the rest spot to the nameless 2,550m pass, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view into the Dzukou Valley.
Uniquely gentle looking spurs and grassy meadows rise up from the vast caldera of the valley floor, which abounds in colourful blooms during the monsoon months. Out of the 180- degree view on offer, 160 degrees is the Dzukou Valley alone. From here on you are in a dwarf bamboo forest, which resembles tall grass from afar. Across the hairpin pass, the trail skirts below the ridge for 200m before coming to a split. Take the right one, which is a fairly easy short descent. After half an hour you will come across a tiny stream. Cross it to get to the Dzukou Trekkers’ Hut, where the chowkidar can rustle up a good welcome meal. The Dzukou Trekkers’ Hut is about the size of a small factory or aircraft hangar, and as welcoming. It has a vast concrete floor with a few wooden platforms that serve as beds, where one can lay out sleeping bags for the night. A small separate kitchen, a small but functioning toilet block and good water supply complete the facilities. Local trekking clubs appear to be frequent visitors to the trekkers’ hut.
REST DAY (OPTIONAL)
Camp at the Trekkers’ Hut and explore the wide and beautiful Dzukou Valley. Ahead of the Trekkers’ Hut, you can do a walk to the Ghost Caves or ‘Bhoot Gufa’ as they are locally known. Remember to carry torches as the cave extends to almost a kilometre. Or simply descend around 30m from the hut, to the bottom of the vast caldera of the valley. You can explore the vast stretch of grasslands and rolling meadows, replete with flowers in the monsoon months.
DZUKOU VALLEY-VISHWEMA VILLAGE
DISTANCE 14 KM TRAIL AND 9 KM ROAD TIME: 6-7 HOURS
Carry along a packed lunch and enough drinking water from the Trekkers’ Hut for the day, as nothing is available on the route till the pass. Retrace your steps back to the split in the trail and this time take the right trail (it would have been the left when coming from Zakhama). It is a fairly level, easy trail that goes along the left side ridges of the valley through dwarf bamboo, which often have to be parted to be able to see the path in front. After a short series of zig-zags, you will reach another pass on the ridge from where you can see the highway to Imphal and the vast spread of the Vishwema Village. This is the point where you exit the Dzukou Valley. On the pass, you will come across a water pipe line, the water source for Vishwema Village. Follow it all the way down. The bamboo will come in useful as support for the initial bit of this downhill, which is very steep. At the bottom of the hill, the trail meets a road marked ‘Trekkers’ Point’. From here, unless you have arranged in advance for a vehicle to pick you up, walk the level 9 kilometre road which meets the NH61 at Vishwema Village. You can spend the night in the community hall of the village (free), and procure food from the shops.
VISHWEMA VILLAGE-JAPFU PEAK BASE
DISTANCE 10 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS
Carry water, tents and food supplies from Vishwema. No water is available till the base of Japfu Peak. From the village, head 3 km on the main road heading north-west. The road morphs into a well-defined trail surrounded by lush forests over a 7 kilometre stretch leading to the base of the peak. The trail gently skirts around the ridge, which is facing you, making it a gradual and easy ascent. There are plans afoot to build a hut though there are no visible signs of that yet. The forests here abound with rhododendrons of various hues. A small clearing in the forest and a fresh water spring make for a good campsite at the base, marked by a ‘Japfu Peak’ signboard.
JAPFU BASE CAMP-JAPFU PEAK
DISTANCE 5-6 KM TIME 4 HOURS
Ideally set out from camp at 2 am to get fabulous sunrise views from the peak, which is essentially the highest point on the ridge. The trail is well defined all the way to the top. Initially leading through dense forest affording few views, the climb is steep. The last 150m stretch of the trail opens out above the treeline and ascends smoothly to the peak. From the Japfu Peak (3,050m) you can see a vast spread of valleys, hills and villages. Half of Nagaland is visible from here, besides villages on the Arunachal Pradesh side, and Dibrugarh in neighbouring Assam. Retrace your way back on the trail, return to Vishwema Village and head on to Kohima.
Written by David Sayers and Mukul Azad
About the Authors: David Sayers is a botanical horticulturist who, after an international career in botanic gardens, established David Sayers Travel, a UK company speciallising in botanical travel. He is the author of The Bradt Travelguide to the Azores.
Mukul Azad, an adventure tour planner and operator, has travelled extensively in India, and trekked and climbed all over the Himalayas. He also enjoys water sports, skiing and nature photography.