On the 23rd of May, we left Imphal town for Kohima. It was a five hours journey and we reached at around seven in the evening. We decided to take a good night sleep before starting the adventure the next morning. I was very excited for the next day, though trekking was not new for us, it was going to be different this time. My excitement was over the top. Trekking has always been a family thing for us. We have trekked on the Himalayas with narrow tracks, chilling winds and snow, through the lush green tea gardens of Assam and to small villages up in the hills in Manipur and not to forget our trek to Shirui valley which we did last year. This time it was going to be beyond all that.
The same day on our way to Kohima we met Rovitono Yhoshu in Kigwema village who arranged a guide for us. She with her family members runs a homestay very near to the heritage village in Kohima. She told us about the Viswema trek for which we had to take the offroad route from the highway and travel for eight km which was also considerably the easiest trek to the Dzukou valley. But we were not sure about our vehicle whether it would go till the base point as the road was very bumpy and slushy. She also told us about the alternate trek which was the Zakhama route. It was difficult than the later one and was also the oldest trek which was not being used much by the trekkers. Since we were not sure about the vehicle taking us to the base point of Viswema route, we decided to take the trek less trekked by, which was the Zakhama route.
Had we taken the Viswema trek, we would have reached a peak within three hours, whereas the Zakhama route would have taken us four hours. We were okay with that. She advised us to carry chocolates, nuts, and enough water. She also warned us about the leaches and asked us to carry salt. As advised by her we went to the market in the evening to buy these items. Next morning we woke up early at around six and got ready. The temperature was cold even though it was May whereas in Hyderabad it was too hot. That day the atmosphere was filled with excitement like any other adventure we’ve had before. My adrenaline was rushing through every part of my body. We reached Dawn Home Stay where we picked up our guide Nephrezo.
We reached Zakhama trekking base at around 8 30 am. We had everything packed and we were all set. We walked a kilometer or so through an open path which enters into the forest. As we entered the forest, there was a change in the surrounding, the tree around grew so thickly that there was no undergrowth at all. About our feet were only the brown remanence of branches and leaves that have fallen in the recent high wind. The air around was filled with petrichor. Everything was cool and the colors had the softness of that time just before twilight. The silence in the forest was broken down by the chirping and tweeting of birds and buzzing of cicadas and bugs. There were little streams of water passing by; the sound of the running water in the brook had the same hypnotic feeling as that of music.
There was steady light rain on the way. In the forest, the sky vanishes almost completely, only a few fragments of the blue remains like scattered pieces of impossible jigsaw puzzles. The air was filled with the fragrance of leaves and loam. Even so, many hours after the rain has passed the soil remained wet slowly releasing its heavy fog. On the way, we were chatting with our guide who told about his family and general stuff. We completed almost an hour of the trek, we were nowhere near the peak, but we’re fully exhausted. It was that time when our body fully got acclimatized with the environment and temperature. We decided to take a little break and had some snacks to reenergize ourselves.
We started our trek again, the height was gradually increasing and the air getting thicker with the fog. We dashed through the woods, leaping over thin winding creeks and slippery rocks. We dodged and zipped passed rotting trees. Everything around was mixed into a dizzying blend of an earthly color. The drone of insects was humming around, bringing alive the forest with their echoing sound in the cold morning air. The webs were stringed with delicate drops of morning dew, glistening in the shards of sunlight. I and my sister were going ahead pacing with Nephrezo, whereas my parents were behind. Every now and then, we asked Nephrezo how far we were. The cloud was so thick in the forest, it collided with one another making it shower.
Our guide even told a story about a trekker who got lost in the forest and was found sleeping on a tree after three days when the forest department sent their search party. This made the trek even more interesting but surely we did not want to get lost. We were still left with two hours to reach the peak of the mountain. The dark shadows of the voluminous trees and the surrounding bushes had become the backbone of the forest. The trees stood like passive protectors of that peaceful place. All the trees were tightly knit, just one strand in a massive web of life. Green leaves, yellow leaves, red leaves, it was a rainbow of rich natural colors. The scent of earth and water drifted to the air. It was a picture of serenity. It was a place where I can let go off technology. Cellphone off. Just me, the trees and my backpack filled with survival essentials.
The surroundings grounded me in a place where the ticking of clocks was unregarded. We were now four hours through with our trek. It was quite an achievement for us to negotiate such a difficult steep climbing. The view from the hilltop was breathtaking, to one side there was the thick forest and to the other was the far-stretching valley filled with thick bamboo grass. We were not quite there yet, we still had to trek for another 45 minutes to reach the base camp of Dzukou valley. Those of y’all who don’t know about Dzukou valley, it is located at the border of two states ie, Manipur and Nagaland in Northeast India. It is situated at an altitude of 2452 meters above sea level. The valley is well known for its natural environment, seasonal flowers, and flora and fauna. The rare Dzukou lily found only in this valley.
We were going through narrow paths of the valley where some were slippery enough to take us down the gorge, we were very careful about every step we took forward. The view was so awe-inspiring that I couldn’t resist my self to look into the valley and because of which I lost my balance a few times. We reached the base camp at around two in the afternoon. The wind was chilling. We took a private room. The room was a typical example of “a cabin in the woods”, which was secluded from the rest of the dormitories and the kitchen. We were totally exhausted and felt so shivering cold that we decided to light a bonfire outside our room. Cold seeped into our innards like a freezing fog making its way into our bones wrapping around our brain like a wet blanket. The warmth from the fire reduced the stiffness in my limbs. We sat there for an hour or so and also dried our wet and soggy socks and shoes under the fire. It was heavily raining, so we decided not to go to Dzukou valley in the evening rather we decided to go early next morning.
We ordered dinner for us, including for our guide. We decided to take some rest before dinner. Once we got into the blanket, it was a comforting warmth, every one of us fell asleep for almost an hour. By the time we woke up, it was pitch dark. At the base camp and further towards the valley, there were neither electricity nor mobile connectivity. We went to the kitchen where we were asked to sit and served ourselves with vegetarian food. We then came back to our room. The small room was rather dim and lit by candles around, that small flickering flame was our only source of light. The candlelight was an arc of brilliant gold in the darkness. Since there was no means of entertainment for us, we decided to pass our time by telling each other funny anecdotes of family and friends. We laughed a lot and slept peacefully through the night. It was the type of coldness that reached into my bones as if my heart were a door left wide open to the icy wind, slamming only to open again. All four of us were tugged inside the blanket utilizing the warmth from the body and the cozy blankets around.
Our guide informed us to get up at around four in the morning and to leave for the valley at around 4 30. These are the days I live for. Waking up before five and getting ready while it’s still dark outside. I woke up to the steady patter of rain upon my window, droplets yet to scatter the nascent rays of the rising sun. The sound of the breeze brought a calmness to my mind, a soothing melody, a natural lullaby. I knew it was early when there was no light struggling to get past the grime on our window. I could hear the drum of rain on the window pane and I brought my hand down in a half-sleepy stupor onto my alarm clock, but when I saw the time was four in the morning, I got up as quickly as possible and also woke my parents and my sister. The coolness of the early morning was deceptive; the sun had barely risen and the cold wind gusted outside our room, the floor was as cold as a frozen lake. We got ready as quickly as possible before the cold affected our body.
It was a 45 minutes trek to the valley and was raining gradually. As we got closer, the view got more picturesque, the hills looked bouncy with beautiful curves, it felt like balloon castles we see in circuses. As we reached midway of the valley, I caught my breath, the beauty and thinness of air overtook my senses, I knelt down in the grassy floor looking out to the world, the sense of awe I had was enhanced. Stumbling over rocks and shrubs, slipping on pebbles, cold sleepless night and now this. Indescribable joy, relief, and beauty. Being in such a beautiful setting caused me to feel spiritual. Mists were crowding in the valleys, each bald mountain top was shone like a jewel. We saw the Dzukou river down the gorge, we wanted to see it closely, as the river got nearer, it was like a motivation for each step, there we saw bunches of rare Dzukou lilies which were quite similar to Shirui lily ( I narrated about it in my earlier blog ). According to the locals, they believe that Dzukou lily is the husband of Shirui lily.
The hills around were pristine and filled with lush green bamboo grasses, I could stand here drinking it all in, listening to the silence that hangs so thickly in the frozen air. As we got near the river, the downpour of the rain was so heavy, we decided to head back. Cold water seeped into my shoes stealing the heat from the soles just as fast as wind stole from my face. My face was soaked, the drops came together to run into my eyes and dripped from my chin. The ground swerved into the narrow valley that was almost a gorge. It ran around 10 miles before slopping back up, from here we could see colorful flowers to the narrow corridor of the valley and small shrubs growing on the side.
There were certain points while we going back, which got so affected by the heavy rain, that we slipped many times. There were also certain points where water was rushing down the hill so heavily that we had to go against the flow of the water up to the hill. On the way back it so happened that our guide Nephrezo was so ahead of me and my parents and sister were way behind and were nowhere to be seen or heard. I was busy taking pictures and when I looked around and saw no one near me I thought I almost forgot my route and was stranded in the middle of nowhere. I was in a narrow path to which on one side was a steep gorge and ahead was a slippery track, I felt my heart seeping down and there were chills down my spine. I called up my dad but in the first attempt in doing so, no one answered, when I called again I heard from the rear, it was my father, I was relieved. I waited for them at that point and all four of us together with our guide came back to our room.
Our feet were frozen and numb, we decided to light a bonfire and sat down there for some time. We also ordered some hot tea which would go with the omelet we ordered for our breakfast. I clasped the cup between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached in the frozen air. My muscles were clenched tight against the cold, we sat there for almost an hour drying our jackets and shoes which were drenched in the rain. We decided to head back down at around nine and by that time the rain got over. This time while going down we decided to take the Viswema track which was a gradual slope. The trek was easy going since we were moving along the Dzukou river. A belt of mountain stretched out as far as I could see, all covered in a flawless green. We could walk along the river almost for two hours before entering the forest. In the forest, I breathed in every way it was possible to expand, in my lungs, in the brain, and in the soul. In the forest, there was a sense of kinship with the flora, of an ancient soul that stretched into everything that lives.
This route would cover the trek for about 45 minutes to reach the taxi pick up point. In the forest, I was with my tribe of woods and leaves, among the giant whose roots hug the ground. It was the place of ancient souls, of the creature who dwelled with the sweet sounds of moving water and bird song, somehow this was more home than home. The ground of this forest was formed from the remains of the trees falling. In successive generations, for a century, is most eccentric: sometimes raising itself in the shape of a mountain to descend suddenly into a muddy swamp, and by millions of mosquitoes swarming. The roots of the trees were Cris- crossed, gnarled and uneven; as beautiful as any picture book illustrations, I took the colors around me with my unshielded eyes.
By twelve in the afternoon we reached the base of the Viswema track. It was a victory for all of us. I was taking back a bouquet of memory that I will hold close to my heart forever, life is series of baby steps to reach your goals, Dzukou was one of mine and I hope it can push you to take one of yours.
Met a doggo at the camp.