Wanderlust in Dzukou

Photographer Nassif Ahmed was mesmerized by the beauty of this exotic Dzukou valley in Nagaland

 

Now Dzukou is not a name that rings a bell.I am sure many of you have not heard of it either.“ So what’s there to shoot?” I asked my brother. He didn’t know either. He threw me a magazine that had a pretty photograph of a beautiful mountain range. It said Dzukou Valley. As I flipped through the pages, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the valley. A sprawling valley that spreads across Nagaland and Manipur.I had to go there and shoot. Nothing excites me more than venturing into the unknown. Knowing where you are going in life is oh so mundane.

 

It was the month of May 2004. Guwahati was at its sweltering worst. I called my assistant and asked him to get my shooting crew ready.My boys were getting lazy and rusty. Had to take them to the mountains to keep them in shape. So the plan was made. A sumo was booked to take the unit next day. I decided to go on my bike. Camera, tapes, batteries, battery lights and basic camping gear formed the bulk of our luggage. The journey from Guwahati to Kohima was uneventful. Except that it got progressively colder. My Nagaland shooting coordinator met us at the tourist lodge where we stayed. She had arranged two guides to take us to Dzukou. As she briefed us about the trip I realized how ill prepared I was for our expedition. The first realization was that we had to walk for 6 to 7 hours with all our equipments. The vehicle and my bike would get only till the first 4 or 5 km.

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The second realization was that there would be no electricity in the valley. That’s not a problem usually but when you are shooting you need to recharge the camera batteries. I had two batteries to shoot for around 60 mins only. I had to be judicious with my camera. Then to make things even more complex we were told that we had to carry all the food we wanted to eat, as there were no shops in the valley. This new information meant we had to reset our plan. It was decided that we take just our shooting equipment and food rations. 6 kg of rice, 2 kg of daal, 4 kg potatoes, 3 kg of onions, 3 dozen eggs and 4 bottles of old monk seemed sufficient for 6 people for 2 days. There was no way we could carry our camping gear and other luggage. There are three common routes to reach Dzukou Valley. The easiest trek is from Vishewma village. The shortest but most difficult trek is from Zakhama village. And the longest route is through Mao’s Potato Farm from the Manipur side. That takes about a day and a half of walking. All the three routes can be accessed from NH39. After discussing with my crew we decided to enter from Vishewma village and exit from the Zakhama side.

 

We started from Kohima at 4.30 am and headed straight to Vishwema village to pick up our guides. I was on my bike and the rest were in the sumo. After leaving NH39 we entered a dirt track that would take us up the mountain. The road was barely motorable. My bike wheels threatened to come apart as it rattled up the rocks. The sumo was much behind me. After 30 mins or so we reached a dead end. This is where we park our vehicles and start the trek. Both my guides were carrying guns. It scared me. I asked them if it was dangerous to go to the valley. They smiled but didn’t say anything. That scared me even more. Images of a gunfight between our guides and underground boys played out in my mind. I tried to calm myself by focusing on the trek.The first part of the climb was through a forest. The forest looked like a fairy tale. All the trees were covered in deep green moss. Colorful mushrooms formed a carpet under our shoes as we walked.I couldn’t resist rolling my camera. Since I had very limited camera batteries I divided my shoot into two parts. The trek to the valley and back was given 30 mins roll time and the valley itself 30 min roll time.

 

I was shooting some clouds when I heard the gunshots behind me. I swung my camera around towards the sound. Our two guides were running down the slope towards some bushes. My assistant told me they hunting for birds.Only now I figured the reason for carrying the guns. After climbing for two hours through the humid forest we crossed a small stream. The trail then almost took a u-turn. This is the point where the magnificent Dzukou Valley first revels itself.

 

I was spellbound. For as far as my eyes could see the lush green rolling meadows spread itself out. The forest was replaced by bamboo grooves.There was no more climbing. It was like taking a leisurely walk through a park. No villages no people. We had to walk for 4 hours more before we reached our campsite. I rolled my camera sporadically. Every now and then the clouds would come and my frame would look like a plain white paper. So utterly beautiful.It was almost 1pm now. In a distance I could see a shiny tin roof glistening in the sun. My guide told me that was our campsite. It looked near but there were two mountain ranges between us.We had not eaten anything since the morning. Not even a cup of tea. All of us were famished and exhausted but we hadn’t noticed it. The beauty of the valley was overpowering.

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The tiny tin roof turned out to be a big wooded house. There was a big empty hall that had a wooden floor with no furnisher. In the corner a couple damp stringy mattresses were piled up. My guides told me this was a guesthouse. A board on the wall said we could rent mattresses for 40 bucks apiece. I went behind the hall and found a small fireplace and some utensils. Strangely enough there was nobody around. It was getting dark. We decided to unpack and help ourselves to the place. A cold chilling wind started blowing through the broken windows. Somebody put a glass of old monk in my hand. My assistants made some fire and started cooking. The guides made chutney out of all the birds they had gathered in their bag.The first meal of the day was consumed as soon as it was made. I pulled out a mattress dozed off in a corner.

 

Next day early morning we ate the leftover rice and descended into the valley. It resembled a big golf course that had been made uneven by some celestial earthquake. The guides pointed out the Dzukou River in a distance. It looked more like a stream. I had never seen anything like it before. I rolled my camera in every direction possible. I was hoping to see lots of flowers but my guides told me that April and August were the flowering seasons here. That was the time when the entire valley would be full of lilies in myriad hues. But I felt Dzukou’s charm is perennial. Every season had something different to offer. Although it doesn’t snow in Dzukou the river would turn frosty ice in winters. Since the light was good I decided to roll the camera as much as I could instead of trying to save batteries. The weather here is unpredictable. A sunny day could get rainy or foggy in a matter of seconds. By sunset I had used up both the batteries. Time to get back to the camp and cook some food. Just like the previous night the food was consumed as soon as it was ready. As I lay down to sleep I promised myself to get back to Dzukou again with my unit during the flowering season.

 

I eventually went back to Dzukou twice after that but never during the flowering season. Hope to make it in April 2013.

 

Nassif Ahmed

Nassif Ahmed

As a photographer Nassif Ahmed has witnessed and captured varied facets of life through his lens in remote areas of Northeast India. Nassif wears many hats- photographer, cameraman, ace biker, adventurer, storyteller, filmmaker, guitarist and many more". You can meet him on his www.nassifahmed.com