A freezing night with no respite, we woke up early. We got out and saw that the whole place was filled with frost. Even the tents were covered with frost. It was biting cold. Most of the campers had woken up. With only two toilets and hundreds of people in line, it was going to be a challenge.
It was around 5.30 am and Roko and Piyush were all set to take us for ‘a walk’ in the valley. Little did we know it would be a trek of two hours and more! We started descending into the valley, Bhim said, if this is all descent, we have to climb back up. It was gonna be tough on the way back up. We were sleep deprived and it was sub zero temperature cold.
We were entering into the heart of the valley, surrounded by dry vegetation on both sides with Lilly buds closed up for the season, the height of the vegetation was almost at face level. The path was stony and muddy. We could see others behind us. Bhim and I would step aside for the other campers so they could continue their trigger happy selfie pics at every step of the path.
We were walking down slowly and enjoying the moment. We saw Roko right behind us and started chatting with him. The scene in Dzukou valley was a painting. Grey barren hills, dry vegetation added starkness and stoicism to the silent landscape. It was breathtaking as we could get a 360 degree view of the valley while walking. Roko shared his experiences of the trek lead training in Mussoorie. He felt he was lucky to be one of the chosen few from Nagaland.
I remember one particular incident he spoke about. Are you ready for this? Disposal of waste, human waste. He told me that they had to not only dig a hole for human waste, but after doing their job, they had to mix and stir the waste so that it decomposes faster in 2 days, if they didn’t mix it, it would last for a week. The golden rule for all trekkers was to not leave any trace behind, nothing. One had to respect the environment in every possible way.
He spoke about the conflict between Manipur and Nagaland over territory. Dzukou was part of Nagaland and the Southern Angami tribe took it as a responsibility to take care of the valley. There was a student association that made sure it was clean and there was proper disposal of trash. Roko and his friends regularly trekked to Dzukou to clean up the campsites along with the government officials.
But once Dzukou valley became popular among trekkers and visitors over the years, Manipur started claiming the valley as their own, especially as their border was alongside it. This was troublesome and more so because Google Maps shows Dzukou Valley as part of Manipur.
Bhim mentioned that when he asked his Manipuri friend as to how to get to Ukhrul, she said that one can cross from Dzukou valley into her state.
Roko said One British man decided in one go to draw a border with no idea about the territory, their culture, the people, nothing. It made me think of India-Pakistan partition, East-West Bengal division and so many more.. White men with their so called supremacy drew lines as and when they wished changing the world forever.
He mentioned an incident when 50 students from Manipur came to Dzukou and camped overnight. By morning the vegetation was on fire, since it was dry grass, the fire spread throughout the valley. He said sadly, they set it on fire and left. They wanted to destroy the valley. The students were caught but they had to let them go after interrogation as they didn’t want riots between the two states.
Right at that time came Naresh, a Gujarati guy, he was one of the oldest men in our group, and right when Roko was showing the landscape he popped the question, more like a statement. ‘Nagaland is not at all safe, Why?’ Just hearing that, Bhim and I saw red! Imagine someone comes up and abruptly asks you this! And the tone was so rude and thoughtless.
We have pride in our land, in our culture no matter what anyone says. And there is a way of asking questions, be sensitive. Why was he right now in Nagaland if he didn’t feel safe? Roko calmly responded, this region is as safe as any other region anywhere else. There was no problem. The Nagas had no issue with outsiders visiting their land. The days of unrest were long gone. The man was not satisfied I guess with the answer, he huffed and moved on.
What strikes me is that most of them were not interested in knowing about the people, their tribes, their culture, what was going on in their mind, how did it feel to be a part of mainstream India? Now that the North East was getting it’s due slowly, how did they feel?
But all that doesn’t matter, does it? It was all about clicking selfies, take pics with locals in costumes, and post on social media saying what a great trip. If you think am ranting here, yes I am. Because all it takes is a little effort to know more about the place you are travelling to. Know our people, sit with them, know them, after all it’s our country and we are united isn’t it?
As we kept walking, we paused at one point. The open barrenness removed all kinds of thoughts after some time, the heart was open, mind was blank, the sun slowly casting its sunshine and we were so happy. There was a stream that was half frozen and the other side of the stream had a walk up to go to a Gigantic Cross that had a view of the valley.
We could see everyone scrambling to get there. Roko was not keen and neither Bhim and I to be with the crowd. We could also see a lot of them screaming, ‘ Hey we are in Manipur, the Cross is in Manipur territory’! I looked at Roko, who was shaking his head. Google Maps is all he could say.
Then something happened. Roko took a frozen thick piece of ice formed in the stream and smashed it! Bhim did the same egged on by Roko with a perplexed blank expression, see his pic and you know what I mean.😁 Roko told me to be dramatic in my expressions as I smashed the ice. We were laughing away as we kept smashing ice! 😁 Roko also made a beautiful stack with one ice bits on top of the other. Take a look at the pics. It’s all clicked by Roko. He is an artist truly. It glistened like diamonds. I felt like we were sending out a prayer for the land and it’s people.
Then Roko said, do you want to see something? There were caves which he and his friends camped out whenever they had some time off. It was a detour and away from the crowd. We promptly said Yes and followed him as he led us down towards the caves. What followed next feels like a dream.
We were away, completely away from the crowd, the noise, the click click noises of the camera, the gopro. It was just us three navigating our way deep down into the valley. Climbing onto rocks, passing streams, frozen ice. The caves were magnificent. There was some burnt wood logs and some salt kept there for others to use it. Roko took a lovely picture of us in one of the caves.
Then we went down to this glistening icicles hanging precariously in the rocks. Even now when I think of it, I get goose bumps. God creates masterpieces, doesn’t he? Take a look at the pics again clicked by our man.
Then Roko,Bhim and I became children again! We sucked on icicles as if they were flavoured popsicles and Roko clicked pics 😊 Bhim also captured a fantastic slow motion video of Roko throwing a big stone into the frozen stream. We had no clue nor cared about the time. We were completely into it.
We slowly made our way up as Roko used a short cut of sorts, no trail of course just rocks and grass. By the time we came up, everyone had left. It was peaceful, quiet as we made our ascent up to the campsite. The sun was blazing now and all the layers of clothes I had on was acting up. Roko had to rush up and help Piyush so he asked if we knew the way back up, we nodded and off he ran up nimble like a deer.
We huffed, panted and paused as we looked back to what we experienced and what we were leaving.. I truly thanked Roko in my heart for giving us this. He spent time with us, he showed us a part of his life, his love of his land and what he believed in. Soon, it would be time to trek back to base camp. To be continued…