Dzükou Valley

This 'hidden valley' at an altitude of around 2500m in the mountains south of Kohima makes a wonderful nature trip if you're prepared for a bit of steep uphill hiking. Dzükou is famed for its monsoon wildflowers (orchids, lilies, rhododendrons) but it has a magical, otherworldly atmosphere any time of year. Surrounded by forested mountains, the valley itself comprises a series of hillocks mostly carpeted in dwarf bamboo.

Kohima agencies offer guided trips but it's quite feasible to visit Dzükou independently. The trails can be hiked at any time of year and the routes are mostly obvious. It's possible to visit Dzükou in a rather hurried day trip from Kohima, but much better is to stay one or two nights at the valley's basic guesthouse. Nights can be cold, so bring warm clothing and preferably a sleeping bag.

The valley is accessible from both Zakhama (Jakhama) and Viswema villages, respectively 16km and 21km south of Kohima on NH2 (old NH39). Shared jeeps leave for Zakhama (₹50, 35 minutes) and Viswema (₹60, 45 minutes) from about 6am to 4pm from outside Network Travels in southern Kohima.

A good plan is to go up from Viswema (the less steep approach) and then descend to Zakhama. From Viswema you can hire a jeep to cover the first 8km up the hill for around ₹1500, leaving you with only about one hour's steep uphill walking to the lip of the valley. The starting points from both villages are marked by green 'Way to Dzükou' signs beside NH2 – the Zakhama one is about 1.5km south from the village's jeep stand.

At the end of the jeep track up from Viswema, an obvious track leads ahead into the forest from the small parking area. Go 20 metres along this, then turn right up a narrow path with rough stone steps (on our visit this was marked by a sign forbidding forest loam collection). The steps lead steeply up through beautiful, eerily silent cloud forest to reach the edge of the Dzükou Valley after 1.1km. From here follow the path across the hillside to the right: you'll soon see the Dzükou Valley Guesthouse ahead of you. It takes about 1¼ hours to reach it. At the guesthouse you pay your one-time valley entrance fee (Indian/foreigner ₹50/100). It has two large dorms, where you sleep on the floor, and five very basic private rooms with boards to sleep on and private squat toilets. You can also get basic meals and hot drinks here, and they have a limited number of blankets (₹50), foam mats (₹50) and sleeping bags (₹100) to rent.

Various trails weaving around the valley make for a fine day's vagabonding. One good goal is a cross-topped hill, about three hours' round-trip walk from the guesthouse.

To descend to Zakhama, retrace your steps from the guesthouse for nearly 1km and fork left at an 'Alternate Trek Route' sign. From here it's 15 minutes up to the edge of the valley, then about three hours down through the forest to NH2. When you hit the main road, walk 1.5km to the left to the Zakhama jeep stand. The last jeep to Kohima normally leaves around 5pm, but some days it's earlier.