Valley of neglect

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By Yambem Laba
On 15 June 2011,  I accompanied a 30-member team of the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association (MMTA) Dzuko Valley expedition to Dzuko Valley. We started from Mao on the Manipur-Nagaland border, 96 km from Imphal . Our  first destination was a water point some eight km away which was to serve as our base camp. We spent the first  night there. The next morning, we headed for Mt. Isso (2996 metres), Manipur’s highest  peak and climbed down to the Dzuko Valley (2500 metres).

The 6-km trek uphill to Mt. Isso in the monsoon is perhaps the toughest for any climber. This was my second visit in  25 years. Being the former president of the MMTA and a member of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, I was chosen the expedition leader almost by default. The climbing leader was Puyamcha Mohon,  one of India’s upcoming mountaineers with many a Himalayan peak to his credit.The rest of the members comprised scientists, foresters, college lecturers, students and small-time businessmen fired by the spirit of adventure and desire to see Dzuko Valley.

Unlike other popular trekking sites  elsewhere in the country there was no track at all. Even if there was one it was covered with thick foliage and plants. After about three hours’ climb, we faced the first formidable obstacle to our destination ~ a 100-feet-high rock face.  We had to use ropes. It took us about five hours to cross this hurdle and by that time the entire  topography of the area changed. There were no large trees nor springs but only dwarf bamboo around. We hung on to the bamboo clumps which were no higher than two feet as natural hand holds as we pulled ourselves up the steep face with incessant rain making the track muddier.

We had started at around 8 in the morning, crossed the rock face at 12:30 p.m. and finally made it to Mr. Isso at 4.00 pm. We later became a group of five ~ one  comprising myself, instructor Gynaeshwor, Joykumar, Inaocha and Edison. We first attempted to get into the valley westward but Gynaeshwor cautioned saying: “Sir, Dzuko should be approached from the  north.” We then doubled back to the peak and then forayed northwards and then soon darkness descended. At an age when my peers are busy cuddling their grandchildren in the comforts of their homes, there was me with four young men trying to make shelter for the night on the ridge of Mt. Isso. We made a makeshift camp for the night, using plastic sheets for our roof and the five of us huddled close to spend the night amidst the pouring rain and the howling wind  even as water trickled inside our sleeping bags. We had not had any food for the entire day.

The next morning, it stopped raining and around 9 a.m, we could see the sprawling valley below us in all its emerald finery. The word Dzuko is derived from the language of the Mao tribe who inhabit the Mao area of Manipur’s Senapati district. Dzu means water and Ko  frozen, to denote the frozen water of the valley during winter. One or two inches of ice cover  the streams of Dzuko during the winter and it snows in the top region. Dzuko covers an  area of approximately 3.1 sq-km. Three streams originating from the  south Isso range traverse through the valley and fall into the Barak in Assam.

The Dzuko could be described as the valley of flowers of the east as the  purple Dzuko Lily (Lilium chitraganda-Bikramjit) and other summer flowers bloom in full glory in thousands and on the fringes are numerous caves where one can take shelter for the night. While the Mao and Paomei tribes of Manipur settled in the adjoining areas of Dzuko, they hold the valley dear to their belief, customs and traditions and have claimed the entire area to be their own tribal land, the Angamis of Nagaland have challenged this and have staked their claim on it. At the  moment, the Dzuko river seems to serve as the line of  actual control between Manipur and Nagaland. While the latter appears to have taken a pro-active role in its claim to Dzuko Valley by constructing two roads from Zakhama and Viswema  ~ 7 and 13 km-long respectively ~ and a functional guest house and plans are afoot to construct a water supply scheme for Kohima, the Manipur government appears to have abandoned Dzuko Valley to its fate.This was evident from non-maintenance of the road leading to the base camp. It was  constructed when Mr M Thorii, local MLA, was a minister in the Manipur government. After he  ceased to be a minister, no one has bothered about maintenance. The Manipur government  talks of attracting tourists and pledges to protect the state’s territorial integrity but does not seem to have any knowledge about the needs of the region.

To start with, the road should be properly maintained. There has to be a rest house at the base camp. Also, a proper trekking route. While one can reach Dzuko via Nagaland in a day’s time, it takes two days of strenuous climbing and trekking from the Manipur side. While the dispute over the ownership of the valley may rage between the two governments of Manipur and Nagaland, it would do the states well to come together and pool their resources to petition the Unesco for declaring the valley a World Heritage Site ~ a tag enjoyed by Manas National Park that straddles Assam and Bhutan.
First published in The Statesman, Kolkata. The writer is a veteran Imphal-based journalist

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