This is a part of India where raindrops rake the earth in steady drifts; where the countryside is an immodest green from the emerald paddy fields, the jade tea plantations that crowd the slopes and the Jurassic-era ferns that border gushing waterfalls. Beyond the crowded Brahmaputra plains, where passenger trains blast through shanty towns packed so close to the track you can see what’s cooking for lunch, and Shillong that sees tourists drive up in droves to marvel at its rhododendrons, are places that have never been mapped or have only recently turned up on the tourist radar.
Last year, the Union Ministry of Tourism, decided to, in the next three years, double the tourist growth rate in Northeast India from the present 5.2%. The region had registered 77 lakh domestic tourists and 1.6 lakh foreign tourists over the last few years.
Nagaland’s blue-green baize of hills that have long been known for the Battle of Kohima, has kept hidden in its folds the beautiful Dzukou Valley. Home to the Angami people, its undulating, uninhabited slopes are sprinkled with lilies and seasonal flora. Although day-trippers come to peek at its beauty, it is only this year that a festival by the State Department of Tourism will celebrate the valley. The working partners for the festival will be India Trail and a few other tour operators.
India Trail is led by Akhrielie David Solo, founder-director, who in 2006 formed an NGO to promote sustainable tourism in Nagaland, and Rohan Abraham, co-founder-director, who quit a high-profile career as a chartered accountant to assist non-profits with advisory services.
How it began
“David and I (both 39) met in university in Delhi and have known each other for almost 21 years. We decided to enter the hospitality business in 2013, starting first with a travel experience company with a plan to graduate to hotels and campsites,” says Rohan. “The Northeast is a gold mine of different experiences, cultures and geography. As people generally don’t think of coming here for a holiday, it made a great place for us to start.”
- The festival runs from October 19-25 with daily pick-ups from Red Cross, Kohima, at 6 am and daily departures from Dzukou at 2 pm.
- It will feature Nature photography walks, sunrise walks, trail cycling, acoustic music evenings and bonfire nights.
- It aims at being a zero footprint festival, where the venue will be left exactly as it was before the festival.
- Hosted by Nagaland Tourism Association, food, tents and mats will be provided at ₹999 plus tax per camper per night.
- For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 91-8794835901.
Rohan agrees that breaking the ice with societies that have had little contact with the outside world has been challenging yet exciting. “The Nagas, Mizos and Sikkimese were not new to me, as I have a lot of friends among them. That said, David and I approach new areas here in a structured manner — meeting the village headman, introducing our work, meeting with various groups in the village… We go ahead only after a green signal from all. We design our experiences in that area, using the youth as our guides and the local homes there as homestays. In larger towns, we don’t have to take such a conservative approach,” says Rohan, singling out some experiences in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan as heart-warming and memorable. “The people in some villages in Nagaland’s Phek district have been just incredible.”
Rohan shares a few pointers on the Dzukou Valley festival:
How different is this from others in the region?
A lot of people, including local folk, have never been here, despite it being so close to Kohima. We have incorporated the adventure of trekking and camping under the stars, performances by local musicians, extensive walks across the valley and photography. It is the most cost-effective way to experience the valley and it’s going to be interesting to see how people enjoy this festival. The guests are from varied backgrounds and age groups.
What are the permits required?
To enter the hill districts of Nagaland, you need to obtain an Inner Line Permit from the Government of Nagaland. We organise this at a cost of ₹300; we need a photograph, a scan of an Indian ID and their address.
What is the takeaway for guests?
We want them to learn about Nagaland, the Nagas and the wonderful geography of this high-altitude valley.
How cost-effective is travel to the Northeast?
Air fares to these regions are higher, as the frequency of flights is still limited. Road conditions are poor in many areas and so the wear and tear on vehicles is again higher. These two factors, combined with the seasonality of the business, make it more expensive than other places. This continues to be a challenge — to have our guests perceive the value of the money spent.