e hënë, 4 qershor 2007
You've got to be kidding! Go to the Naga's home?
Nervous.... scared..... frightened.... excited.... all of the emotions that were running simultaneously through my entire body as I psychologically prepared myself to once again meet the mighty Mekong river serpent ... known as the Phra Naga. It had been four years since my first encounter with this incredible creature and the thought of yet another "chance" meeting had sent my heart racing.... on the verge my needing to call 911 due to what felt like the onset of a cardiac arrest!
As my heart pounded in my head, my brain flashed back to that unbelievable day in 2004 when I was preparing to leave Nongkhai for the States. The sun was setting as I'd peddled my borrowed bike to the Mekong River to say goodbye to friends. A massive thunderstorm had drenched the area, producing an "end times" type sunset that would have inspired any armature photographer to true greatness! The heat from the setting sun, combined with the recent rains, produced a steamy sauna type atmosphere that had me swimming in my own sweat as I sat on the banks of the Mekong.
Staring across the river to Laos, I'd been suddenly jolted out of my day dream by the violent churning in the middle of the muddy Mekong, a thrashing and churning which had soon turned into a huge eruption as the gigantic river serpent, known as the Phra Naga, had trust its massive colorful head into the night sky. This in and of itself would have been incredible once in a life time experience, had it not been for the creatures changing direction in mid stream, to come racing full speed toward me. As I witnessed this mass of bright red and green muscle move at lightning speed toward me, my only thought was that I'd be crushed to death by its weight should it slide ashore. I was spared the crushing weight of its body however, for the King of the Naga had come to a screeching ha ult right in front of me, only to raise its dragon type head high into the air and drown me with the water flying off its whiskers! An eternity of time had passed through my frazzled brain as I lay immobilized on the cold wet river bank... so frightened by what might happen next that all my muscles became as weak as Minnesota jello. The piecing black eyes... eyes that glowed with centuries of wisdom had held me in a grip .... had bore holes into my very soul. And then, without so much as a sound ... the mythological creature of so many legends, had fallen back into the river.... and disappeared....
Was I ready for another encounter with the King of the River Serpents? With the Phra Naga...? My heart yelled a resounding "YES!" but my mind... more cautious... was back peddling faster than a circus clown on a down sloping high wire tight rope... as it mulled over the prospects of yet another, perhaps more fateful rendezvous...
But then I said to myself that no trip to northeastern Thailand would be complete, if the Naga ... that huge beautiful river serpent that dwells in the depths of the Mekong River, were not part of my adventures! Only this time... the proposed meeting place was to go to the Naga's actual home. To actually enter its watery den!
I'd no more than arrived in Nongkhai in early June 2007 when Mr. Elvis, my Thai teacher friend, drove me to Kum Chanode to visit the actual home of THE King of the Naga! This extremely dense forest, several miles from the Mekong River, is believed to be the actual residence of this incredible reptile.
It was a cold (well everything in Thailand is relative!) and rainy the day we drove the 56 kilometers to visit the actual spot where the Phra Naga lives in a vast sub-terrain pool deep under the rice paddies of Udon Thani Provence.
Thankfully the day was overcast, for we had to remove our shoes to walk across the long cement bridge leading into the sacred tropical forest. I say thankfully, since had the sun been shining that day the cement bridge would have been hot enough to fry an egg on... to say nothing about what it would have done to the soles of my tender bare feet. A number of Thai were also making the trek across the bridge to the forest, which appeared as an oasis surrounded by rice fields. It was as if all of us were on the pilgrimage to the site. Everyone whispered in hushed tones.... almost as though they were afraid to awaken the muscular serpent. Onward in silence I walked with Mr. Elvis and his family .... my eyes darting in all directions, trying to take in the tropical vegetation that surrounded us.
We walked about a quarter of a mile before we entered the sacred forest .... an ancient grove of tall trees that for centuries have proven to be the holy sanctuary of the mighty Naga! The sky became darker and darker as we walked further and further into the dense forest. Silence... only silence seemed to engulf us. A light rain began to fall as we approached the colorful Thai Buddhist style temple that seem to stand as a sentinel within the lush vegetation. A few candles were burning in the temple along with long sticks of incense which gave off a sweet aroma that mixed with the earthy smell of the forest.
Together with Mr. Elvis' wife, and children, I too lit a candle as well as a stick on incense, and then knelt down to pay my respects to this folkloric reptile which so dominates every aspect of life in this part of Thailand.
Having paid our respects to the Naga at the temple, we set off to enter the actual Lear of the Naga. The rain continued to fall as we walked along the overgrown path leading to the pool that formed the actual entrance to the Naga's sub-Terran lodging.
A kind of fear gripped my gut and a cold chill ran down my spine as we approached the pool. Would the Naga be there? Would the Naga violently thrust itself straight out of the pond with its massive head drowning me in water as it shot up towards the sky? Would it again stare down at me with those same intensely piercing black eyes I'd first experience with such fear four years ago as I laid immobilised on the banks of the Mekong River? And how would I react this time? Would I again look up in awe at this colorful serpent? Or would I be overcome with fear...? Fear that I might not be as fortunate on my second encounter?
With great trepidation.... I peered down into the pool. The water was murky... quiet... still... silently mirroring back the darkening sky. Nothing stirred the water. The depths of the pond refusing the give any hint as to the where abouts of its ancient inhabitant.
Long I stood there... next to the brightly painted cement that surrounded this pond.. searching... searching..... hoping to get even a slight glimpse of the creature. But no ray of the sun shone through the forest canopy allowing me to peer deeply into the magical pond which, as local folklore has it, is the entrance to a bottomless reservoir...
For the first time in four years, this magnificent creature alluded me.... this year it seemed to be aloof, uninterested.... almost as if it were intentionally hiding from me. With no Naga sighting in view.... I could only dip a wooden gourd into the water in which it lived, pour the water over my hands, and tell myself... the ancient powerful serpent, who for centuries has guarded the bones of Lord Buddha in the Mekong River.... has slithered through this same waters.... the water that I stood pouring over my hands...
My Thailand travels have been so entwined with the Naga ..... I could only ask myself as I stood peering down into the depths of the pond....
"Would I get no closer to the Naga on this trip, than to touch the water, drawn from the depths of its bottomless watery home.... the cool water that was flowing over my trembling hands? Would I have another occasion to meet up with the Naga? Or was this it?"
My question, like that of the Raven in Poe's poem, went unanswered ..... "Nevermore...........?"