2 minute read
Jason Gagliardi

THERE BE DRAGONS The warnings grew more dire the closer I got to Kam Chanode, the islandlike abode of the mythical Naga. “Watch what you say when you get there,” advised the smiling service station attendant. “It’s a sacred place,” croaked a gimlet-eyed crone squatting outside a shop where I stopped for water. “Be careful.” Thus it was with some trepidation that I turned off the highway and followed the signs along a strip of crumbling bitumen. I passed through the gates of a temple and found the tallest palm trees I’ve ever seen, jutting skyward from a lush hump of jungle-covered earth in the middle of a weed-strewn lake. It looked like one of southern Thailand’s tropical isles had been picked up and dropped into the middle of a paddy.

According to local lore, the giant snakewhich was forbidden from entering the monkhood by the Lord Buddha because it wasn’t humanhas roamed a subterranean universe known as the Muang Badan for thousands of years, slithering through a vast network of caves and tunnels. The main thoroughfarethe Naga superhighway, if you likeis said to run from Kam Chanode in Udon Thani province to Wat Paa Ahong, a temple on the riverbank more than 100 kilometers away in neighboring Nong Khai. Pilgrims, I was told, visit Kam Chanode to anoint themselves with water from the Naga’s pond.

A sign at the start of the bridge across the lake outlines the rules: no shoes, no swearing, no whiskey, no littering, no graffiti, no stealing the sacred water, no loud noises and, oddly, no sitting. An eerie, whispering sound issued from within the dank grove. I rounded a bend in the path, half expecting to come face-to-face with the slithering monster. Instead, it was a small army of Thai matrons engaged in one of the country’s most popular pastimestrying to discern lucky lottery numbers by swirling powder over the bumps and ridges of the broad palm trunks. To me, it looked guaranteed to rub the Naga the wrong way.

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