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The mountains of northern Pakistan are home to extremely rich traditions of mythical creatures of all sorts. Of these the most notorious are tales of the lake infesting dragons, creatures of pure misery who wreaked havoc on the natives of the north.

Of the Menacing Dragons of Pakistani Folklores.

For centuries, the people of northern Pakistan, specifically the Khos (Chitralis/Khowar speakers), have known creatures of sheer terror who used to infest lakes and terrorize the surrounding areas. These dastardly creatures were known by the name of ‘Nahang’! The word Nahang comes from the old Persian ‘Nihang’ which was usually employed to define sea creatures but in modern context is often used to describe crocodiles and other aquatic animals.

The Nahangs are remembered to be scaly creatures with a thick fur like manes running the length of their backs. They used to be serpent like in appearance but also held wings and the ability to devour anything in their path. In certain ways, one could call them winged serpents. As mentioned, the Nahangs were completely aquatic creatures. Each dragon was bound to its lake and could not, for the greater part, escape from it. As a result every lake with a dragon became notorious as a site of despair and a place which outsiders and travelers avoided but locals could not. A famous one was the Dragon lake of Mastuj, Chitral.

It is said that centuries ago, a menacing dragon inhabited a lake at the base of the town of Mastuj in Chitral. This dragon used to viciously tear apart anything that dared come close to it’s domain, be it human or animal. In these circumstances of utter distress for the locals of Mastuj, a warrior arose. The warrior shouldered the responsibility of ending the menace for which he fashioned a special double hilted sword. He entered the dragon’s lair and the dragon, both surprised at the valor of someone getting so close as well as happy at the prospect of a feast on human flesh, pounced at the warrior. The warrior too jumped and grabbing both hilts ran the sword through the dragon tearing it apart from Jaw to tail, killing him instantly.

It is said the lake dried up afterwards but perhaps the warrior’s valour never left for from the later settlement on that lake arose a man named Sardar Hussain who singlehandedly rained fire upon the Dogras during Chitral bodyguard’s forces’ liberation of Baltistan. He died last year at 99.

But the most interesting fact about the Chitrali dragon was how it showed a synthesis of various myths and Chitral’s location at the juncture at the crossroads of south-west-central Asia. The Nahang’s description such as the thick fur like mane, serpent body, and aquatic habitat seek to be completely Chinese or East Asian in its descriptions, but unlike East Asian dragons the Nahang was not a creature of wisdom rather one of murderous capacities. A synthesis that we see in many other creatures of Chitrali mythology. The tales of dragons in northern Pakistan, however, are not knew.

Nearly 1600 years ago when the ancient Chinese traveller Xuanzang was passing through a region that the Chinese called ‘Tsung Ling’ meaning the ‘Onion mountains’, a mountainous region believed by some to have been the Pamirs and by others to have been the (Hindu Kush), he wrote of a lake infested by a dragon which wreaked havoc on the people of the surrounding valley. More than a millennia later during the British colonial era, George Morgenstierne (one of the most prominent linguists to have worked in the region) was of the opinion that he had located this long lost lake. He believed it was Lake Dufferin on the border of Chitral and Badakshan. This lake after the Durand line agreement fell on the Afghan side right on the Pak-Afghan border inside the historic Dorah Pass.

Of my own knowledge there only exists 1 major dragon lake left in Pakistan, the Nahango Chatt (Dragon’s Lake) of Phander valley in Gilgit Baltistan. Phander valley, though very remote and cut off from the rest of the country for the greater part, is nothing short of heaven. It would make sense for it to offer asylum to all, even dragons.

Similarly the Kalashas and Nuristanis (& possibly Khos before adoption of Islam) believed in a world axis, A lost temple and a major pilgrimage sight in the Bashgal valley of Nuristan which acted as a portal b/w the 3 worlds: Urdesh, Michdesh and Yurdesh. At the mouth of the temple was a hole in which lived a dragon. This dragon was put there to guard the temple and to also take offerings from the pilgrims. It is said that smoke from his mouth used to constantly escape from the hole, a link to fire and dragons which is peculiar for our areas.

Back in the era of northern Pakistan’s status as the Buddhist heartland of Gandhara, there existed tales of the Dragon/Naga Apalala of Swat. Apalala lived in the Swat river and used to control the amount of rain and the course of river and thus was heavily involved in local affairs. He appears in Buddhist Jataka tales and is remembered for having been tamed by the Buddha. He also makes an appearance in Gandharan art.

In Gilgit in the days of old there used to be fire festivals, similar to the ones attached to those of Shri Badat the cannibal’s death. One account recorded by someone during the British era spoke of one such festival being celebrated for the killing of a dragon by the bare hands of the king of Gilgit in the days of yore. According to some, the Rakaposhi peak of Hunza is also linked to dragon mythology. Raka (Dragon) and Poshi (Tail) are supposed to be forgotten links to dragon tales, though this hypothesis is not entirely confirmed.

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