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The Snow Dragon

clouds over annapurnaOn October 14th we trekked from the last collection of guest houses, Himalaya, up to Annapurna Base Camp, commonly called ABC, arriving around 10:30 AM.  We are slow walkers. We like to stop and look and take pictures. Some trekkers roused early from Macchupuchare Base Camp and were on their way back down by 11 – about when the views run out. The sun gets a bit high by then and some clouds are known to show up in the afternoons. We had intended to stay overnight so we bagged one of the remaining rooms.

The weather in Nepal has been unusual recently with it raining well into the 2007 trekking season. Winter really begins up there around December. But this day, it seems the weather was quite dramatically different.

The views were stunning, the cloud cover and lighting dramatic. In retrospect, lolling about on the edge of a cliff which dropped hundreds of feet into a glacial moraine seems pretty silly. One of the most interesting things to happen, and most certainly overlooked by most everyone, was occurring directly overhead.

Of course in retrospect it was all pretty clear. Chinese painting of Dragon in clouds

At the time it seemed, just another common piece of Himalaya magic. Directly overhead was a dragon. A high stratospheric cloud was breaking up, swirling in perfect spiral eddies. 

Everyone was amazed when it started to snow – about 2 in the afternoon – and later it dawned on me just what I had spent a half an hour gazing at in the swirling perfect spirals as the cloud danced in this one unmistakeable certain shape – A Snow Dragon 

dragon shaped cloud

My daughter had the presence of mind to actually point her camera at the thing and capture it. Now clearly – and merely – what we saw was a wind effect on the clouds from the low pressure area swirling up from the moraine below us, pulling clouds over the Annapurna’s into the bowl of Base Camp and drawing heavy wet clouds up the moraine from the forests below to set up the heavy storm to follow. The bowl was protected from the winds and there is nothing in the till to reveal a whisper of moving air.

 From the China Tibet Information Centre

“Zhug” means “dragon” in the Tibetan language. In Tibetan mythology and culture, Zhug is a deity, and the ancient Tibetans thought that thunder and hailstones were caused by Zhug, who resided in the clouds. Among the Tibetan people, Zhug is regarded both as an auspicious deity and a tyrant who pelts the earth from time to time with hail.” 

And Chinese Dragons are associated with and “in charge” of water-related weather phenomenon.”

We are just city folk who don’t see the sky very much and who have been severely distanced from weather. We know too much Science. We tell ourselves that we’re a long way from animism, from dragons in the sky who control the weather or the elements. But we didn’t have the sense to look up in the sky and actually see what was happening, to put together the evidence of rains below us and the vacuuming updrafts. But you can look back and see that dragon in the sky and you can understand; that’s where the weather comes from.