On the border between the Isaan (also written as Isan) and Laos, the Mekong is a brown brew that flows leisurely through a largely flat landscape. The mightiest animals that live in this brew are the Naga. These snake-like creatures, golden sculptures of which adorn the portals and steps of Isaan’s Buddhist shrines, are said to reside on the floor-bed of the Mekong in glass palaces. The Naga are close relatives of their namesake gods in Indian mythology and can, like the latter, also take on human form.
The waters of the river offer animals a homeland like those one would more likely expect in a maritime environment – thus, an enormous ray glides through the Mekong, and surgeonfish and colourful breams swim against the current. Even a giant wels catfish gropes with its barbels over the ground; it seems to be the biggest specimen of its type.
These powerful myths and astonishing superlatives are quite at odds with the mildness, even triviality that the river radiates – at least in the winter months. Definitely, the picture that the Mekong presents in February will not jell at all with the ring of its name.
When we’ve flown many thousand miles in order to see the mighty Mekong, we can only accept this with difficulty. We thus feel obliged to seek out a perspective of the river that reveals something of the myths that surround it. And that’s best accomplished during twilight: at that hour the river occasionally appears like a giant snake gliding almost soundlessly through the landscape. Above all, in the evening light the waves look like bronze scales that follow the movements of a precisely choreographed muscle-play within the body of the river.
How nice that this world is so flexible.
First Publication: 4-4-2014