Uttarakhand is a state in North India, known for its scenic beauty and the great Himalayas. A large segment of the state comprises of coniferous forests, meadows and valleys. A small section of the subtropical pine forests, have been known, since time immemorial, to be the home of a creature of lore. The golden coloured creature could be straight out of a fairy tale book, but the locals have believed in their existence. In particular, the women who would never forget to tell their children innumerable stories of the long-tailed dragons who inhabited their forests.
There were stories of golden streaks of light in the forests at night. So it was believed that the dragons slept during the day and moved about in the night. The most recent sighting was in 1968, when the driver of a heritage train claimed to have seen the long golden tail of a dragon. The creature was on the tracks, trying to escape the fast approaching train and finally disappeared into the night. While the official report submitted by the train driver was dismissed as fabrication by the railway authorities, but the locals who came to know of it had no doubt that the driver was telling the truth.
Now this area of the state had always been known for frequent forest fires. If any pine cone caught fire and the wind took it to another hill, the fire ravaged the adjacent hill also. Watch was kept at night by local villagers, to warn people of forest fires. Interestingly, it was found that whenever women of self- help groups (SHG) called ‘Sakhis’ guarded at night, there were few such incidents. Some believed that the fire was caused by the dragons, and maybe they feared the women folk and that is why they caused less mayhem when the Sakhis were on guard.
Soneha had grown up on the tales of the dragons, told to her by her mother. She had come to love the mythical creatures and always felt that they had her back. Till, she recently lost her home to a forest fire.
So when the 17-year-old kept vigil with two more girls at the eastern edge of the village that bordered the forest, that night the only thing that raged in her heart was anger for the dragons who had made her family homeless.
It was a windy, moonless night as the girls huddled together, but ever vigilant. Suddenly they saw embers from a burning pine cone fall on the trees near them. And before they could call out for help, a section of the trees had started burning. The village was a little distance away, so Soneha sent both the girls for help, while she stood guard.
Then she saw something which would remain the most incredible experience of her life – a golden orange shape emerged, just behind the burning trees. She stood transfixed, not able to even breathe, as the dragon opened its mouth and consumed the fire. A little distance away, she saw another dragon appear, and then another. Within a few minutes, the fire was out and the creatures had disappeared.
By the time the villagers appeared, they saw the girl standing and crying. They thought she was terrified by the fire that had burnt some trees and had strangely died down. Little did they know that her tears were of gratitude and remorse. She had understood that the dragons did not create the fire, but consumed it. And the reason why there was less forest fires when the Sakhis were on guard, was because it was mostly the village women who believed in these mystical creatures, not the men. It was the strong faith of the women, which probably brought them forth.
Since that night, Soneha again started believing what she did as a child – that a guardian dragon always watched her back.