Dance of the Snow Dragon

Set in eighteenth century Bhutan, Dance of the Snow Dragon is based on Tibetan Buddhist accounts of the mystical journey to Shambhala, beyond the farthest snow peaks. The young monk Sangay travels with his companion, the Bon sorceress Jatsang, through a magical Himalayan landscape, encountering bandits, demons, sages and magicians. Before he can discover his true destiny, he must battle a barbarian army laying siege to a dying king.

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"... lushly cinematic with visual splendours of flora, fauna, costume and creature - magic, dreamed, real, and combinations thereof." — Books in Canada

"This is an extremely detailed, beautifully written novel. -- Canadian Children's Literature

"Kernaghan tells this story like an ancient fable, and the magic of Sangay's travels is subtly underlined by the understated quality of her prose." — The Edmonton Journal.

"Kernaghan unwinds this tale with powerful force and tight control....The audience for this book will be readers of high fantasy of all ages, but it should not be so limited." -- Quill & Quire

This is one of the best fantasies for young people that I have read for some time." — The Vancouver Sun.

Further Reading

"The Road to Shambhala": an interview with Eileen Kernaghan

"The Nameless Religion" an overview of Bon shamanism


  The streets of Kalapa were wide, tree-lined, empty.   The shops and marketplaces were deserted, and from   the temples of gold and brass and copper, each set in   its own walled garden, no hum of voices, no sound of   chanting rose. In the great parks of Kalapa the   crystal-roofed pavilions stood empty, their silk walls   fluttering in the wind. No one walked on the long lawns,   or gathered hyacinths by the reed-fringed pools, or   took the morning sun on the ancient terraces of   honey-coloured stone.

Sangay walked on, through that inexplicable silence, until he came to the foot of the hill that rose at the centre of Kalapa. A stone staircase climbed steeply upward. At the top he could see ice-white walls, and golden roofs uplifted like the wings of birds in flight.

Now, within sight of his journey's end, Sangay thought in sudden panic, I am not ready. His clothes were in rags, his pack was empty. Where could he find gifts to honour the king, a white scarf to wear in his presence

At the foot of the stairs was a stream that fed a little moon-shaped pool. Kneeling, Sangay scrubbed at layers of months- old grime. Then, after he had quenched his thirst, he gathered a handful of lotus flowers as an offering for the king.

At the top of the stairs, encircling the palace, was a glittering palisade of diamond spear-blades. Enormous gates of ebony and brass stood wide as though to welcome him. Within, was a white-hot circle of fire.

The flames hissed and spat, a million deadly serpent- tongues lashing at him. In terror, he leaped back.

But he had suffered too much, overcome too many obstacles, to be defeated now. He drew a long breath, and sternly told himself, all experiences are the manifestations of my mind. All sounds are my own sounds. All lights are my own lights. All appearances are illusion. The fire that exists in my own mind cannot burn my flesh.

And as he watched the flames subsided to a bluish flickering, and he stepped through unscathed.

It was as marvellous as he had dreamed it, this palace of soaring gold-tiled roofs and milk-white marble walls. Carven goddesses danced along the coral mouldings; ornaments of pearls and diamonds tinkled from the eaves. The windows were lapis lazuli, rose-quartz and amethyst, with golden awnings; emeralds and sapphires studded the golden door-frames.

Those doors too stood open and Sangay passed through, into deserted anterooms and corridors and little inner courtyards open to the sky.

In one of these he found a terraced garden where grass grew and a fountain played on glittering stones. Pheasants and peacocks, tame as chickens, crowded at his heels. A gazelle glanced up at him with liquid eyes, and then went peacefully back to its grazing. But elsewhere was emptiness and silence-- the silence of high places when snow covers the ground and even the wind is still. No prayer-wheel turned, no gongs and trumpets sounded. There was no bee-hum of chanting, no pattering of feet on stone. No one hurried to greet him, to offer him tea and rice and betel-nut. And no one came to lead him into the presence of the King.

Sangay wandered through a door, a corridor, a courtyard, another door, and presently found himself in a windowless inner hall. Here a forest of pillars, coral and pearl and zebra-stone, supported the graceful golden curve of the roof. Small elegant tables, divans, brocaded cushions were scattered everywhere. Silk carpets hushed his steps. Embedded in floor and ceiling were rows of crystals, like moonstones, that gave off a soft, diffuse light and a gentle warmth.

Realizing that in this wondrous place no door was closed to him, Sangay felt an immense curiosity, and -- in spite of himself -- a half-guilty excitement. It was like one of those dreams when the mind is in conscious control and knows that it is asleep: when there is nothing one cannot do, no desire one cannot satisfy. And so, aimlessly exploring, he set off through the maze of passageways that surrounded the central hall.

By now it was long past midday; the slanting sunlight threw shafts of lapis and rose and amethyst across the marble floors. Everything gleamed, glittered, glistened, as though it had just been polished by a ghostly army of novices. But no novices, ghostly or otherwise, appeared.

Presently, looking out through the jewelled windows, Sangay saw the daylight fading, turning to a soft dove-grey. It was the hour of evening prayer. And still the palace slept.

At the end of a passageway he came to an enormous circular room. There was a smell of jasmine, and sandalwood, and camphor. Light poured through glass-covered apertures in the roof.

And there in the centre of that rich, silk-carpeted, silk- curtained room stood the gem-encrusted golden throne. Serpents and lotuses twined round it; eight golden lions supported it; half-sitting, half-lying across its seat was a frail old man in the scarlet and turquoise and emerald garments of a king.

When he saw Sangay he braced his hands on the golden arm- rests of his throne and drew himself stiffly upright. The pain in his eyes, in his drawn grey face, betrayed the terrible effort it cost him. Sangay knelt, and wordlessly offered his bunch of lotus flowers. They were tattered and limp, but the king of Shambhala accepted them as gravely, as graciously as if they had been made of gold.

"At last," said the King, and his voice was a mere flutter of breath in his tense and straining throat. "I feared that the world had forgotten me. I feared that you would never come."