While I was talking to the postmaster the fakir smoked a hookah, burning amber powder and rose-leaves. The air was full of the narcotic fragrance; a piercing perfume that mounted to the brain.In the middle of the town, which consists entirely of small houses carved from top to bottom, are two massive towers, joined by the remains of the thick wall that formerly enclosed the immensity of the sultan's palace and its outbuildings. The towers now serve as prisons; the stone lattice which screened the private rooms has been replaced by iron bars, the last traces of ornamentation covered up with fresh plaster. Behind the wall the ancient garden, kept green of old by legions of gardeners, is a mere desert of dust; a mausoleum in the middle, transformed into a court of justice, displays all the perfection of Indian art in two pointed windows carved and pierced in imitation of twining and interlaced branches; marvels of delicacy and grace left intact through centuries of vandalism.
LAHOREOn the landing-stage we read in large letters: "Beware of sunstroke," and lower down, "Avoid it by buying the best umbrellas and the best pith helmets of John Dash." The streets are the commonplace highways of a commercial town; the houses tall, with shops below. Dust and light alike were blinding; jinrickshaws were passing to and fro, drawn by almost naked coolies running as fast as horses.A crowd of servants in red came down the flight of steps to the landing-place, and stood on each side, while at the top the Maharajah stood to receive me, in a tunic of yellow brocaded with silver, and silk trousers of various shades of violet and gold tissue; his turban was quite small, with an aigrette and a spray of diamonds.
And suddenly, emerging from the ruins, we came on a Moslem street with high walls, windowless, and waving plumes of banyan and palm trees rising above the houses.
In a long narrow bark, with a pointed white sail—a bunder-boat—we crossed the roads to Elephanta, the isle of sacred temples. Naked men, with no garment but the langouti, or loin-cloth, navigated the boat. They climbed to the top of the mast, clinging to the shrouds with their toes, if the least end of rope was out of gear, hauled the sail up and down for no reason at all, and toiled ridiculously, with a vain expenditure of cries and action, under the glaring sky that poured down on us like hot lead.Abibulla saw them off with great deference and a contrite air, and watched their retreat; then, as[Pg 260] I was about to send him to despatch the message, he was indignant. The police! What could they do to a sahib like me? It was all very well to frighten poor folks—it was a sin to waste money in asking for a reply which I should never be called upon to show—and so he went on, till I made up my mind to think no more of the matter. And whenever I met the chief at the bazaar or by the Jellum, he only asked after my health and my amusements.
Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.
In a wonderful garden, amazing after the sandy waste that lies between Benares and Allahabad—a garden of beds filled with flowers showing no leaves, but closely planted so as to form a carpet of delicate, blending hues—stand three mausoleums, as large as cathedrals, in the heart of cool silence, the tombs of the Sultan Purvez, of his father Khusru, and of his wife, the Begum Chasira.Further yet lay the artificial lake of Meer Alam, reflecting the palace of Baradari and the russet plain, infinite as far as the eye could reach towards the north, where other superb mausoleums were visible in their whiteness.
[Pg 295]The coachman we engaged at the station was a giant, with an olive skin and a huge, pale pink turban. He was clad in stuffs so thin that on his box, against the light, we could see the shape of his body through the thickness of five or six tunics that he wore one over another.
This, then, is the malady of the appalling name—the Plague—hardened glands in the throat or under the arm; the disease that gives its victim fever, sends him to sleep, exhausts, and infallibly kills him.
Then all went out, died gently away; the tom-toms and pipe attending the god's progress alone were audible in the silence; till in the distance a great blaze of light flashed out, showing a crowd of bright turbans and the glittering splendour of the shrine going up the steps to the temple where, till next year, Rama would remain—the exiled god, worshipped for his wisdom which enabled him to discover the secrets, to find the true path, and win the forgiveness of his father.All about the town of pink plaster, in the dust of the roads and fields, are an endless number of dead temples—temples of every size and of every period; and all deserted, all empty; even those that are uninjured look like ruins.详情
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