Yellow palaces, mirrored as gold in the luminous waters of the Ganges, came into view; cupolas quivering with dazzling lustre against the intense sky—and then the whole city vanished. Nothing was to be seen but a suburb of shabby buildings, the commonplace railway station crowded by a Burmese pilgrimage of Buddhists come from so far—who knows why?—to the holy Indian city. Yellow priests and white doll-like figures dragging bundles that fell open, dropping the most medley collection of objects to be picked up and stowed into the parcels again, only to roll out once more. A yelling crowd, hustling and bustling, shouting from one end of the station to the other, and finally[Pg 155] departing, like a flock of sheep, in long files down the dusty road, to be lost at last in the little bazaar.
In the depths of a deserted temple in the bazaar, amid heaps of rags, bones, and colourless debris, dwelt an old man, a very highly venerated fakir, motionless in his den, while around him were gathered all the masterless dogs of Srinagar, who allowed no one to come near him and flew at anybody who tried to enter the temple.
A heavy, rusty-red cloud hung over the field of Hindoo funeral fires. Tambourines and bells could be heard in the distance, and as we went nearer the noise grew louder in the foul air, stifling and stagnant; till when we got close to the place the noise and singing were frantic and the smell of burning was acrid, sickening.But for once he was mistaken.
The sarcophagus rests in the depths of a vaulted crypt lighted only by narrow latticed loopholes, and it is shrouded in a mysterious glimmer, a mingling of golden sunbeams and the reflections from the marble walls inlaid with precious stones.After passing through the town, all flowery with green gardens, at the end of a long, white, dusty road, where legions of beggars followed me, calling me "Papa" and "Bab," that is to say father and mother, I arrived at the residence of the Gaekwar, the Rajah of Baroda. At the gate we met the palace sentries released from duty. Eight men in long blue pugarees and an uniform of yellow khakee (a cotton stuff), like that of the sepoys, with their guns on their shoulders, looked as if they were taking a walk, marching in very fantastic step. One of them had a bird hopping about in a little round cage that hung from the stock of his gun. Three camels brought up the rear, loaded with bedding in blue cotton bundles.Then the sunset, in the furnace of heavy purple and red, reflected in the water in fiery copper-colour streaked with violet, till soon it all faded together, to gold, to lemon-colour; the mist rising from the river spread over all the country, and everything looked the same in the cloudless gloom. One quarter of the sky glowed faintly, through the haze a crimson globe rose into view, the moon appeared, and soon lighted up all the sky with a soft greenish glow, pallid but deep, lying on the tranquil Ganges in broad rippling sheets of gold and green, spangled with light where a fish leaped, or a white bird dipped its wing as it skimmed swiftly across without a sound. The gold grew cold and dead, the moon turned to steel against the intensely blue sky, to cold blue steel on the lustrous face of the waters.
At Roza, the plateau above the Hindoo sanctuaries, above a dozen of Moslem mausoleums are to be seen under the spreading banyans that shelter them beneath their shade, and sometimes hide them completely; the white objects are in a whimsical style of architecture, hewn into strange shapes, which in the doubtful starlight might be taken for ruins.
LUCKNOWThey shoved it under water, but it presently rose to the surface and floated down the stream, followed by a flock of hawks that snatched at the burnt remains and fought over them in the air, while crocodiles below swam up and snapped at them, dragging them down in their enormous jaws, which appeared for a moment above the water.
In the heart of Agra towards evening people were busy in the square of the Jumna Musjid stretching pieces of stuff over rather low poles to form a tent. Then in long file came the labourers from a famine-camp, with their sleep-walking gait, their glassy eyes, their teeth showing like those of a grinning skull. Rags in a thousand holes scarcely covered the horrors of their fleshless bodies.In the bazaar a light, glossy cheetah was being led round for an airing. The beast had on a sort of hood of silk stuck with peacock's feathers, which its keeper pulled down over its eyes when it saw a prey on which it was eager to spring; and with its eyes thus blinded, it would lick the hand that gave it an anna with a hot tongue as rough as a rasp."Yes, I know. How much?"
Rising from the highest point of the hill the huge tomb of Aurungzeeb the Great—more huge in the darkness—stood out clearly, a black mass, its bulbous dome against the sky. Flocks of goats and sheep came clambering along the ridge to shelter for the night in the recesses of its walls. Then, one by one, the lights died out. Infinite calm brooded over the scene; a very subtle fragrance, as of rose and verbena, seemed to rise from the ground and scent the still air; and over the motionless earth swept enormous black bats in silent flight, with slow, regularly-beating wings.
At the bottom of a wide flight of steps flows the Ganges, translucent, deeply green, spangled with gold. The bathers, holding the little brass pots that they use for their ablutions, are performing the rites, surrounded by large yellow fishes spotted with green. Pink and white stuffs are spread to dry on the steps, flowers are scattered on the stream, long wreaths are floating down the river, curling and uncurling at the caprice of the current.The heat to-day has suddenly become stifling; the low clouds veil the colourless sun, and the flowers, which yesterday were still lovely, are now[Pg 278] withered and pallid, and only give out their scent in the evening, when it is cool again.
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