Heavy coaches with solid wheels, hermetically covered with red stuff patterned with white, were bringing home the invisible but noisy ladies of the zenana.Every year pilgrims set up the tallest tree from the neighbouring jungle in front of the sanctuary, and twist round it an enormous red flag. The[Pg 291] mast now standing was at least a hundred feet high, and held in place by guys attached to banyan trees and houses standing near. Close to the ground ties of coloured worsted, the offerings of the faithful, held the crimson hanging to the pole.
The little princess had made her way between the seats, close up to us; she was wrapped in dark-coloured gauze, with woven gold borders, so light! scarcely less light than the diaphanous material of the dress. And as I admired this wonderful silk, the Rajah had some bayadères' dresses brought out for me to see: twelve or fifteen skirts, one above another, pleated and spangled with gold, yet, hanging to one finger, scarcely the weight of a straw.I turned back into Grant Road, where bands of tom-toms and harmoniums were hard at it, where the gamblers were stifling each other round the roulette-boards in a frenzy of amusement and high spirits, eager for enjoyment before hovering death should swoop down on them.
A regiment of artillery was marching into quarters. The Highlanders' band came out to meet them: four bagpipes, two side drums, and one big drum. They repeat the same short strain, simple enough, again and again; in Europe I should, perhaps, think it trivial, almost irritating, but here, filling me as it does with reminiscences of Brittany, especially after the persistent horror of tom-toms and shrill pipes, it strikes me as delightful—I even follow the soldiers to their quarters.We left Rawal Pindi in a tonga. The night was black, the carriage had no lamps; but now and again, at the sound of the driver's horn, dark masses—baggage camels, scarcely distinguishable in the gloom—made way for us to go past at a gallop.
Just within the enclosure to our right is a tomb. A Mohammedan who came forth to take the sacred[Pg 74] hill, the brother of an emperor of Delhi, fell dead at the foot of a Ja?n idol, which he had dared to touch with his staff. How the legend developed it is impossible to say; but this warrior, buried on the spot where he was stricken down by the divinity, has the miraculous power of curing barrenness in the women who invoke him. Votive offerings, little cradles daubed with yellow and red, are heaped on the pavement and hang to the railing.At sunrise we reached Nandgaun, whence I went on towards Ellora in a tonga, the Indian post-chaise, with two wheels and a wide awning so low and so far forward that the traveller must stoop to look out at the landscape. A rosy haze still hung over the country, rent in places and revealing transparent blue hills beyond the fields of crude green barley and rice. The road was hedged with mimosa, cassia, and a flowering thorny shrub, looking like a sort of honeysuckle with yellow blossoms, and smelling strongly of ginger.
In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.In the middle of the course was a stand, and there, with the officers and civil functionaries, were four English ladies who had accompanied their husbands to this remote station. They thought of their dress and took care of their babies, living among these Sikhs whom the native priests are perpetually inciting to rebellion, and seeming to have not the least fear of danger.In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.
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.On the tomb, in elegant black letters, is this inscription:
In the forecourt a cast-metal nymph presides over a sham-bronze fountain.[Pg 228]
And then night, the real night, transparently blue and luminous with stars, appeared above the last cloud that vanished with the last clap of thunder. Unspeakable freshness and peace reigned over nature, and in the limpid air the mountain-chains, the giant Himalayas, extended to infinity in tones of amethyst and sapphire. Nearer to us, lights sparkled out in the innumerable huts built even to the verge of the eternal snows, on every spot of arable ground or half-starved grass land.The holy hill, bristling at top with the conical roofs of the pagodas, rises isolated in the vast stretch of silky grass, enclosed by a distant fringe of pale violet heights. At the foot of the ascent—in some places an incline, and in others a flight of steps going straight up to the temples—bearers were waiting for us, and an armed escort. A mob of pilgrims were shouting at the top of their voices, and did not cease their squabbling till we began the climb in our most uncomfortable palankins, etiquette forbidding us, alas! to get out of them. One of my bearers, almost naked, with a mere rag of white cotton stuff round his hips, had hanging from his left ear a ring with three pearls as large as peas and of luminous sheen.In the afternoon, while it was still broad daylight and very bright outside, it was already dusk under the arches of the temple, and bats were flitting about.
Further away, in another quite small temple, a young Brahmin robed in white, and very handsome, was reading the Ramayana to two women; the three quite filled the little building. The entrance was screened by a curtain composed of jasmine flowers threaded on fine string, and behind this veil of flowers the three figures looked like the creatures of a legend. Outside the sanctuary, seated on the steps and flagstones and obstructing the street, were a score or so of women redolent of lemon and[Pg 178] sandal-wood, and listening to the scripture distinctly chanted out by the young priest.详情
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