The elephant of ceremony, covered with a velvet cloth embroidered with gold, on which was placed a massive silver howdah edged with gold, was in waiting to take me for a ride. Round the beast's neck hung a huge necklace of balls as large as apples and long pendants from his ears, all of silver, tinkling as he moved and glittering in the sun. The mahout rested a ladder against the elephant's head for me to mount by, and we set out, following the Rajah and escorted by sowars, to the very modern tennis club of Palitana.
We went into the observatory, where the servants were sleeping in the open air on camp beds, lying across each other and blocking the entrance.[Pg 177] I went to gaze at the north star, looking very small, a tiny spangle of blue in the blue velvet sky, visible at the top of a crazy flight of steps that goes up to nowhere in the air from the topmost terrace.But the enchantment of this rose-tinted land, vibrating in the sunshine, is evanescent. The city[Pg 3] comes into view in huge white masses—docks, and factories with tall chimneys; and coco-palms, in long lines of monotonous growth, overshadow square houses devoid of style.
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.
Words and more words for an hour, till one of them stooping down took up a handful of sand and flung it to the earth again at her feet. The other, at this crowning insult, which, being interpreted, conveys, "There, that is how I treat you! like sand thrown down to be trodden on," covered her face with her sleeves and fled howling.[Pg 228]
[Pg 292]The children of the bazaar watched them pass, holding out in their fingers scraps of food—the remains of cakes, green fruit, or handfuls of rice, and the famishing creatures quarrelled for the morsels, frightening the little ones, who fled. Then they disappeared silently under the awnings, filling the air with a smell of dust and pepper, scaring the pigeons away from the pool for ablutions, and the birds fluttered up in dismay in the rosy sunset glow, seeking some other refuge for the night.
The ugliest of these palaces is that of the Maharajah, with galleries of varnished wood, of which the windows overlooking the river are filled with gaudy stained glass. In the garden is a pagoda painted in crude colours crowned with a gilt cupola; the zenana has bright red walls striped with green, and in the grounds there is a cottage exactly copied from a villa in the suburbs of London.
In the evening calm, the silence, broken only by the yelling of the jackals, weighed heavy on the spirit; and in spite of the twinkling lights and the village at our feet, an oppressive sense of loneliness, of aloofness and death, clutched me like a nightmare.In the English quarter of Bombay the houses are European: Government House, the post office, the municipal buildings—perfect palaces surrounded by gardens; and close by, straw sheds sheltering buffaloes, or tents squatted down on common land; and beyond the paved walks are beaten earth and huge heaps of filth, over which hover the birds of prey and the crows.
There are temples all along the shore, poor little structures for the most part. On the walls gaudy borders of crude colour serve to frame chromo-lithographs representing the principal events of the Vedas. There are but one or two sanctuaries built of marble, and very rarely have the idols any precious jewels.And for an hour as we drove along towards Amber, the old town deserted in favour of modern Jeypoor, the same succession of temples wheeled past. The crenated walls enclose three hills, one of them crowned by a fortress, to defend erewhile the white palace mirrored in the waters of an artificial lake.After inspecting my little permit to visit the Khyber, the officials at the fort had placed in my carriage a soldier of the native Khyber rifle-corps, six feet six in height, placid and gentle. When I got out of the carriage to walk up a hill he would follow a yard or so behind, and watching all my movements, looked rather as if he were taking me to prison than like an escort to protect me.详情
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