DERWALAfter bathing, during their long prayers to the gods of the river, almost as sacred here as it is at Benares, the pilgrims threw grain to the half-tame fish. Steering vigorously with their tails, the creatures turned and rolled, making eddies of light in the water, and hurrying up to the falling grain occasionally upset the equilibrium of some old woman still taking her bath. At the top of the bank, in the blazing sunshine, two fakirs, squatting in the dusty road, remained unmoved by all this turmoil, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, absorbed in a fixed thought which concentrated their gaze[Pg 297] on an invisible point. The fall of an old woman into the Ganges, with all the shouting that such an incident entails in India, left them quite indifferent; they did not stir, did not even glance at the river as the woman was taken out unconscious.
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.
Women porters came on foot, hidden under bales, nets full of crocks, faggots, and trusses of hay.[Pg 248] Children, and women in sarees—fine ladies—had nothing to carry; some were wrapped in yashmacks, shrouding them from head to foot with a little veil of transparent muslin over their eyes.A station on the road—the delightful days at Bunnoo left far behind.
In the midst of a large room crowded with women in light-hued sarees, the bridegroom takes his seat between two tables, on which are large trays of rice. Facing him is a chair, and one is occupied by the bride, who is brought in by a party of girls. She is scarcely fourteen, all in white; on her head is a veil of invisibly fine muslin ten folds thick; it enfolds her in innocence, and is crowned with sprays of myrtle blossom.The jugglers being gone, a boy, to gain alms, opened a round basket he was carrying, and up rose a serpent, its hood raised in anger, and hissing with its tongue out.
The doors were shut; all was silence—the stillness of the star-lit night."He comes now and then," said the baboo, who was our guide; but on my pressing the question this "now and then" remained vague, no day or week could be named.
In the depths of little recesses the lamps twinkled feebly before images crowned with flowers. At the entrances to shrines little glass lamps, like a mysterious fairy illumination, followed the lines[Pg 116] of the arabesques, sparkling like glowworms, without lighting up the passages which remained dark, and in which, in fact, we finally lost ourselves.An aggressive capital! Palaces of concrete and stucco washed with yellow stand cheek by jowl with commission agencies and hovels, and all without a suspicion of style, not even giving one the impression of a southern city. In the streets, thick with dust, an all-prevailing turmoil as of a fair is prolonged to the latest hours of night. Red uniforms and "young England" tourist suits ending their career in rags on half-breed coolies—a wearisome staleness and total effacement of local colour, worse than commonplace; and then, above all, a very strong and nauseating smell of lotus and tallow, with an after-gust of something peppery and acrid.
From the top of the observatory, where instruments, all out of order, are to be seen on the deserted terraces, a staircase in a half-circle of stonework leads straight up to the open sky, and there the eye is dazzled by the view of Benares, all spread out below: the vast city of yellow stone, the cupolas of its temples, and its palaces stretching far along the Ganges, which slowly rolls its milky green waters under a sky of almost pearly whiteness; and in the distance the grassy plain of bright emerald green, lost on the horizon that throbs with the heat. Everything was wrapped in a halo rather than a haze, faintly blue with the smoke that went up from the funeral piles of the Hindoo dead.
It was melancholy to return under the gloomy, spreading banyans, through the dimly-lighted suburbs, where the people were still at work and selling their wares; and the dungeon, the dead stones, the guns now for ever silenced and pointed at vacancy, were lost in blue darkness.
At mess there were two newly-arrived officers, come from Tochi; they had been attacked on the road in the night by sixteen men. The driver and the horse were killed; they themselves had not a scratch, and they told the story very much at their ease, relating the comic features of the incident—how a bullet had lodged itself in a pot hanging to a mule's pack, and the frightened creature had kicked "like mad."详情
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