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."Nautch-girls for tourists, like Europeans," said my Indian servant Abibulla. "Can-can dancing-girls," he added, with an air of triumph at having shown me a wonder.
The front of the temple is covered with paintings. Decorations in the Persian style divide the panels, on which are depicted the principal scenes from the sacred books of the Brahmins. There are two perfect things to be seen here: two nude female figures standing, one white, the other brown, exquisitely refined in colouring, admirably drawn in a style reminding me of early Italian art; and then, just beyond these, tasteless imitations of chromos—goddesses with eyes too large and a simper like the advertisements of tooth-paste, and some horrible caricatures of English ladies in the fashion of ten years ago holding parasols like a nimbus.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.
Very early in the morning, on emerging from[Pg 164] the gloom of the narrow streets, there is a sudden blaze of glory, the rising sun, purple and gold, reflected in the Ganges, the waters throbbing like fiery opal. The people hurry to the shore carrying trays piled high with flowers and offerings. The women carry little jars in their hands looking like burnished gold, and containing a few drops of scented oil to anoint themselves withal after bathing. These jars are covered with roses and jasmine blossoms, to be sent floating down the sacred stream as an offering to the gods. The steps are crowded already with the faithful, who have waited till Surya the day-star should rise, before going through their devotional ablutions. With a great hubbub of shouts and cries, and laughter and squabbling, this throng pushes and hustles, while those unimaginable priests sit stolidly under their wicker sunshades, mumbling their prayers, and accepting alms and gifts. All along the river there are people bathing on the steps which go down under the water, the men naked all but a loin-cloth, the women wearing long veils which they change very cleverly for dry ones after their bath, and then wait in the sun till their garments are dry enough to carry away.For our noonday rest I took shelter under a wood-carver's shed. On the ground was a large plank in which, with a clumsy chisel, he carved out circles, alternating with plane-leaves and palms. The shavings, fine as hairs, gleamed in the sun, and gave out a scent of violets. The man, dressed in white and a pink turban, with necklaces and bangles on his arms of bright brass, sang as he tapped with little blows, and seemed happy to be alive in the world. He gave us permission to sit in the shade of his stall, but scorned to converse with Abibulla.
There are two towns of Peshawur: one a distracted, silly place, with no beginning nor end, straggling along something in the manner of Madras, with an embryonic bazaar and all the amusements demanded by soldiers; the other enclosed in walls of dried mud, which are preserved only "to protect the town from robbers."
They were all flying from the plague, which was spreading, and emptying the bazaars and workshops. The Exchange being closed, trade was at a standstill, and the poor creatures who were spared by the pestilence were in danger of dying of hunger.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.
In the evening, as I again went past the Towers of Silence, the palm trees were once more crowded with sleeping birds gorged with all the food sent them by the plague. On the other side of Back Bay, above the Field of Burning, a thick column of smoke rose up, red in the last beams of the crimson sun.Near her was another woman, gone mad, dancing, her skeleton limbs contorted in a caricature of[Pg 193] grace; and a child of some few months, like an undeveloped abortion, of the colour of a new penny, with a large head rolling on a neck reduced to the thickness of the vertebr?, and arms and legs no larger than knitting-pins, but, in a sort of mockery, the swollen belly of the fever-stricken. The eyes blinked in the little wrinkled face, seeking something in vacancy; it tried to cry, but the only sound was a feeble croak.
In the midst of the Lake of Immortality stands a marble temple with a roof and decorations of gold. All round the sacred lake palaces of delicate hue form a circle about the sanctuary, which glistens in the sun, its gilding and pale-tinted marbles reflected like the gleam of precious stones in the calm, sheeny, deeply transparent water.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 station groups of women and children squatted on the flagstones, their little bundles about them of red and white rags, and copper pots looking like gold; a huddled heap of misery, in this enormous hall of palatial proportions, handsomely decorated with sculptured marble.Two days later the roofs were covered with tulips of sheeny white and red, as light as feathers swaying on their slender stems; and the crowd, all in bright colours, went about in muslins in the clean, dry streets. Only a few very pious persons still wore the garments stained at the festival.
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.[Pg 130]详情
Copyright © 2020