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.A tea plantation—a garden of large shrubs pruned[Pg 293] in such a way as to secure the greatest possible growth of young shoots, and above the delicate tea plants a shady hedge of fan palms and taller trees. The leaves are gathered by day, spread in the evening on hurdles and left for the night in open sheds. On the morrow they are first thrown into a sort of bottomless square funnel which revolves on a board; rolled and broken in this machine they are ready for drying. The tea passes through twenty grades of increasing temperature, and in drying it gives out the most delightful aroma—a mixture of sweetbriar, seaweed, and violets, with a scent of tea too. The leaves are finally sifted, which sorts them in four sizes into boxes containing the different qualities.
In a quiet, darkened corner a girl was lying on a bier, a girl of the Brahmin caste, all in white, veiled by a transparent saree. By her side an old man, a bearded patriarch, seemed to wait for someone. Then another Brahmin came out from a little house, carrying the fire wherewith to light the funeral pile in a little pot hanging from his girdle. The two old men took up their burthen—so light that even to them, tottering already towards their end, it seemed to be no weight. They made their way cautiously, so as not to tread on the [Pg 305]sleeping figures strewn about the street, going very slowly in devious zigzags. A dog woke and howled at them; and then, as silence fell, I could hear again the dying sounds of harmoniums and tom-toms, and the clatter of the games.All the architectural details are effaced; parasites and creepers have overgrown the old-world carvings.
THE ENDThe city produces an impression as of a town built in the clouds and then dropped, scattered over the plain with vast arid and barren spaces left between the houses. In the native and Moslem quarters, indeed, there is a crowd of buildings, closely packed, crammed together on quite a small plot of ground; and among them the electric tramway runs its cars, useless just now, and empty of travellers, for it is the beginning of Ramadan, and the Mohammedans in broad daylight are letting off crackers in honour of the festival.
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.At the railway station thousands of people had collected to take leave of a great turbaned moollah from Mecca, dressed in yellow silk. Long after we had left Darjeeling the faithful ran by the side of the carriage to kiss his hand, on which blazed an enormous diamond cut in a cone; and all along the road, when the train going downhill went too fast for anyone to keep up with it, Moslem natives bowed and prostrated themselves in the road, shouting words of Godspeed to the holy man. And at one stopping-place a little carpet was spread, on which he took off his shoes and prayed—hurried through his last prostrations by the whistle of the locomotive.
The Maharajah was out, at his devotions; I could see everything. Up a staircase with a gilt paper and gilt banisters, leading to rooms where crystal lustres hang like tears above Oxford Street furniture, and lovely chromo-lithographs in massive and glittering frames.
The drill sergeant shouts the word of command in wonderful English—lept, meaning left.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.After the giant a whole chain of lavender and rose-coloured peaks turning to blue came into sight in the marvellously clear atmosphere; then the sun rose below us, in the throbbing tide of heat the mountains seemed to come closer to us, but immediately the mist gathered about Gaurisankar. "The Apsaras wearing impenetrable veils, that mortals may not gaze too long on the throne of the gods,"[Pg 152] said my sa?s, who had fallen on his face since the first appearance of the snow-crowned colossus, with hands upraised towards the paradise of Indra.
And to close the procession came more soldiers.Above the road lie dark cliffs; a rose-coloured waterfall of melted snow tumbled mixing with the clay—pink with lilac depths, and the foam iridescent in the sunbeams. The ruins of a large temple of green stone carved with myriads of fine lines stood in solitude at the edge of a wood, and the background was the mountain-range, the Himalayas, lost in the sky and bathed in blue light. Only a portico remains standing—a massive, enduring frame for the infinite distance of snow-capped giants. The stones have lost their hue; they are darkly streaked by the rains and a growth of grey and purple mosses, and russet or white lichens have eaten into the surface.
Then a man rose, and standing on the bayadères' carpet, he recited, in verses of equal measure, a sort of heroic legend, making his voice big, and emphasizing his words with grand gesticulation. One of the dancers spoke the antistrophe, and this went on interminably, till their voices gradually sank to mere hollow and expressionless intoning, while they swayed their bodies to and fro like children who do not know their lesson.
Not far from Peshawur a legend had arisen concerning a certain Guru, that the holy man now underground grew taller every year by a foot, and the heap of stones grew longer day by day, till the English authorities had to interfere and place a guard of soldiers to check the encroachment of the tumulus on the high road.The rice, lately sown, was sprouting in little square plots of dazzling green; it was being taken up to transplant into enormous fields perpetually under water. All the "paddy" fields are, in fact, channelled with watercourses, or if they are on higher ground, watered from a well. A long beam is balanced over the mouth of the well, and two boys run up and down to lower and raise the bucket; a man tilts the water into the runlets out of a large vessel of dusky copper, or perhaps out of a leaky, dripping water-skin.At the last moment some porters, preceded by two sowars in uniform and holding pikes, bore a large palankin, hermetically closed, to the door of a first-class carriage, and softly set it down. The carriage was opened for a moment: I could see within a party of women-servants, shrouded in white muslin, who were preparing a couch. An old negress handed out to the porters a large sheet, which they held over the palankin, supporting it in such a way as to make a covered passage screening the carriage door. There was a little bustle under the sheet—the end was drawn in, and the sheet fell over the closed door.详情
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