Seen through the blue glass under the low, broad carapace that covered the carriage, the landscape circled past, the colour hardly subdued to that of Europe; even in the dusk, with the windows open, everything was still intolerably, crudely white, with reflections of fiery gold. Everything vibrated in the heat, and at the stations the walls after baking all day scorched you when you went near.In another building is the hall where the dastours say the last prayers over the dead in the presence of the relations; the body is then stripped in a consecrated chamber and abandoned to the mysteries of the tower.We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.
Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed.Still the tonga; uphill and down, over the hilly country, with a horizon of dull, low mountains, and the horses worse and worse, impossible to start but by a storm of blows. Towards evening a particularly vicious pair ended by overturning us into a ditch full of liquid mud. The sais alone was completely immersed, and appealed loudly to Rama with shrieks of terror. Abibulla on his part, after making sure that the sahibs and baggage were all safe and sound, took off his shoes, spread his dhoti on the ground, and made the introductory salaams of thanksgiving to the Prophet, while the coolie driver returned thanks to Rama.The carriage of the Rajah of Palitana awaited us this morning at Songad. As an escort two sowars in long blue cloaks and red turbans, their guns slung behind them, galloped by our vehicle. On each side of the road lay fields of scorched grass, quite burnt and very fine, glistening like silk, reflecting the sun as far as we could see.
Servants carrying large trays offer the company certain strange little green parcels: a betel-leaf screwed into a cone and fastened with a clove, containing a mixture of spices and lime, to be chewed after dinner to digest the mass of food you may see spread out in the tables in the dining-room.A palankin, hung with heavy red curtains, went by very quickly, borne by five men. They chanted a sort of double-quick march, marking the time with a plaintive sigh and a slight bend of the knees, which gave their pace the appearance of a dance, the litter swaying very gently.
The Rajah being absent we were allowed to see everything. On the upper floor is the Ranee's dressing-room. All round the large room were glass wardrobes, in which could be seen bodices in the latest Paris fashion, and ugly enough; and then a perfect rainbow of tender opaline hues: light silks as fine as cobwebs, shawls of every dye in Cashmere wool with woven patterns, and[Pg 53] gauze of that delicate rose-colour and of the yellow that looks like gold with the light shining through, which are only to be seen in India—royal fabrics, dream-colours, carefully laid up in sandal-wood and stored behind glass and thick curtains, which were dropped over them as soon as we had looked. And crowding every table and bracket were the most childish things—screens, cups and boxes in imitation bronze, set with false stones—the playthings of a little barbarian. A coloured photograph stood on the toilet-table between brushes and pomatum-pots; it represented the mistress of this abode, a slender doll without brains, her eyes fixed on vacancy.
Before daybreak, before the réveillée, the moollah's prayer roused the Sikhs, of which two regiments were quartered in the fort; and till it was broad daylight, till the sun had chased away shadows and sadness, I still felt the melancholy, the twilight sense of uneasiness left by that slow and plaintive chant.A dancing-girl went by, wrapped in white muslin as thin as air, hardly veiling the exquisite grace of her shape. Close to us, in front of two musicians playing on the vina and the tom-tom, she began to dance, jingling the rattles and bells on her anklets: a mysterious dance with slow movements and long bows alternating with sudden leaps, her hands crossed on her heart, in a lightning flash of silver necklets and bangles. Every now and then a shadow passed between the nautch-girl and the lights that fell on her while she was dancing, and then she could scarcely be seen to touch the ground, she seemed to float in her fluttering[Pg 301] drapery; and presently, before the musicians had ceased playing, she vanished in the gloom of a side alley. She had asked for nothing, had danced simply for the pleasure of displaying her grace.
In the circular marble crypt there is a large cracked bell, inscribed "Lieutenant-Colonel Martin, 1788," also a bust of the corporal, and, in an adjoining cell, the tomb of Colonel Martin, who,[Pg 187] having left his native town of Lyons for Pondicherry, after having painfully worked his way up to the grade of corporal in the French king's army, departed from thence and travelled to Oudh. There as a favourite of the Moslem king's and generalissimo of his troops, he amassed a large fortune, and spent it in building the palaces and colleges which perpetuate his name in several towns in India. He was an eccentric adventurer, whom some now remember here, and whose name pronounced in the Indian fashion, with a broad accent on the a, suggests an almost ironical meaning in conjunction with the idea of a college.He came into ours as if he were at home, and amused himself by worrying me. At first he made believe to throw my rings out of window, substituting others, I know not how, which I saw fall on the line and roll into the grass on the bank. My watch got into his hands and vanished; I found it in my friend T——'s pocket, and afterwards in a basket of provender closed at Bhawnagar, and which I unpacked with my own hands.
Beyond these ruins, at the end of a long avenue bordered with tamarind trees, beyond an artificial lake, is the tomb of Shah Alam. A wide marble court; to the right a mosque with three ranks of columns; above, a massive roof crowned with a[Pg 56] bulbous dome, flanked by fragile minarets. The fountain for ablutions in the midst of the court is surmounted by a marble slab supported on slender columns. To the left, under the shade of a large tree, is the mausoleum of marble, yellow with age, looking like amber, the panels pierced with patterns of freer design than goldsmith's work.We landed at Ramnagar, a marble palace looking like a fortified town, its massive walls rising[Pg 174] from the river and crowned by balconies and fairy kiosks—a lacework of stone against the brilliant sky.详情
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