In the distance, across the plain, herds of deer were feeding, and hardly looked up as the train went by.On the bank of the river, where there are no more steps, only beaten earth, in a little raised pit a pile of wood was slowly dying out. A man with[Pg 166] a cane raked back the sticks as they fell and rolled away. A squatting crowd were waiting till their relation was altogether consumed to cast his ashes on the sacred waters.
Far up the hill, and for a long time, the clanging brass and sharp cries followed me on my way all through the afternoon, and I could picture the dancing women, the Lama under his gleaming brass hat, turning his praying-wheel beneath his bower of branches and papers fluttering in the wind; and[Pg 150] not till dark did the whole party break up and go back to Darjeeling; the poorer women, on foot, all a little tipsy, danced a descending scale that ended occasionally in the ditch; the richer ladies, in thin dark satin robes with wide sleeves all embroidered in silk and gold, and their hair falling in plaits from beneath a fillet of red wood studded with large glass beads, fitting tightly to the head, rode astride on queer little horses, mostly of a dirty yellow colour, that carried them at a brisk amble. Their husbands, extremely attentive, escorted the dames, some of whom gave noisy evidence of the degree of intoxication they had reached. The least blessed had but one husband, or perhaps two; but the more fortunate had a following of as many as six eager attendants, whom they tormented with incessant scolding.In the afternoon the soldiers tilted on horseback, four on a side. They tried to unhorse each other; two or three would attack one, succeeding at last in rolling him off under his charger, while they in their turn were attacked by others, ending in a mêlée, where the victors and the vanquished left fragments of their thin shirts.
Two fakirs, squatting in a corner, gazed at the sacred stone, their bodies rigidly motionless; they did not seem to be of this world, rather to be statues of gods themselves; their eyes alone were alive—burning.Far away, at the end of the bazaar, in a street where no one passes, are the shoemakers' booths littered with leather parings; old cases or petroleum tins serve as seats. Among the workmen swarm children in rags, pelting each other with slippers.
In the side streets the natives lay sleeping on the bare earth in the coolness of night. On every house were the spots of red paint that told how many of the inhabitants had died of the plague;[Pg 304] and the smaller the house the closer were the dabs of paint, almost framing the door with a chain of red spots.An old man who sold us some shells, had, in the days of prosperity, made a little fortune by charming the sharks with spells and signs that kept them away from the boats, and from the naked and defenceless pearl-fishers as they plunged into the deep to seek the precious shells.A kind of lemon plant, with picotee-like flowers of a texture like crystalline pearl, its petals delicately fringed, exhales a fresh scent like verbena. Then, on an ebony-tree, overgrown with succulent leaves forming an edging to every bough, is a bird—as it would seem—a lilac bird, with open wings, which, as we approach, turns into an orchid.
On the river-bank were some eagles devouring a dead beast. One of them fluttered up, but came back to the carrion, recovering its balance with some difficulty, its body was so small for its large, heavy wings. Then they all rose together straight into the air with slow, broad wing-strokes, smaller and smaller, till they were motionless specks against the sky, and flew off to vanish amid the snowy peaks.In the town, at a spot where several alleys meet, stood a mob of people holding out the ends of their sarees or dhotis to catch handfuls of grain which a kshatriya was throwing to them from a[Pg 170] window, though he looked almost as ragged as the beggars collected in front of the house.
In the island of Srirangam we visited a temple to Vishnu, enclosed within eight walls, of which the three first only contain any dwellings. A crowd of pilgrims swarmed about the steps, where everything was on sale: little gods in bronze, in painted marble, in clay, and in wood; paper for[Pg 111] writing prayers on; sacred books; red and white face-paints, such as the worshippers of Vishnu use to mark their foreheads with a V; little baskets to hold the colours, with three or four divisions, and a mirror at the bottom; coco-nuts containing kohl; stuffs of every dye; religious pictures, artless indeed, and painted with laborious dabs of the brush in the presence of the customer; chromo-lithographs from Europe, sickeningly insipid and mawkishly pretty.
Opposite a large tank, where a tall column rises from the water in memory of the victims of the Mutiny, and where a party of the votaries of Siva are performing their pious ablutions, a building stands in the Hindoo-Jesuit style of architecture. It is heavy, with white carvings above its pink paint, and with columns supporting turrets crowned with large lion-faces, the masks only, in the Indian manner, daylight showing through the jaws and eyes, and the profiles absurd, shapeless, and unmeaning. This is the college of La Martinière.Three musicians in white, with red turbans, squatted down on the ground in front of us. One sang to the accompaniment of a viol with three strings and nine frets, and a darboukha; a drawling strain, all on the upper notes, and rising higher to a shrill monotonous wail, retarded, as it were, to a rhythm against the accompaniment; then by degrees more lively, faster and faster, ending with a sudden stop on a word of guttural consonants. But the man began again; he sang for a long time, varying the tunes, always returning to the first. But nothing of them remains in my mind, not even the rhythm, only a vague recollection, a singular echo, confused but [Pg 67]charming, in spite of the weirdness of the too high pitch.
Trees shut in the flat, interminable road, and it was midnight before we reached Srinagar, where I found, as a surprise, a comfortable house-boat with inlaid panels, and a fragrant fire of mango-wood smelling of orris-root."How do you expect to pay?" asked his master, an officer.
Beyond Siliguri, where we left the main line, a little toy railway, going very slowly, jostles the travellers across rice plantations and woods of giant trees, under whose shade tree-ferns expand on the banks of the streams. By the side of the water springs are hung prayers written on strips of rice-paper that flutter in the wind from the shrubs and bamboos, mingling with the blossoms of rhododendron and funkia, spots of bright colour showing against the forest of mighty cedars and sycamores and gloomy palms. Clinging to the highest branches, orchids like birds are to be seen, and from bush to bush hang bright green threads covered with white stars, tangled into hanks and hooked on to every thorn. The vegetation of banyans, ph?nix, and other tropical plants gradually becomes mixed with oak, box, and plane trees, and then disappears altogether as we get higher; and presently, as we pass through a belt of great dark firs, the shrubs, the mosses, and even the flowers are those of Europe. Higher up, the mountain side is mapped out into lines and squares, green and russet, looking from a distance[Pg 146] like ribbed velvet; these are the tea plantations. The horizon grows broader, spreading away and out of sight towards the vision-like mountains forming the outposts of the Himalayas; up to the very verge of the eternal snows they are cultivated in the same rib-like strips, all tea plantations; and amid the shrubs are the little factories where the precious leaves are dried, and villages of little homesteads lost among the greenery, or peeping through the opalescent haze, intensely blue under the pure, cold sky and crude sunshine. The natives here wear skins with the fur inside; the leather outside is patterned with red or blue cloth. Men and women alike go about in felt boots, which give them an unsteady and straddling gait."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.详情
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