A tall wide gate beyond the bridge opens into the ferocious fortress of Hyderabad.Evening fell, purple and orange tinging the princes' muslins to delicate hues; then very quickly all was dark. Deep melancholy came over us; we all sat without speaking a word, while from afar came the clatter of tom-toms from the temple, sometimes drowning the music, which droned on in a minor key, a maundering strain without a close but constantly repeating itself.
As we went further south Moslem tombs became more and more rare; the lingam was to be seen here and there among the rice-fields: a gross idol made of stone and looking like a landmark, set up under a tree or sheltered by a little kiosk. Soon temples of Vishnu were seen, raising their[Pg 104] pyramidal piles of ten stories to the sky. Amid the cool shade of palms and bamboos, close to each temple, was a fine tank with steps all round it; and surrounded by this magnificence of architecture and vegetation Hindoos might all day be seen bathing, dwellers in hovels of plaster or matting, sometimes in mere sheds supported on sticks, within the shadow of the splendid building full of treasure, in which the god is enshrined.
Legends have gathered round the Taj Mahal as about every old building in India, and this one seems to me not impossible in its barbarity.
White clouds grew opalescent against the deep, infinite, blue-velvet sky, and their edges next the moon were fringed with silver. The stars, of a luminous pale green like aqua marine, seemed dead and had no twinkle.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.
After passing the temples and tombs that surround the Khoutab, the town of ruins lies scattered over the plain of pale sand and withered herbage.Beyond a wide valley that lay far beneath us a mountain-range gleamed softly in the blue distance, starry and sapphire-hued above rising levels of delicate green. Here, in the fresher air, floated the fragrance of mosses and alpine flowers, and above the[Pg 127] cascades falling in showers we could see the tangle of climbing plants, ferns, orchids, and hibiscus, a swaying curtain all woven of leaves and blossoms.
A prodigious palace has left the skeleton of its walls pierced with large windows, and in the blackened stone, almost at the top of the building, a balcony with a canopy over it, resting on fragile columns, is still uninjured; of a pale yellow, like lemon-tree wood, it looks as if it had come into existence only yesterday, a flower risen from the death of the ruins.
A marble balustrade, of flowing design and astounding delicacy, exquisitely harmonious and artistic, encloses the white sarcophagus, which is inlaid with mindi and basilic flowers in costly agate, linked by inscriptions looking like lacings of narrow black braid. This balustrade alone, in the Taj, under the marble pile which forms the tomb of the empress, and on which 20,000 craftsmen laboured for twenty years, would, in its indescribable beauty of workmanship, have amply fulfilled Shah Jehan's vow.
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