Halting at noon at Kohala, we found a barber in the open street shaving and snipping his customers. In a cage hanging to the bough of a tree above his head a partridge was hopping about—black speckled with white, and gold-coloured wings. It had a strident cry like the setting of a saw.A bulbul, flying out of a temple where it had been picking up the offered rice, perched on a pomegranate tree and began to sing, at first a little timid chirp, and then a ripple of song, soon drowned by the shrieks of parrots, which came down on the tree and drove out the little red-breasted chorister.
All round the Royal Hill ancient buildings are piled in stages, the remains of still majestic magnificence. The thorn-brakes cover supporting walls as broad as crenellated terraces; fragments of light and fantastic architecture stand up from amid golden blossoms; tottering colonnades overhang tanks, all green at the bottom with a pool of brackish water.
The guardian fakirs who watch the sacred flag sat under a tree in front of the temple. One of these, quite young, was beautiful beyond words. He had taken a vow always to stand. Leaning on a long pole he rocked himself without ceasing; for an instant he allowed his rapt eyes to rest on the bystanders, and then looked up again at the plume of white horse-hair that crowns the flagstaff. His legs were rather wide apart and evidently stiff; he walked without bending his knees, and then as soon as he stood still he rested his chin on his long cane, and swayed his body as before.
A heavy, rusty-red cloud hung over the field of Hindoo funeral fires. Tambourines and bells could be heard in the distance, and as we went nearer the noise grew louder in the foul air, stifling and stagnant; till when we got close to the place the noise and singing were frantic and the smell of burning was acrid, sickening.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.The rock is girt with a belt of walls, and in the citadel, besides Mandir, with its outbuildings and tanks, there is a whole town of palaces and temples, which are being demolished little by little to make way for barracks.
A road between ancient trees and green fields which are perpetually irrigated leads to Sicandra-Bagh. Here, at the end of a wretched village of huts and hovels, is the magnificence of a stately portal of red stone broadly decorated with white; and then, through a garden where trees and shrubs make one huge bouquet, behold the imposing mass of the tomb of Akbar the Great. The mausoleum is on the scale of a cathedral. There are two stories of galleries in pink sandstone crowned by a marble pavilion with lace-like walls; and there, high up, is the sarcophagus of white stone, covered with inscriptions setting forth the nineteen names of Allah.Broad streets crossing each other at right angles; houses, palaces, archways flanked by towers, and colonnades, all alike covered with pink-washed plaster decorated with white. And all the buildings have the hasty, temporary appearance of a town run up for an exhibition to last only a few months.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.
At one corner of a bastion of the rampart rises the Jasmine tower, the empress's pavilion, built of amber-toned marble inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl. A double wall of pierced lattice, as fine as a hand-screen, enclosed the octagon chamber; the doors, which were of massive silver jewelled with rubies, have been removed. The golden lilies inlaid in the panels have also disappeared, roughly torn out and leaving the glint of their presence in a warmer hue, still faintly metallic. Recesses in the wall, like porticoes, served for hanging dresses in, and low down, holes large enough to admit the hand, were hiding-places for jewels, between two slabs of marble. In front of the sultana's kiosk, basins in the form of shells, from which rose-water poured forth, go down like steps to a tank below.
Really the prison this time! in the midst of a large enclosure with high walls; a building on a star-shaped plan, with large windows to admit air and daylight. The prisoners, in a white uniform, with chains on their feet, were manufacturing various articles in basket-work, and in a shed with a cotton awning a hundred or so of convicts were weaving carpets. The brilliancy of colour was indescribable; the vividness of the medley of worsted piled by the side of the gorgeous looms, the light hues of the dresses, the faded turbans touched with light, the glitter of the steel chains, the bronze skins, glorified to gold in the quivering sunshine, which, scarcely subdued by the awning, bathed the[Pg 87] scene in a glow so intense that it seemed to proceed from the objects themselves. Behind each loom sat a warder, with the pattern of the carpet on his knees, dictating the colours to the weavers, chanting out his weariful litany of numbers and shades in a monotonous voice.About Lahore, all among the ruined temples, the crumbling heaps of light red bricks sparkling with mica, there were fields of roses in blossom and of ripe corn. Naked coolies were labouring in the fields, gathering the ears one by one into quite small bunches; they looked like children playing at harvesting.Ekkas, and chigrams closed with thick curtains, came galloping past with loud cries from within. All was noise and a shifting of many colours, seeming more foolish here, in this large island, with its deserted avenues of tall trees, than anywhere else.
To light the way, coolies carried long iron tridents tipped with balls of tow soaked in oil. The mass moved slowly forward through the people, suddenly soothed to silence. The procession paused at the wayside altars, and then, in the middle of a circle formed by the torch-bearers and coloured lights, the sacred bayadères appeared—three girls with bare heads, dressed in stiff new sarongs heavy with tinkling trinkets, and an old woman crowned with a sort of very tall cylindrical tiara of red velvet embroidered with gold. Very sweet-toned bagpipes and some darboukhas played a slow tune, and the dancers began to move; they spun slowly round, their arms held out, their bodies kept rigid, [Pg 137]excepting when they bowed to the shrine. The crude light of the red fire or the sulphurous flare of the torches fell on their glittering ornaments, alternately festive and mysterious, shedding over the performance an atmosphere at once dreamy and magically gorgeous.详情
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