And the figures go down after long discussions, till at last the question as to whether I know the worth of pashmina begins all over again—endless.The hills are left behind us; the plateau of Cashmere spreads as far as the eye can see, traversed by the glistening Jellum, that slowly rolling stream, spreading here and there into lakes.
In the evening calm, the silence, broken only by the yelling of the jackals, weighed heavy on the spirit; and in spite of the twinkling lights and the village at our feet, an oppressive sense of loneliness, of aloofness and death, clutched me like a nightmare.Afternoon, in the bazaar, in the warm glow of the sinking sun, wonderfully quiet. No sound but that of some workmen's tools; no passers-by, no shouting of voices, no bargaining. A few poor people stand by the stalls and examine the goods, but the seller does not seem to care. Invisible guzlas vibrate in the air, and the piping invitation of a moollah falls from the top of a minaret.This morning, at Peshawur, down come the police on my houseboat—three of them—and their leader explains matters. Abibulla interprets.
The fort, rising from a rock wall of rose-red sandstone, is reached by a series of drawbridges and bastions, now no longer needed and open to all comers.All the day long a quantity of medus? have surrounded the ship: white, as large as an ostrich's egg, with a pink or lilac heart, like a flower; others of enormous size, of a paler blue than the sea, fringed[Pg 2] with intense and luminous green—a splash of light on the dusk of the deep. Others, again, white, blossoming with every shade of rose and violet. Then, towards evening, myriads of very small ones, thickening the water, give it a yellowish tinge, clinging to the ship's side, rolling in the furrow of its wake, a compact swarm, for hours constantly renewed; but they have at last disappeared, leaving the sea clear, transparent, twinkling with large flecks of phosphorescence that rise slowly from the depths, flash on the surface, and die out at once under the light of the sky.
In the forecourt a cast-metal nymph presides over a sham-bronze fountain.This cell is as dark as a cellar, barbarously squalid. But to all our questions the moollah who was our guide only replied:By noon, under the torrid blaze which takes the colour out of everything, exhaustion overpowers the city. Vehicles are rare; a few foot-passengers try to find a narrow line of shade close to the houses, and silence weighs on everything, broken only by the buzzing of flies, the strident croak of birds of prey.
In a little alley of booths was a shop with no front show, and behind it a sort of studio full of carvers and artists working on sandal-wood boxes, ivory fans as fine as gauze, and wooden lattices with elaborate flower patterns, used to screen the zenana windows. And in little recesses workmen dressed in white, with small copper pots about them in which they had brought rice for their meals, were chasing and embossing metal with little taps of their primitive tools, never making a mistake, working as their fancy might suggest, without any pattern, and quite at home in the maze of interlacing ornament.
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.
Squeezed in and crushed between houses that tower above it, rises the pointed dome of Biseshwar Matti, covered with leaves of chased gold; smaller cones surround the principal dome, bristling with tiny pyramids of gold, carved into flowers round statues of Kali with her eight arms, of Ganesa, and of peacocks with spread tails. Under this splendid cupola, dazzlingly bright against the sky,[Pg 156] the temple itself is quite small, and strictly closed against the unbeliever. Some pious hands had hung chains of jasmine and roses above the entrance, and they gave a touch of beauty to the stonework, very old, and soiled with large stains of oil. A sense of intense piety hangs about this sanctuary, subdues every voice, and bends the head of every passer-by in reverence of the mystery, and they all bring flowers.
The night was spent in travelling: an oppressive night of crushing heat, with leaden clouds on the very top of us; and next day, in the blazing sunlight, nothing seemed to have any colour—everything was white and hot against a blue-black sky that seemed low enough to rest on the earth. Wayfarers slept under every tree, and in the villages every place was shut, everything seemed dead. It was only where we changed horses that we saw anyone—people who disappeared again immediately under shelter from the sun.详情
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