"You know it is pashmina?"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.
We changed horses every five miles; ill-kempt little beasts, and only half fed, who got through their stage only by the constant application of the whip, and shouts from the sais standing on the step; when released from harness they stood forlorn and hobbled off, lame of every leg, to their stables with no litter. Day broke, a dingy grey, dark with woolly cloud and heavy rain; a wall of fog rose up around us, while the road was uphill towards the mountains.Outside the night is moonless, deep blue. Venus seems quite close to us, shining with intense brightness, and the jasmines scent the air, softly lighted by the lanterns which burn out one by one.
Towards evening came a storm of hail and snow, from which we took refuge in a government bungalow, where none but officials have a right to rest—but we stayed there all the same. The wind was quite a tornado, sweeping the flowers before it, and the pink and yellow blossoms were mingled with the snowflakes and the tender green leaves, scarcely[Pg 272] unfolded. Birds were carried past, helpless and screaming with terror. We could hear the beasts in a stable close by bellowing and struggling; and then, while the thunder never ceased, repeated by innumerable echoes, darkness fell, opaque and terrific, slashed by the constant flare of lightning, and the earth shook under the blast.
A plain of dried mud, dull grey, with scarcely a tinge of yellow in places; all round the horizon softly undulating hills which looked transparent, here a tender blue, there delicately pink, in flower-like hues. One of them, rising above all the eastern chain, might be a fortress, its towers alone left standing amid the general wreck. To the west the highest summits were lost in the blue of the sky, identically the same, but that the peaks were faintly outlined with a delicate line of snow.Figures draped in pale muslins brushed past us, hastening to the door. Flower-sellers, in one of the arcades, were hurrying to finish their garlands; and suddenly, close before us—a mass that looked as if it were part of the temple itself—an enormous elephant started into sight, passed on and vanished in the darkness.
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.
A port crowded with steamers taking in coal, and very light barks high out of the water, kept in equilibrium by parallel outriggers at the ends of two flexible spars. These crank boats, made of[Pg 124] planks that scarcely overlap, were piled with luggage, and the boatmen jostle and turn and skim close under the fast-steaming transatlantic liners, amid a bewildering babel of shouts and oaths, under a sun hot enough to melt lead.
Then, from a bridge across the Ganges, for a moment we had a last glimpse of the sacred city—the gold-coloured umbrellas, the throng of bathers on the steps to the river—and then Abibulla gravely remarked, "If only India had three cities like Benares it would be impossible ever to leave it."MURREEAs we went down to the shore a whole swarm of little dark boys wanted to sell scarabs, rattans, birds' nests shaped like pockets, and dream-flowers, gathered from the creepers on the temples; large almond-scented lilies, and hanging bunches of the ebony-tree flowers, so fragile in texture and already faded in the sun, but exhaling till evening a faint perfume of verbena and lemon.
And this morning I had seen in the place of Akbar or Jehangir, a sturdy, blowsy soldier, in his red coatee, his feet raised higher than his head, spread out in his wicker deck-chair, and reading the latest news just brought by the mail from Europe.In a very quiet little alley, fragrant of sandal-wood, men may be seen in open stalls printing patterns with primitive wooden stamps, always the same, on very thin silk, which shrinks into a twisted cord reduced to nothing when it is stretched out to dry.
Another sanctuary holds an idol made of seven metals mingled to a pale golden hue. The statue is loaded with jewellery of silver and precious stones. On its head is a fan-shaped diadem starred with rubies. The walls and columns, of a dull purple, are decorated with gaudy mosaic of scraps of looking-glass set in brass along the lines of the mouldings.In the town camels were harnessed to a sort of carriage like a hut perched on misshapen wheels, and rumbling slowly through the streets, seeming very heavy at the heels of the big beast with its shambling gait.详情
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