All along the narrow streets, paved with broad flagstones up and down in low irregular steps, stand the five hundred temples of Benares, and between them houses with carved stone porticoes. The ochre-coloured stone, of which they all are built, is toned in places by a coating of reddish purple, faded by the rain and sun to pale flesh-colour, with an undertone of the yellow wall; and this takes on a glow as of ruby and sunset fires in the watery ripple reflected from the river—a mingling of every hue of intense sunshine, filtering through the awnings spread over the balconies—a glory of repose, tender and clear, which seems to emanate from the objects themselves, and to envelop them in a fine powder of light.
"Can you suppose I should have insulted you by coming here without asking you some favour?"
In an ancient mosque, somewhat dilapidated, was an infant-school. Little heaps of stuff, pink and yellow and white, and above them emaciated little faces with large dark eyes that had greenish-blue lights in them, all moving and rocking continually, and spelling aloud out of open books set up on wooden folding desks. The master in his pulpit listened stolidly with half-shut eyes, and detected the mistakes in all this twitter of little voices.The young prince then goes on his way in search of the magical flower. He is about to rest awhile in a cavern, but at the moment when he lies down on a stone it is transformed into a monster made of bladder, which rears itself enraged in the air with a trumpet-cry. By good luck the king's son calls upon the aid of the prophet Suleiman, whom the dragon also reveres, and the pacified monster conveys Tazulmulook to the garden of Bakaoli, and, moreover, gives him a ring which will be a talisman in danger.Last year he and his brother had gone into the mausoleum of a Moslem saint with their shoes on; both had gone mad. The other brother died in a madhouse, where he was cared for; this one, incurable but harmless, went about the highways, followed by the dogs.
A long train of wailing women, loud in lamentation, came slowly out of a house where one lay dead whom they had just been to look at, on their way now to wash their garments, defiled by contact with the body. But all dressed in red, with gaudy embroidery in yellow, white, and green, and large spangles of looking-glass glittering in the sun, they did not look much like mourners.In a long narrow bark, with a pointed white sail—a bunder-boat—we crossed the roads to Elephanta, the isle of sacred temples. Naked men, with no garment but the langouti, or loin-cloth, navigated the boat. They climbed to the top of the mast, clinging to the shrouds with their toes, if the least end of rope was out of gear, hauled the sail up and down for no reason at all, and toiled ridiculously, with a vain expenditure of cries and action, under the glaring sky that poured down on us like hot lead.On our way back to the hotel, in a park through which we had to pass, we suddenly heard overhead a shrill outcry proceeding from a banyan tree to which a number of vampires had hung themselves up. Clinging together side by side, like black rags, and hardly visible in the thick foliage, the creatures formed a sort of living bunch, creeping, swaying, and all uttering the same harsh, monotonous, incessant cry.
[Pg 224]In this Peshawur the houses are crowded along narrow, crooked alleys, and there is but one rather wider street of shops, which here already have a quite[Pg 242] Persian character, having for sale only the products of Cabul or Bokhara. The balconies, the shutters, the verandahs and galleries are of wood inlaid in patterns like spider-net. The timbers are so slight that they would seem quite useless and too fragile to last; and yet they are amazingly strong, and alone remain in place, amid heaps of stones, in houses that have fallen into ruin. In the streets, the contrast is strange, of tiny houses with the Afghans, all over six feet high, superb men wearing heavy dhotis of light colours faded to white, still showing in the shadow of the folds a greenish-blue tinge of dead turquoise. Solemn and slow, or motionless in statuesque attitudes while they converse in few words, and never gesticulate, they are very fine, with a fierce beauty; their large, open eyes are too black, and their smile quite distressingly white in faces where the muscles look stiff-set. Even the children, in pale-hued silk shirts, are melancholy, languid, spiritless, but very droll, too, in their little pointed caps covered with gold braid, and the finery of endless metal necklaces, and bangles on their ankles and arms.Stations for prayer stand all along the road; little open shrines, where footprints are worshipped, stamped on flags of white marble, a large footprint surrounded by a dozen of a child's foot.
When we stopped to change horses, two or three mud-huts under the shade of a few palm trees would emit an escort of little native boys, who followed the fresh team, staring at the carriage and the "Inglis Sahib" with a gaze of rapturous stupefaction.Making my way among the too numerous gods in relief against the overwrought walls heavy with carving, I came to a wonderful balcony where, in broken cages, I found the parrots that had betrayed me, and among them an exquisite pale yellow cockatoo of great rarity.
"Export business!" says Abibulla.Within the gateway, carved all over with foliage and rosettes, a footway, paved with bright mosaic, leads to the interior of the temple. All along a corridor, enormous prancing horses, mounted by men-at-arms, support the roof which is deeply carved all over, and at the foot of these giants a sacred tank reflects the sky. In front of us were gaps of black shadow, and far, far away, lamps, shrouded in incense, were twinkling behind the gratings.详情
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