DARJEELINGThe road from Cawnpore to Gwalior makes a bend towards central India across a stony, barren tract, where a sort of leprosy of pale lichen has overgrown the white dust on the fields that are no longer tilled. There is no verdure; mere skeletons of trees, and a few scattered palms still spread their leaves, protecting under their shade clumps of golden gynerium.Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.
My friend Captain McT——, with whom I stayed, had a house with a peaked, reed-thatched roof. Round the verandah where we slept at night hung festoons of jasmine and bougainvillea. Bamboos, ph?nix, and curtains of creepers at the end of the lawn made a wall of verdure, fresh and cool; and through this were wafted the perfumes shed on the air—the scent of roses and verbena, of violet[Pg 290] or of rosemary, according to the side whence the wind blew, mingling with that of the amaryllis and honeysuckle in bloom close at hand. And in this quiet garden, far from the bazaar where the darboukhas were twanging, birds sang all night, and the fireflies danced in mazes from flower to flower.
A poor old fellow, behind a grating that shut him into a kind of hovel, called out to us, first beseeching and then threatening, rushing frantically to the back of his hut and at once coming forward again with fresh abuse. He was a dangerous madman, placed there to keep him out of mischief and to be cured by the Divinity.
Below one of the palaces is a huge statue of Vishnu Bhin in a reclining attitude, daubed with ochre, the face flesh-colour and white; a statue which is carried away every year by the floods and restored every year in its pristine grossness.
Round a temple, with iron roofs ending in copper balls at the top, a crowd was watching, some seated on steps cut in the soil and some squatting on the hillside, here almost perpendicular. By the temple long white streamers, fluttering from bamboo poles, were covered with painted prayers. A Lama was enthroned in an armchair under an arbour of pine-branches; he wore a yellow robe, and above a face like a cat's he had a sort of brass hat surmounted by a coral knob; his little beard was quite white, and he turned his praying machine with a steady, dull movement, perfectly stolid. Two women stood by his side fanning him, dressed in close-fitting aprons of dark cloth bordered with a brighter shade, and opening over pale pink satin petticoats, on their heads crowns of flowers of every hue.A spell seemed to linger over this little bazaar, to slacken every movement and give the people an indolent grace. They spoke languidly in the shade of the awnings spread by the flower-sellers and the jewellers, who, with little ringing taps, were [Pg 95]hammering out minute patterns on silver anklets and necklaces.详情
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