As we returned, vistas of unreal definiteness showed us endless valleys lost in the distance, and vast spaces cultivated in green and russet stripes—the tea plantations that spread below the now vanished splendour of the snows. At a turning in the road stands a cross, erected there in memory of an epidemic of suicide that broke out among the soldiers of the English fort—a small structure of stone with an iron roof that faces the heaven-scaling range.
There are women, too, in the throng of men, but fewer in number. Parsee ladies, draped in light sarees of pale-hued muslin bordered with black, which shroud them entirely, being drawn closely over the narrow skirt, crossed several times over the bosom, and thrown over the right shoulder to cover the head and fall lightly on the left shoulder. Hindoo women, scarcely clothed in red stuff, faded in places to a strong pink; a very skimpy bodice, the chol, embroidered with silk and spangles, covers the bust, leaving the arms and bosom free; a piece of thin cotton stuff, drawn round the legs and twisted about the waist, covers the shoulders and head, like a shawl. On their wrists and ankles are silver bangles; they have rings on their fingers and toes, broad necklaces with pendants, earrings, and a sort of stud of gold or copper, with coloured stones, through the left nostril. They go barefoot, pliant[Pg 8] forms avoiding the jostling of the crowd, and carrying on their head a pile of copper pots one above another, shining like gold, and scarcely held by one slender arm with its bangles glittering in the sun. The tinkle of the nanparas on their ankles keeps time with their swinging and infinitely graceful gait, and a scent of jasmine and sandal-wood is wafted from their light raiment. Moslem women, wrapped from head to foot in sacks of thick white calico, with a muslin blind over their eyes, toddle awkwardly one behind the other, generally two or three together. Native children beg, pursuing the passenger under the very feet of the horses; their sharp voices louder than the hubbub of shouts, bells, and gongs, which exhausts and stultifies, and finally intoxicates the brain.
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.
Japanese girls, too, in every possible hue, with piles of tinsel and flowers above their little flat faces all covered with saffron and white paint; little fidgeting parrakeets flitting from window to window, and calling to the people in the street in shrill, nasal tones.
A desolate strand, all the vegetation burnt by the sun and the sea-breeze. The pearl-oyster, which made the fortune of the district, disappeared four years since, and has migrated to other parts. The fisheries no longer pay, and the boats are dropping to pieces on the beach, while the divers beg, decimated by want.
Two days after, the people would burn in great state, on an enormous wood pile, an image of Time, to ensure the return next year of the festival of colours.At a stopping-place a flock of sheep huddled together in terror, hens scuttered about clucking anxiously, the stable dogs crouched and slunk; high overhead a large eagle was slowly wheeling in the air.
The temples were already closed, but my servant, Abibulla, diverted the attention of the gatekeeper, and I stole unseen into the outer precincts.The four sons of the king presently come to a town. They ring at the door of a house inhabited by a woman who, as the little English translation tells us, carries on a foul trade, and Dilbar the dancing-girl appears.In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.
All the architectural details are effaced; parasites and creepers have overgrown the old-world carvings.
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As we passed the sacred tanks, where a smell of decay filled the air that still rang with the cries of the bats, our horses suddenly shied and refused to go forward, terror-stricken by some invisible danger suggested to them by that reiterated shriek or the corpse-like smell. A very long minute passed as we sat in the carriage, a minute of dread that left us quite excited by this mysterious peril of which we had somehow felt the awe. Nor was it till we had left the great trees by the tanks behind us that the impression wore off under the comforting light of the stars.详情
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