中国铁道出版社有限公司总编辑钟加栋

After passing the temples and tombs that surround the Khoutab, the town of ruins lies scattered over the plain of pale sand and withered herbage.

We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.

When I went away home to the fort, where I was living with my friend Lieutenant F, the sentinel's challenge, the tall grey walls casting sharp shadows on the courtyard silvered with moonlight, and another sentry's cry; and still, in contrast with the cheerful evening, I could remember nothing but the tonga post-horsea thing so frequent in this land of fanatics, so common that no one gives it more than a passing thought. A road between ancient trees and green fields which are perpetually irrigated leads to Sicandra-Bagh. Here, at the end of a wretched village of huts and hovels, is the magnificence of a stately portal of red stone broadly decorated with white; and then, through a garden where trees and shrubs make one huge bouquet, behold the imposing mass of the tomb of Akbar the Great. The mausoleum is on the scale of a cathedral. There are two stories of galleries in pink sandstone crowned by a marble pavilion with lace-like walls; and there, high up, is the sarcophagus of white stone, covered with inscriptions setting forth the nineteen names of Allah.

On reaching the temple of Vishnu, on the very threshold, we met an elephant marching in front of the Brahmin priests, who were carrying water in copper amphor? to bathe the idols withal. Musicians followed the elephant, playing on bagpipes, on a kind of little trumpet, very short and shrill-toned, and on drums; and the beast, with its trunk swaying to right and left, begged a gift for the expenses of the temple. In the island of Srirangam we visited a temple to Vishnu, enclosed within eight walls, of which the three first only contain any dwellings. A crowd of pilgrims swarmed about the steps, where everything was on sale: little gods in bronze, in painted marble, in clay, and in wood; paper for[Pg 111] writing prayers on; sacred books; red and white face-paints, such as the worshippers of Vishnu use to mark their foreheads with a V; little baskets to hold the colours, with three or four divisions, and a mirror at the bottom; coco-nuts containing kohl; stuffs of every dye; religious pictures, artless indeed, and painted with laborious dabs of the brush in the presence of the customer; chromo-lithographs from Europe, sickeningly insipid and mawkishly pretty.

In the town is the tomb of the Ranee Sipri: walls of lace, balconies of brocade carved in stone. Opposite this mausoleum are an open mosque and two minarets as slim as sapling pines, wrought with arabesques as fine as carved ivory. There are lamps carved in relief on the walls, each hung by chains under-cut in stone with Chinese elaboration; and this lamp is everywhere repeatedon the mosque, on the tomb, and on the base of the minarets. The building, which has the faintly russet tone of old parchment, when seen in the glow of sunset takes a hue of ruby gold that is almost diaphanous, as filmy as embroidered gauze.

The crimson sky seen above the tall coco-palms turns to pink, to pale, vaporous blue, to a warm grey that rapidly dies away, and almost suddenly it is night.

On the shore, on the steps in front of the temples and round the holy images, in short, everywhere on this day, red powder was sprinkled to inaugurate[Pg 179] the month just beginning; a beggar, to secure the favour of the gods, had smeared his head and hands with it.

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 day long in front of the houses the women were busy clumsily pounding grain with wooden pestles in a hollow made in a log; stamping much too hard with violent energy, they scattered much of the grain, which the half-tamed birds seized as they flew, almost under the women's hands. And then the wind carried away quite half the meal. But they pounded on all day for the birds and the[Pg 263] wind, and were quite happy so long as they could make a noise.

Women porters came on foot, hidden under bales, nets full of crocks, faggots, and trusses of hay.[Pg 248] Children, and women in sareesfine ladieshad nothing to carry; some were wrapped in yashmacks, shrouding them from head to foot with a little veil of transparent muslin over their eyes.

Then, suddenly, there was a clatter of tom-toms, and rattling of castanets, a Hindoo funeral passing by. The dead lay stretched on a bier, his face painted and horrible, a livid grin between the dreadful scarlet cheeks, covered with wreaths of jasmine and roses. A man walking before the corpse carried a jar of burning charcoal to light the funeral pile. Friends followed the bier, each bringing a log of wood, to add to the pyre as a last homage to the dead.