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类型:奇幻地区:发布:2020-10-28 04:43:47

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The muddy waters reflected the grey houses and the roofs of unbaked clay, on which the winter snows were melting in black trickling drops.Two or three thousand haggard and fleshless beings were digging or carrying earth to form an embankment for a railway or a road. With arms scarcely thicker than the handles of the tools they wielded, the labourers gasped in the air, tired in a minute, and pausing to rest in spite of the abuse of the overseers. Emaciated women, so small in their tattered sarees, carried little baskets on their heads containing a few handfuls of earth, but which they could scarcely lift. One of them, wrinkled and shrunken, looked a hundred years old tottering under her load; on reaching the spot where she was to empty out the soil, she leaned forward a little and let the whole thing fall, indifferent to the dust which covered her and filled her mouth and eyes; and after taking breath for a moment, off she went again as if walking in her sleep.

With day came the grip of fire, the overwhelming[Pg 302] mastery of the heat. The sunshine pierced through every crack in the shutters and blinds, intolerably vivid. In feverish exhaustion, helpless to withstand the glow and light, we could but lie under the waving punkah and await the blessed return of night.In the evening, lamps shining out through latticed windows lighted the faithful in their pious gymnastics. A moollah's chant in the distance rose high overhead, and very shrill, and in the darkness the stars shed pale light on the tombstones mirrored in the black water; a plaintive flute softly carried on the sound of the priests' prayers. Down the dark streets the folk, walking barefoot without a sound, and wrapped in white, looked like ghosts.

Entering by one of the fourteen gates in the ramparts of stone blocks scarcely hewn into shape, the city of palaces and mosques is found in ruins, matching the fortifications, without any decoration,[Pg 225] and all of the same cold grey hue, like a city of prisons.

At our feet were the two walls, the outer wall enclosing the palace, the gardens, the arena, where fights were given between elephants and tigers; the inner wall, ten metres high, built round the zenanathe women's palaceof which even the foundations have almost disappeared under the overwhelming vegetation.And once more in a barge on the Ganges. The atmosphere seemed faintly iridescent, like mother-of-pearl, the silence serenely lulled by the distant sound of a flute. The palaces and temples, reflected in the still water, looked in the distance like forts crowned with turrets of gold, and their little windows like loopholes. The broad stairs of the quays, where the priests' umbrellas glitter, assumed a spacious, unfamiliar dignity, the red colour shading paler towards the bottom, where it was washed off by the lapping Ganges, looking as though a fairy hanging of gauze were spread under the wavelets in honour of the Apsaras and the divinities of the river.

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.In the city, which is swept and cleaned till it is hard to believe oneself among Hindoos, there are six hundred tanks, for the most part stagnant, in which the natives wash themselves and their clothes. Round others, which are gradually being appropriated to the use of the residents, and all about the houses, bamboos are planted and "flame of the forest," covered with enormous red star-shaped blossoms as solid as fruit, and trees curtained with creepers of fragile growthone long garden extending almost to the bazaar.

In every shop of the High Street jewellers are on the look-out for customers, hale them in, tease them to buy, and open for inspection little bags or cardboard boxes kept in safes, and containing the finest sapphires in the world. The day slips by in bargaining for the gems, in endless discussions and feigned departures. The indefatigable vendors return to the charge, run after the customer, wait for him at the door of a rival dealer, and drag him back again. Then there is a fresh dispute over prices, till irresistible argument at last brings down the estimates to a third or a quarter of what they were at starting.

When we left he was in a coppersmith's shop, singing with wide open, staring eyes; his face had a strangely sad expression while he sang a gay, jigging tune to foolish words that made the people laugh.

We sailed past the holy city in a heavy, massive junk, the prow formed of a snake with its head erect and jaws yawning, down the Ganges, all rippled with rose and blue. Palaces, and more palaces, with thick walls and towers, that look like bastions, stand in perspective as far as the eye can see. Windows and balconies are cut in the ponderous masonry at the level of the third floor, and high above these rajahs' dwellings rise the domes of the temples, pointing skywards among tall trees that spread their shade on the russet stonework. At the foot of the palaces, steps lead down to the river, divided by little stages covered with wicker umbrellas that shine in the sun like discs of gold; under these, Brahmins, after bathing, were telling their beads. Now and again they dipped their fingers in the sacred waters and moistened their eyes, forehead, and lips.

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These gentlemen of the Civil Service would put in an appearance "now and then"the eternal "now and then" that answers every question in India. They stepped out of a buggy, walked quickly round, had seen, and were gone again in a great hurry to finish some important work for the next European mail.The same ubiquitous terminus on a sandy plain, remote from everything; then a drive jolting through bogs, and we reached the dirty, scattered town crowded with people who had collected round a sort of fair with booths for mountebanks, and roundabouts of wooden horses.

In the town a zebu cow was trotting along with an air of business. To avoid a vehicle she jumped on to the footpath and went her way along the flagstones, and every Hindoo that she passed patted her buttock and then touched his forehead with the same hand with great reverence.

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