公安部发出"五一"出行交通安全预警

Along the roads of beaten earth, between tall plastered houses, a tramway runs. In the shopfronts the motley display suggests a curiosity shop, and the goods have a look of antiquity under the thick layer of dust that lies on everything. It is[Pg 5] only in the heart of the city, in the "Fort," that the shops and houses have a European stamp.

We landed at Ramnagar, a marble palace looking like a fortified town, its massive walls rising[Pg 174] from the river and crowned by balconies and fairy kiosksa lacework of stone against the brilliant sky.

A tea-party in the afternoon at the yacht club. The ladies in smart dresses, the talk all of fashionable gossiphow far away from all I had been seeing. An European atmosphere, where a touch of local colour was only suggested by the native servants. The plague, the ruling terror when I was last in Bombay, was forgotten; the only subject now was the Jubilee, and the latest news from England arrived by that day's mail.

As we returned the wind had fallen, and the men rowed. The moon rose pale gold, and in the distance, in the violet haze, the lights of Bombay mingled with the stars. The boatmen's[Pg 23] chant was very vague, a rocking measure on ascending intervals. In front of us were men loaded with bundles or with children; old women gasping as they leaned on long staves; chattering women with green or pink or white veils, their arms full of sheaves of flowers. By each little templebetween which there are[Pg 71] kiosks, sheltering innumerable grinning idolstrees grow, and under their shade the pilgrims break the climb with a short rest. In a palankin, carried by two men, a slim woman's figure was borne past, in a pink gauze dress spangled with silver; her feet and hands, beringed with silver and gold, were exquisitely delicate. For an instant her veil blew aside, showing her face, rigid with horrible white leprosy, only her almond-shaped black eyesbeautiful eyeswere alive with intense brilliancy, full of unfathomable woe.

The bearer of Kali walked into the sacred river up to his knees, and then dropped the idol. The[Pg 143] Hindoos who had followed him fell prostrate in fervent prayer, hiding their face in their hands, and then flung after the goddess, now lost in the waters, all the baskets, jars, and flowers, to be carried down the stream. For a moment the silver paper crown which had floated up spun on the water that was spangled by the moon, and then it sank in an eddy. Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed.

Inside the shops everything was piled together. The same man is at once a banker, a maker of papier-mach boxespapi-machi they call it hereand of carpets, a goldsmith, tailor, upholstererand never lets you go till you have bought something.

"Farewell," said he, "and may the Almighty protect you, for you look kind."

A very solid structure, with walls like a fortress, contains the treasury of the sacred mount. Five guards in turn came to open as many padlocks, and at last the ponderous door turned slowly on its hinges. A car, an elephant, and a vehicle to which are harnessed two prancing horses, are all brought out to convey the idols when they go forth in a[Pg 81] procession. The animals are chased with almost artistic skill. The harness, starry with precious stones, all takes to pieces.

Yellow palaces, mirrored as gold in the luminous waters of the Ganges, came into view; cupolas quivering with dazzling lustre against the intense skyand then the whole city vanished. Nothing was to be seen but a suburb of shabby buildings, the commonplace railway station crowded by a Burmese pilgrimage of Buddhists come from so farwho knows why?to the holy Indian city. Yellow priests and white doll-like figures dragging bundles that fell open, dropping the most medley collection of objects to be picked up and stowed into the parcels again, only to roll out once more. A yelling crowd, hustling and bustling, shouting from one end of the station to the other, and finally[Pg 155] departing, like a flock of sheep, in long files down the dusty road, to be lost at last in the little bazaar.

All round the Rajah's palace crowds a town of palaces, mosques, and temples dedicated to Vishnu; and outside the walls, on a plain lying between the hills of Amber, is another town, still thick with ruins amid the forest of encroaching trees. And it is all dead, deserted, dust-coloured, unspeakably sad, with the sadness of destruction and desertion in the midst of a landscape gorgeous with flowers and groves. In the palace of Amber, guides make a good[Pg 216] business of showing us the public rooms, baths, and bedrooms, all restored with an eye to the tourist. In the gardens, heavy with perfume, the trees display swinging balls of baked earth full of holes, which protect the ripening fruit from the monkeys; a whole tribe of them scampered off at our approach, and went to torment the peacocks that were solemnly promenading a path, and that presently flew away.