>At the top of Malabar Hill, in a garden with freshly raked walks and clumps of flowers edged with pearl-shells, stand five limewashed towers, crowned with a living battlement of vultures: the great Dokma, the Towers of Silence, where the Parsees are laid after death, "as naked as when they came into the world and as they must return to nothingness," to feed the birds of prey, which by the end of a few hours leave nothing of the body but the bones, to bleach in the sun and be scorched[Pg 30] to dust that is soon carried down to the sea by the first rains of the monsoon.
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.The heat to-day has suddenly become stifling; the low clouds veil the colourless sun, and the flowers, which yesterday were still lovely, are now[Pg 278] withered and pallid, and only give out their scent in the evening, when it is cool again.In the afternoon the Minister came to take us to the palace. The Rajah, with his cousins, met us at the[Pg 66] foot of the grand staircase; a detachment of sowars were on guard. With great ceremony, preceded and followed by an army of officials and attendants, we went up to a room where a silver throne, inlaid with gold, of exquisite workmanship, between two armchairs of massive silver, looked quite out of keeping with gilt wood chairs with tapestry seats, and the everlasting Brussels carpet of poor and glaring design. On the various tables was the latest trumpery from Oxford Street—plush frames and varnished wooden screens; a shower of glass lustres hung from the ceiling.
A station on the road—the delightful days at Bunnoo left far behind.A garden of roses and lilies was the dwelling-place of a very ancient fakir, who had taken a vow[Pg 163] to live naked, and only put on a loin-cloth when ladies were expected. He was venerated by all, yes, even by Abibulla, who knelt before him, touched the holy man's feet and then his own forehead. The old fellow was surrounded by pilgrims wearing wreaths of flowers round their neck; he came to meet me, took me by the hand, and led me under the shade of a kiosk, where he showed me a large book he had written, containing an account of the joys and ecstasies of his life of asceticism and prayer. This old man had a magnificent brow, and the deep gaze of his kind, smiling eyes was fine in a face puckered with a thousand wrinkles. Infinite calm and peace characterized this happy soul—a naked man in the midst of flowers.
At the end of a quarter of an hour the princes drove off through a great cloud of white dust sparkling in the sun, and raised by the carriages and the escort of armed sowars.Behind this mosque, by narrow alleys hung with airy green silk that had just been dyed and spread to dry in the sun, we made our way to the mausoleum of Badorgi Shah: a cloister, an arcade of octagonal columns carved with flowers, and in the court, the tombs of white stone, covered with [Pg 64]inscriptions, that look like arabesques. There are some children's tombs, too, quite small, in finer and even whiter stone, and two tiny stones under which lie Badorgi's parrot and cat.
[Pg 102]All the architectural details are effaced; parasites and creepers have overgrown the old-world carvings.
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.
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A tea-party in the afternoon at the yacht club. The ladies in smart dresses, the talk all of fashionable gossip—how 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.In the courtyard a tall and gaudy cock was keeping the crows in order, driving them relentlessly away from the kitchen precincts. On the roof of the servants' quarters, always in the same spot, perched a kite, ready to pounce as soon as anything was thrown out. The doves, the house-pigeons, the fowls fled at once and squatted in corners; but the cock stood his ground, his feathers all on end, his crest erect, chuckling with rage and stalking round the yard within ten paces of the bird of prey.详情
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