« السابقةمتابعة »
the birds peculiar to the country much exceed these in number, and there are not a few of very beautiful plumage, such as the mango-bird with its gorgeous amber breast, or the parroquet with its feathers of brilliant emerald.
With the representatives of the vegetable kingdom in Tirhoot we are disappointed. Beyond the palmyra palm, the banyans, and the peepul, there are few handsome trees; the feathery bamboo serves somewhat to redeem the character of the country in this respect; but flowers are few and far between, and of ferns we notice. but one kind, a maiden-hair, growing luxuriantly round the sides of a deep well.
We have made an appointment to meet a companion for the North-west at Mokameh Station on the 18th, so on the 17th we reluctantly leave our hospitable friends at Dowlutpore, and that night we quarter ourselves on the planters at Bogwanpore. Out in this distant part, where there are no country inns, and where the English planters live at distances of from two to twenty miles from each other, the virtue of hospitality finds a genial soil; society's weeds of stiffness and formality cannot grow up and choke it. An Englishman travelling through Tirǹoot may always count on a welcome and a charpoy at every bungalow; we know of one man who told us that he once spent two years in the northern part of the indigo country, engaged in arranging for a supply of timber from the Terai, the belt of wooded land at the foot of the Himalayas, and that during the whole of that time he had lived as a guest in one bungalow or another. We hope he did not get the reputation of being a sponge' before his time came to an end.
Early on the morning of the 18th we mount a horse, and, with a syce running behind, make for the Ganges again. Arrived at the bank, we are peled over in a boat, at the
leisurely pace with which a native does everything when left to himself. We move so leisurely through the water that we get close alongside several floating objects that look like knotty logs of wood, but turn out, on a closer inspection, to be alligators, apparently half asleep and moving down with the current.
On the long sandbanks that jut out from the river-side, or just appear above the water in mid-stream, are lines of ducks and geese, while overhead fly flocks of pelicans, with their necks doubled back, their feet trailing out behind them, and their wings moving as deliberately and gracefully as those of a heron. In another six months they will have an almost boundless lake here to fly over, instead of a river 1,000 yards in width. Last autumn, when the river was at full flood, there was here an expanse of twenty miles of water from shore to shore; that was indeed an exceptional season; but every year, after the rains, this river expands to many times its present width.
Safely across the sacred stream, we make for the railway station of Mokameh, and when the mid-day train comes in, we find our companion, hot and dusty, seated therein. We step in ourselves, and are soon en route for Benares.
OUT of Europe, we seldom travel in a railway-carriage at a greater average pace than twenty-five miles per hour.
In heat like Indian heat, and dust like Indian dust, this is quite fast enough; one does not feel inclined to hurry in a hot climate. Accordingly, though we leave Mokameh at mid-day, and have only 200 miles to travel to Benares, we do not arrive at the latter place till between 8 and 9 P.M. In the interval we become thoroughly powdered with the fine white dust which creeps in at every door and window and ventilator, in a manner that defies resistance, and are compelled, after a short period of grumbling and vain attempts at self-defence, to resign ourselves philosophically to our fate.
During the day we pass Patna, the city of rice and opium, a dense-looking mass of houses, with here and there a Moslem minaret or a Hindu pinnacle standing up above the lower roofs: then Arrah, which looks merely like a wayside station, but is famous as the spot where, soon after the first outbreak of the mutiny, four Europeans and fifty Sikhs held a bungalow for a whole week against 3,000 mutineers, at the end of which time they were relieved then we cross the fine girder-bridge over the Soane, 1,400 yards in length, at present stretching over a greater expanse of sand-bank than water, but in the
season of floods spanning a full and rapid river: soon afterwards we pass Buxar, where are the large government establishments for breeding cavalry horses; and at 7 P.M. we reach Mogul Serai, where the branch line for Benares leaves the main line. This branch line only carries us a few miles to the right bank of the Ganges, immediately opposite Benares; we cross the river in a gharry' by the bridge of boats, and then a drive of a couple of miles takes us through the outskirts of the city to the only hotel in the place, kept by a native, where we are ensconced for the night.
We are now in the holy city of the Hindus, a spot which is to the worshippers of Brahm and Vishnu what Mecca is to the devotees of Mahomet, what Jerusalem is to the more truly devotional Jews. It is a city wholly given to idolatry,' as we shall find before we have spent many hours in seeing some of its most celebrated shrines.
We start out early in the morning with a native guide, who styles himself Shiva Datta Pundit, speaks English very well, and is well up in all the lore necessary to a cicerone. He is an antiquarian to boot; at least he shows us a collection of gold mohurs and other coins and relics, which he affirms to be all genuine, and gathered by himself from unquestionably genuine sources, but upon which, with a mistrust of Hindu veracity which has grown up within three weeks in our minds, we look with doubt.
Our first stoppage in our morning's round is at the Doorga Khond, a temple dedicated to the goddess Doorga, one of the incarnations of the wife of Brahm. A large square tank, with broad flights of steps leading down to it on all four sides, is perhaps the handsomest part of the sacred precincts; the temple itself is formed of a quadrangle, some thirty or forty yards square, with porches running all round it, while in the centre is the shrine,
THE DOORGA KHOND
surmounted by a cone-shaped dome, which in outline. resembles a pile of conical shells such as one may see erected in a modern fort. The whole is of red sandstone, cut into many grooves, angles, and cornices, and, like all buildings of Hindu type of architecture, unadorned with arches.
An ancient and orthodox legend relating to the goddess Doorga has originated the belief that monkeys are under her sacred protection, and accordingly some 500 or 600 of these unsightly animals live in and around the temple, board and lodging free. Down on the steps of the tank, and up on the dome of the shrine, swarm their tawny bodies; round the red pillars twine their long lean arms; and as we stand on the pavement of the quadrangle a dozen of them gather round us, blinking at us out of their bleared eyes, and waiting eagerly for a supply of nuts or sweetmeats. As we look at their wrinkled faces, and their dingy, often mangy skins, we wonder if humanity can come to a lower point of degradation than that of holding sacred its animal caricature.
But perhaps we shall find even worse superstitions than this. Let us go down to the river-side, near the upper end of the town, take a boat, and float slowly down the stream. We shall see a sight which, in its peculiar way, we could not match without going to Mecca among the crowd of yearly pilgrims, or to the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Easter.
Benares is built entirely on the left bank of the Ganges, which is approached from the city by an almost uninterrupted succession of broad flights of stone steps, called in India' Ghâts,' and extending here for the length of nearly a mile. As we push out into the middle of the stream, this line of Ghâts, broken here and there by the projecting wings of some devout Rajah's palace, or by the