A man by the roadside was mixing mud with[Pg 265] chopped straw; then when his mortar was of the right consistency he began to build the walls of his house between the four corner posts, with no tools but his hands. A woman and child helped him, patting the concrete with their hands until it began to look almost smooth. We could see the procession coming straight up a hollow ravine from the valley to the Dokma, a path that none but Parsees are allowed to tread;[Pg 31] eight bearers in white, the bier also covered with white, and, far behind, the relations and friends of the dead, all robed in white, two and two, each pair holding between them a square of white stuff in sign of union. They came very slowly up the steps of the steep ascent with a measured chant, in muffled tones, on long-drawn vowels. And from the surrounding trees, from far and near, with a great flutter of wings, the vultures flew to meet the corpse, darkening the sky for a moment.
The draught-oxen all had their horns painted[Pg 134] in gaudy colours, generally one horn blue and the other green. From the parapet of one of the bastions the Ganges may be seen in the distance, of a sickly turquoise-blue, shrouded in the haze of dust which hangs over everything and cuts off the horizon almost close in front of us, and the tributary Jumna, translucent and green. At the confluence of the rivers stands a native village of straw and bamboo huts, swept away every season by the rains. This is Triveni, containing 50,000 souls, which enjoys a great reputation for sanctity, and attracts almost as many pilgrims from every part of India as does Benares. The people come to wash away their sins in the Saravasti, the mystical river that comes down from heaven and mingles its waters at this spot with those of the sacred Ganges and the Jumna. The faithful who bathe at Triveni observe an additional ceremony and cut their hair; each hair, as it floats down stream in the sacred waters, effaces a sin, and obtains its forgiveness. In front of the barracks, a relic of past magnificence, there stands alone on a porphyry pedestal, in the middle of a broad plot[Pg 184] trampled by soldiers on parade, an Asoka column carved with inscriptions to the top, and decorated half-way up with a sort of capital.
Two old women had a quarrel, and all the neighbourhood came out to look on. HARDWAR
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 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.
Over the rice-fields, in the darkness, danced a maze of fire-flies, quite tiny, but extraordinarily bright; they whirled in endless streaks of flame, intangible, so fine that they seemed part of the air itself, crossing in a ceaseless tangle, faster and faster, and then dying out in diamond sparks, very softly twinkling little stars turning to silver in the moonlight.
In the middle of the course was a stand, and there, with the officers and civil functionaries, were four English ladies who had accompanied their husbands to this remote station. They thought of their dress and took care of their babies, living among these Sikhs whom the native priests are perpetually inciting to rebellion, and seeming to have not the least fear of danger.