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- Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet - 10/42 -


in all their movements, and answers in its way to the fan of more accomplished Western belles.

After each couple had gone through the whole of their performances, they used to squat themselves down suddenly in the most ungraceful style imaginable, and were then relieved by another pair of artistes from the group.

One lady, in addition to the dance, favoured us with "the Marseillaise" with the French words, being occasionally prompted by the head of the orchestra, who nearly worked himself into a frenzy while accompanying the dancers with both vocal and instrumental music at the same time. The Maharajah himself was plainly dressed in white robes, with a pair of pale-green striped silk pantaloons fitting his legs like stockings from the knee down, and terminating in a pair of English socks, of which he seemed immensely proud. His turban was of the palest shade of green, and (in strong contrast to the rest of his court) without any ornament whatever. The little heir to the throne -- a nice little blackamoor of about eight years of age -- was, like his father, perched upon a chair, and arrayed in a green and gold turban, pants, and socks, with the addition of a velvet gold-embroidered coat, while round his neck were three or four valuable necklaces, one of pear-shaped emeralds of great size and beauty. After a few dances the doors of the banqueting-room were thrown open, and his Highness led the way into dinner with the commissioner. On entering, we found a capital dinner laid out English fashion, and with a formidable army of black bottles ranged along the table. The Maharajah, however, had disappeared, and we were left to feed without a host. The grandees, meanwhile, remained outside, and still enjoyed the dances, ranging themselves upon their haunches in front of the rows of chairs which not one among them would have dared to trust himself in for either love or money. Considering that our entertainer was a Hindoo, and that his dinner-giving appliances were limited, each person having to bring his own knife, fork, spoon, and chair, we fared very well, and after having drunk his health, again assembled in the court, where we found Rumbeer Singh still occupied with the wearisome nach, and reattired in a gorgeous dress of green velvet and gold. After a short stay he got up, and we all followed his example, glad enough to bring the entertainment to an end, and betake ourselves to our boats. At the stairs there was a desperate encounter with innumerable boatmen, each boat having six, eight, or ten sailors, and all being equally anxious to uphold the credit of their craft by being the first to land their masters safe, at home. We were fortunate enough to reach our own at once, and, with a shouting crew, away we dashed up the river, leaving the others struggling, fighting, and flourishing their paddles in the air, in a way which was more suggestive of an insurrection scene in Masaniello than the departure of guests from a peaceable gentleman's own hall door on the night of an evening party.

On the stairs there was an extraordinary assemblage of slippers, which seemed to hold the same relative position that hats and cloaks do in more enlightened communities -- that is, the good ones were taken by the owners of the bad, and the proprietors of the bad ones were fain to make the best of the exchange. Next morning our khidmutgar came up with a most doleful countenance and presented to our notice a pair of certainly most ill-favoured slippers, which a fellow true-believer had INADVERTENTLY substituted for a pair of later date. The lost ones had, in fact, only recently been received from the boot-maker; and the blow was difficult to bear with resignation, even by the saintliest follower of Islam -- a reputation which our retainer came short of by a very long way indeed.

JULY 4. -- Having an accumulation of letters to answer, we devoted the day to writing -- merely enjoying a little OTIUM CUM DIG. -- in the evening, reclining in our boat while serenaded by the crew of boatmen.

JULY 5. -- Walked up, before daybreak, to the Tukht e Suleeman, or Solomon's throne, "the mountainous Portal," which Moore speaks of in LALLA ROOKH, and which forms the most striking landmark in the valley.[8]

From the summit there was a curious view of the multitudinous wooden houses and the sinuous windings of the river, which could alone be obtained from such a bird's-eye point of inspection. An old temple at the top was in the hands of the Hindoo faction, being dedicated to the goddess Mahadewee, and in charge of it I found two of the dirtiest fukeers, or religious mendicants, I ever had the pleasure of meeting. One was lying asleep, with his feet in a heap of dust and ashes, and the other was listlessly sitting, without moving a muscle, warming himself in the morning sun. Both were almost naked, and had their bodies and faces smeared with ashes and their hair long and matted. They appeared to have arrived at a state of almost entire abstraction, and neither of them even raised his eyes or seemed to be in the slightest degree aware of my presence, although I took a sketch of one of them, and stared at both, very much as I would have done at some new arrival of animals in the Zoological Gardens.

In the evening we went again to Saifula Baba's and visited the workrooms, where we were much astonished by the quickness with which the people worked the intricate shawl patterns with a simple needle, and no copy to guide them.

The first stages of the work are not very promising, but the finished result, when pressed and rolled and duly exhibited by that true believer Saifula Baba, in his snowy gown and turban, was certainly in every way worthy of its reputation.

Returning home, we visited a garden where any of the English visitors who die in the valley are buried -- the Maharajah presenting a Cashmere shawl, in some instances, to wrap the body in. There were about eight or ten monuments built of plaster, with small square slabs for inscriptions. One of these was turned topsy-turvey, which was not to be wondered at, for a native almost always holds English characters upside-down when either trying to decipher them himself or when holding them to be read by others.

JULY 6. -- In the early morning I ascended to the throne of Solomon, in order to get a sketch of the Fort of Hurree Purbut, and in the afternoon we repaired to the lake behind the town, where there was a grand Mela or fair, on the water, to which the Maharajah and all his court went in state. The lake is beautifully situated at the foot of the mountains, and was covered so densely in many parts with weed and water-plants that it bore quite the appearance of a floating garden; and as the innumerable boats paddled about, with their bright and sunny cargoes, talking and laughing and enjoying themselves to their heart's content, the scene began to identify itself in some measure with Moore's description of the "Sunny lake of cool Cashmere," and its "Plane-tree isle reflected clear," although the poet's eyes had never rested on either lake or isle. Putting poetry on one side, however, for the present, we made our way to the extremity of the lake, in order to pay a visit to his Highness's gaol, where we were received by a very civil gaoler, equipped with a massive sword and dilapidated shield. We found 110 prisoners in the place, employed generally in converting dhan into chawul, or, in other words, clearing the rice-crop. There was also a mill for mustard oil, and the most primitive machine for boring fire-arms ever invented, both worked by water-power. The prison dress was uniform in the extreme: it consisted simply of a suit of heavy leg-irons and nothing more!

After seeing the fair, we paddled across through a perfect water-meadow to the Shalimar gardens, where we found the Rajah and his suite just taking their departure. The vista on entering the gardens was extremely pretty: four waterfalls appear at the same moment, sending a clear sheet of crystal water over a broad stone slab, and gradually receding from sight in the wooded distance. A broad canal runs right through the gardens, bridged at intervals by summer-houses and crossed by carved and quaintly-fashioned stepping stones. At the extremity there is a magnificent baradurree of black marble, which looks as if it had been many centuries in existence, and had originally figured in some very different situation. The pillars were entire to a length of seven feet, and were highly polished from the people leaning against them. Around this, in reservoirs of water, were about two hundred fountains, all spouting away together, and on one side a sheet of the most perfectly still water I ever saw. It appeared exactly like a large looking-glass, and it was impossible to discern where the artificial bank which inclosed it either began or terminated.

In these gardens it was that Selim, or Jehangeer the son of Akbar, used to spend so many of his days with the far-famed Noor Jehan in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and here was the scene of their reconciliation, as related by Feramorz to Lalla Rookh ere he revealed himself to her as her future lord, the king of Bucharia. From these founts and streams it was that the fair Persian sought to entice her lord, with "Fly to the desert, fly with me!"

"When breathing, as she did, a tone To earthly lutes and lips unknown; With every chord fresh from the touch Of Music's spirit, -- 'twas too much!"

"The light of the universe" overcomes even the "conqueror of the world." Thinking it, after all, wiser to kiss and be friends than be sulky, he surrenders at discretion: --

"And, happier now for all their sighs, As on his arm her head reposes, She whispers him with laughing eyes, 'Remember, love, the Feast of Roses!' "

Leaving the favourite haunts of the "magnificent son of Akbar," we crossed the lake again to see the Maharajah inspect a party of about 2,000 soldiers, who were departing for the war at Girgit. Nothing in the way of supplies being procurable near the scene of action, the greater part of the review was taken up by the marching past of a horde of Cashmeree and mountain porters, heavily laden with the sinews of war. According to report, the pay of the army here is about five shillings per mensem, with a ration of two pounds of rice per diem.

In the evening, the number of boats congregated on the lake was marvellous. All were perfectly crammed with Cashmerian pleasure-seekers; but the turbaned faithful, in spite of the pressure, in no way lost their dignity, but with pipes and coffee enjoyed themselves in apparently entire unconsciousness of there being a soul on the lake beside themselves. The most wonderful sight, however, was the immense crowd of many-coloured turbans congregated on shore, witnessing the departure of the Cashmerian Guards; and as they thronged the green slopes in thousands, they gave one quite the idea of a mass of very violent-coloured flowers blooming together in a garden. On our way home we had great jostling, and even fighting, in order to maintain our position among the crowds of boats, the result of which was that our crew managed to break two paddles in upholding the dignity and respectability of their masters. The Maharajah himself, however, gave us the go-by in great style, in a long quaint boat, propelled by thirty-six boatmen, and built with a broad seat towards the bows, in shape like the overgrown body of a gig in indifferent circumstances,


Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet - 10/42

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