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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.

As we returned past a villagea hamlet of houses gathering round a well surmounted by a kiosk shading a gaudy idol crowned with red[Pg 176] pinksa perfectly naked fakir, his straight black hair bound twice round his head like a turban, stood basking in the sun, leaning against a wall, and chanting in a rapid monotone, while two babies, under the shade of a fan-palm leaf, stared up at him and sucked their thumbs. Inside the temple was the fragrance of fresh flowers, brought as offerings, with grains of rice threaded like semi-transparent beads on the flexible pale green stem. A huge Buddha here, of many-coloured stones bedizened with gold, gleams in the[Pg 128] shade of the altar, and two bonzes in front of the idol were quarrelling at great length, with screams like angry cats and vehement gesticulations, for the possession of some small object which constantly passed from one to the other. The long table was filled with officials and their wives, as happy as childrenpulling crackers at dessert, putting on paper caps, singing the latest music-hall nonsense; while outside, jackals whined, suddenly coming so close that they drowned the voices and the accompaniment on the piano.

[Pg 231]

One temple to Buddha only, on an elongated plan, ends in a vault forming a bulb-shaped cupola supported on massive columns, quite Byzantine in character and wholly unexpected. The dim light, coming in only through a low door and two small windows filled in with pierced carving, enhances the impression of being in some ancient European fane, and the Buddha on the high altar has a look of suffering and emaciation that suggests a work of the fourteenth century.

"No; the Virgin Mary."

Cymbals and kettle-drums formed the orchestra, reinforced by the shrill cries and strident laughter of the spectators.

At the end of a passage that runs round the temple an old woman who had just been bathing was changing her wet saree for a dry one, and appeared quite stripped, dropping her garments, and careful only not to let her face be seen.