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BARODA
An old-world Indian city with nothing of modern flimsiness and tinsel. The arcades and balconies of the houses in the bazaar are carved out of solid wood, polished by ages to tones of burnished steel and warm gold. Copper nails in the doors shine in the sun. Along the quiet streets, where nothing passes by but, now and then, a slow-paced camel, Hindoos make their way, draped in pale pink, or in white scarcely tinged with green or orange colour; little naked children, with necklaces, bangles and belts of silver, looking like ribbons on their bronze skin. In front of the shops is a brilliant harmony of copper, sheeny fruits, and large pale green pots. A glad atmosphere of colour surrounds the smiling people and the houses with their old scorched stones.

The coachman we engaged at the station was a giant, with an olive skin and a huge, pale pink turban. He was clad in stuffs so thin that on his box, against the light, we could see the shape of his body through the thickness of five or six tunics that he wore one over another.
 

After passing through the town, all flowery with green gardens, at the end of a long, white, dusty road, where legions of beggars followed me, calling me "Papa" and "Bab," that is to say father and mother, I arrived at the residence of the Gaekwar, the Rajah of Baroda. At the gate we met the palace sentries released from duty. Eight men in long blue pugarees and an uniform of yellow khakee (a cotton stuff), like that of the sepoys, with their guns on their shoulders, looked as if they were taking a walk, marching in very fantastic step. One of them had a bird hopping about in a little round cage that hung from the stock of his gun. Three camels brought up the rear, loaded with bedding in blue cotton bundles.

In the heart of an extensive park, where wide lawns are planted with gigantic baobabs and clumps of bamboo and tamarind, stands an important-looking building, hideously modern in a mixture of heterogeneous styles and materials, of a crude yellow colour, and much too new. There is no attempt at unity of effect. A central dome crowns the edifice and a square tower rises by the side of it. Some portions, like pavilions, low and small, carry ornaments disproportioned to their size; while others, containing vast halls, have minute windows pierced[Pg 52] in their walls, hardly larger than loopholes, but framed in elaborate sculpture and lost in the great mass of stone. Arcades of light and slender columns, connected by lace-like pierced work of alarming fragility, enclose little courts full of tree-ferns and waving palms spreading over large pools of water. The walls are covered with niches, balconies, pilasters, and balustrades carved in the Indian style, the same subjects constantly repeated.

Inside, after going through a long array of rooms filled with sham European furniture—handsome chairs and sofas covered with plush, Brussels carpets with red and yellow flowers on a green ground—we came to the throne-room, an enormous, preposterous hall, which, with its rows of cane chairs and its machine-made Gothic woodwork, was very like the waiting-room or dining-room of an American hotel.

The Rajah being absent we were allowed to see everything. On the upper floor is the Ranee's dressing-room. All round the large room were glass wardrobes, in which could be seen bodices in the latest Paris fashion, and ugly enough; and then a perfect rainbow of tender opaline hues: light silks as fine as cobwebs, shawls of every dye in Cashmere wool with woven patterns, and[Pg 53] gauze of that delicate rose-colour and of the yellow that looks like gold with the light shining through, which are only to be seen in India—royal fabrics, dream-colours, carefully laid up in sandal-wood and stored behind glass and thick curtains, which were dropped over them as soon as we had looked. And crowding every table and bracket were the most childish things—screens, cups and boxes in imitation bronze, set with false stones—the playthings of a little barbarian. A coloured photograph stood on the toilet-table between brushes and pomatum-pots; it represented the mistress of this abode, a slender doll without brains, her eyes fixed on vacancy.

Then her bedroom: no bed, only a vast mattress rolled up against the wall, and spread over the floor every night—it must cover the whole room.

At the end of the passage was a sort of den, where, through the open door, I caught sight of a marvellous Indian hanging of faded hues on a pale ground, hidden in places by stains; the noble pattern represented a peacock spreading his tail between two cypresses.

In front of the palace, beds filled with common plants familiar in every European garden fill the place of honour; they are very rare, no doubt, in[Pg 54] these latitudes, and surprising amid the gorgeous hedges of wild bougainvillea that enclose the park.

In the train again, en route for Ahmedabad. As we crossed the fertile plain of Gujerat the first monkeys were to be seen, in families, in tribes, perched on tall pine trees, chasing each other, or swinging on the wires that rail in the road, and solemnly watching the train go by. Peacocks marched about with measured step, and spread their tails in the tall banyan trees tangled with flowering creepers. Shyer than these, the grey secretary birds, with a red roll above their beak, seemed waiting to fly as we approached. On the margin of the lakes and streams thousands of white cranes stood fishing, perched on one leg; and in every patch of tobacco, or dahl, or cotton, was a hut perched on four piles, its boarded walls and leaf-thatch giving shelter to a naked native, watching to scare buffaloes, birds, monkeys, and thieves from his crop.


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