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AHMEDABAD
In the middle of the town, which consists entirely of small houses carved from top to bottom, are two massive towers, joined by the remains of the thick wall that formerly enclosed the immensity of the sultan's palace and its outbuildings. The towers now serve as prisons; the stone lattice which screened the private rooms has been replaced by iron bars, the last traces of ornamentation covered up with fresh plaster. Behind the wall the ancient garden, kept green of old by legions of gardeners, is a mere desert of dust; a mausoleum in the middle, transformed into a court of justice, displays all the perfection of Indian art in two pointed windows carved and pierced in imitation of twining and interlaced branches; marvels of delicacy and grace left intact through centuries of vandalism.

Beyond these ruins, at the end of a long avenue bordered with tamarind trees, beyond an artificial lake, is the tomb of Shah Alam. A wide marble court; to the right a mosque with three ranks of columns; above, a massive roof crowned with a[Pg 56] bulbous dome, flanked by fragile minarets. The fountain for ablutions in the midst of the court is surmounted by a marble slab supported on slender columns. To the left, under the shade of a large tree, is the mausoleum of marble, yellow with age, looking like amber, the panels pierced with patterns of freer design than goldsmith's work.

Inside, a subdued light, rosy and golden, comes in through the myriad interstices, casting a glow of colour on the pierced marble screens which enclose the tomb of Shah Alam, Sultan of Gujerat. The tomb itself, hung with a red cloth under a canopy on posts inlaid with mother-of-pearl, is dimly seen in the twilight, scarcely touched here and there with the pearly gleam and lights reflected from ostrich eggs and glass balls—toys dedicated by the faithful to the hero who lies there in his last sleep. Yet further away, under the trees, is another tomb, almost the same, but less ornamented, where the sultan's wives repose.

Finally, in a third mosque, lies Shah Alam's brother. On the stone that covers him a sheet of lead bears the print of two gigantic feet, intended to perpetuate to all ages the remembrance of his enormous height.

[Pg 57]

In the town is the tomb of the Ranee Sipri: walls of lace, balconies of brocade carved in stone. Opposite this mausoleum are an open mosque and two minarets as slim as sapling pines, wrought with arabesques as fine as carved ivory. There are lamps carved in relief on the walls, each hung by chains under-cut in stone with Chinese elaboration; and this lamp is everywhere repeated—on the mosque, on the tomb, and on the base of the minarets. The building, which has the faintly russet tone of old parchment, when seen in the glow of sunset takes a hue of ruby gold that is almost diaphanous, as filmy as embroidered gauze.

Wherever the alleys cross in the bazaar, open cages are placed on pillars of carved marble or wood, and in these, charitable hands place grain for the birds; thus every evening, round these shelters there is a perpetual flutter of pigeons, minahs, and sparrows, pushing for places, and finally packed closely together, while the little lanterns flash out on all sides, giving a magical aspect to the shopfronts, turning copper to gold, fruit to flowers, and falling like a caress on the wayfarers in thin pale-hued robes.

Back to the station, where we lived in our carriage, far more comfortable than a hotel [Pg 58]bedroom. T., my travelling companion in Gujerat, received a visit from a gentleman badly dressed in the European fashion, and followed by black servants outrageously bedizened. When this personage departed in his landau, rather shabby but drawn by magnificent horses, T. was obliged to tell me he was a rajah—the Rajah of Surat—quite a genuine rajah, and even very rich, which is somewhat rare in these days among Indian princes.

Some prisoners were brought to the train; a single sepoy led them by a chain. Two carried enormous bales, and the third a heavy case. They packed themselves into a compartment that was almost full already, and one of a couple that were chained together by the wrists put the chain round his neck; then, when he had scraped acquaintance with the other travellers, he amused himself by tormenting the hawkers of drink and pastry, bargaining with them for a long time and buying nothing, quite delighted when he had put them in a rage with him.

In the third-class carriages, where the compartments are divided by wooden lattice, among the bundles, the copper jars, and the trunks painted in the gaudiest colours, sit women in showy saree and decked in all their jewels; children in little silk[Pg 59] coats braided with tinsel, and open over their little bare bodies; men with no garment whatever but a loin-cloth or dhouti. There is endless chatter, a perpetual bickering for places, the bewilderment of those who lose themselves, shouts from one end of the station to the other, and in the foreground of the hubbub the incessant cries of the water and sweetmeat sellers.

When the express had arrived that morning from Bombay, eight bodies were found of victims to the plague who had died on the way. They were laid on the platform and covered with a white sheet; and in the station there was a perfect panic, a surge of terror which spread to the town, and broke up the market. The shops were all shut, and the people rushed to their knees before the idols in the temples.

A naked fakir, his brown skin plastered with flour, and his long black hair all matted, bent over the bodies muttering holy words; then flourishing two yellow rags that he took out of a wallet hanging from his shoulder, he exorcised the station, driving away the spectre of the pestilence; going very fast, running along the line by which the evil had come, and vanishing where the rails ended behind the trees.

[Pg 60]

Music attracted us to where the cross-roads met, darboukhas struck with rapid fingers and a bagpipe droning out a lively tune. The musicians sat among stones and bricks, tapping in quick time on their ass's-skin drums, beating a measure for some masons to work to. Women carried the bricks men spread the mortar; they all sang and worked with almost dancing movements in time with the music, as if they were at play.

A Ja?n temple. A confusion of ornament, carved pillars, capitals far too heavy, with a medley of animals, gods and flowers, under a roof all graven and embossed. In the sanctuary, where the walls are riddled with carving, is an enormous Buddha of black marble decked out with emeralds, gold beads and rare pearls, hanging in necklaces down to his waist. A large diamond blazes in his forehead above crystal eyes, terrifically bright. Every evening all this jewellery—the gift of Hati Singh, a wealthy Ja?n merchant who built the temple—is packed away into a strong-box, which we were shown in the cellar.

All round the sanctuary, in niches under a square cloister, are three hundred and fifty alabaster Buddhas, all alike, with the same jewel in their forehead, and on their shoulders and round their bodies[Pg 61] gold bands set with imitation gems and cut glass. An old woman, who had come thither at daybreak, had prayed to each of these Buddhas; to each she had offered up the same brief petition, she had struck the three bells on her way, and she was now in the sanctuary, calling out a prayer while beating a gong that hangs from the arch. Meanwhile other worshippers were murmuring their invocations prostrate before the jewelled Buddha.

Out in the street a woman, bare-backed, was submitting to be brushed down the spine by a neighbour with a brush of cuscus; she scorned to answer me when I asked whether she felt better, but shutting her eyes desired the operator to go on more slowly.

In an ancient mosque, somewhat dilapidated, was an infant-school. Little heaps of stuff, pink and yellow and white, and above them emaciated little faces with large dark eyes that had greenish-blue lights in them, all moving and rocking continually, and spelling aloud out of open books set up on wooden folding desks. The master in his pulpit listened stolidly with half-shut eyes, and detected the mistakes in all this twitter of little voices.

Not far from Ahmedabad, in a sandy desert[Pg 62] where, nevertheless, a few proliferous baobabs grow, there is a subterranean pagoda drowned in stagnant water that has filled three out of the six floors. These are now sacred baths, in which, when I went there, Hindoos were performing their pious ablutions. Sculptured arcades, upheld by fragile columns, skirt the pools; the stones are green under the water, and undistinguishable from the architecture reflected in the motionless surface that looks blue under the shadow of the great banyan trees meeting in an arch over the temple. A sickly scent of lotus and sandal-wood fills the moist air, and from afar, faint and shrill, the cries of monkeys and minah-birds die away into silence over the calm pool.

A little way off, in the burning sandy plain, is a pagoda sacred to the pigeons. Lying as close as tiles, in the sun, they hide the roof under their snowy plumage. Round pots are hung all about the building, swaying in the wind, for the birds to nest in, a red decoration against the russet stone; each one contains an amorous and cooing pair.

The Jumna Musjid, in the middle of the bazaar, is a reminder of the mosque at Cordova. A thousand[Pg 63] unmatched columns stand in utter confusion of irregular lines, producing a distressing sensation of an unfinished structure ready to fall into ruins. Every style is here, and materials of every description, brought hither—as we are told by the inscription engraved over one of the lofty pointed doorways—from the temples of the unbelievers destroyed by Shah Mahmoud Bogarat, the taker of cities, that he might, out of their remains, raise this mosque to the glory of Allah. In the centre of the arcade a large flagstone covers the Ja?n idol, which was formerly worshipped here; and my servant Abibulla, as a good Moslem, stamped his foot on the stone under which lies the "contemptible image." Some workmen were carving a column; they had climbed up and squatted balanced; they held their tools with their toes, just chipping at the marble in a way that seemed to make no impression, chattering all the time in short words that seemed all of vowels.

Behind this mosque, by narrow alleys hung with airy green silk that had just been dyed and spread to dry in the sun, we made our way to the mausoleum of Badorgi Shah: a cloister, an arcade of octagonal columns carved with flowers, and in the court, the tombs of white stone, covered with [Pg 64]inscriptions, that look like arabesques. There are some children's tombs, too, quite small, in finer and even whiter stone, and two tiny stones under which lie Badorgi's parrot and cat.


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