Squeezed in and crushed between houses that tower above it, rises the pointed dome of Biseshwar Matti, covered with leaves of chased gold; smaller cones surround the principal dome, bristling with tiny pyramids of gold, carved into flowers round statues of Kali with her eight arms, of Ganesa, and of peacocks with spread tails. Under this splendid cupola, dazzlingly bright against the sky,[Pg 156] the temple itself is quite small, and strictly closed against the unbeliever. Some pious hands had hung chains of jasmine and roses above the entrance, and they gave a touch of beauty to the stonework, very old, and soiled with large stains of oil. A sense of intense piety hangs about this sanctuary, subdues every voice, and bends the head of every passer-by in reverence of the mystery, and they all bring flowers.

The almost imperceptible hum of a bagpipe came up from below; in a white mosque of open colonnades enclosing a paved court, and in front of the little lamps that burned above the holy of holies sheltering the Koran, figures in light garments were prostrate in prayer; their murmurs came up to us in sighs, mingling with the slow and tender notes of the music. The poorhouse is about two miles from the city; it consists of a courtyard enclosed by walls, from which awnings are stretched supported on poles. And here from twelve to fifteen hundred wretched skeletons had found shelter, spectres with shoulder-blades almost cutting through the skin, arms shrunk to the bone, with the elbow-joint like a knot in the middle, and at the end hands which looked enormous and flat and limp, as if every knuckle were dislocated. Their gnarled knees projected from the fearful leanness of their legs, and the tightened skin between the starting ribs showed the hollow pit of the stomach. Men and women[Pg 192] alike were for the most part naked, but for a ragged cotton loin-cloth. And all had the same scared look in their eyes, the same grin of bare teeth between those hollow cheeks. Almost all had bleeding wounds where the bones had come through the skin.

Next morningso far, so high on the horizon! I saw a pink spot; then, as day broke, the rose colour spreadbroader, lower, turned paler, then to white, and the Himalayas lay before me in blinding glory of size and light. Kinchinjunga, at a measureless distance, looked in the clear air as if it were quite close; and round the sovereign giant other giants rent their wrappings of cloud, an amphitheatre of peaks of dazzling whiteness lost against the sky, and almost insensibly fading away behind the vapour that rolled up from the abysses, grew[Pg 148] thicker, and settled into a compact mass over the lost summits, hiding the nearer heights and shrouding Darjeeling in opaque white fog. A muffled sound of instruments, mingling in confusion in the myriad echoes, came dying on my ear, hardly audible. A gleam of light flashed in the corridor and then went out. Then some lights seemed to be coming towards me, and again all was gloom. An orchestra of bagpipes, of kemanches and darboukhas sounded close by me, and then was lost in the distance, and the phantasmagoria of lights still went on. At last, at the further end of the arcade where I was standing, two men raised green-flamed torches at the end of long poles, followed by two drummers and musicians playing on bagpipes and viols. Children squatting on the ground lighted coloured fire that[Pg 118] made a bright blaze, and died out in stifling smoke, shrouding the priestsa cloud hardly tinted by the torches.

On the bank of the river, where there are no more steps, only beaten earth, in a little raised pit a pile of wood was slowly dying out. A man with[Pg 166] a cane raked back the sticks as they fell and rolled away. A squatting crowd were waiting till their relation was altogether consumed to cast his ashes on the sacred waters. "And is there no doctor?" The Viharas, monasteries of cells hollowed out in the hillside, extend for more than half a mile; briars and creepers screen the entrances leading to these little retreats, a tangle of flowers and carvings.

Under an arcade, lightly tinted with faded colours, and supporting a heavy stone roof elaborately carved, a marble bull stands facing the well which Vishnu touched when he came down from heaven. This is the Court or Well of Wisdom.

From the top of the observatory, where instruments, all out of order, are to be seen on the deserted terraces, a staircase in a half-circle of stonework leads straight up to the open sky, and there the eye is dazzled by the view of Benares, all spread out below: the vast city of yellow stone, the cupolas of its temples, and its palaces stretching far along the Ganges, which slowly rolls its milky green waters under a sky of almost pearly whiteness; and in the distance the grassy plain of bright emerald green, lost on the horizon that throbs with the heat. Everything was wrapped in a halo rather than a haze, faintly blue with the smoke that went up from the funeral piles of the Hindoo dead.

One of these halls, almost at the top of the mount, accommodated a school. The elder pupils sat on stools by the master's side; the little ones and the girls, in groups of five or six, squatted on mats in the corners; and all the little people were very quiet in the atmosphere of sandal-wood and flowers brought as offerings, read gravely out of big religious books, and listened to the Brahmin as, in a deep, resonant voice, he chanted a sort of strongly-marked melody. There was scarcely an ornament on the light-coloured walls, pierced with deep windows showing foliage without; and among the dead whiteness of the mats and the schoolchildren's draperies there was but one bright light,[Pg 109] the bell over the pulpit, surmounted by the sacred bull in bronze, of precious workmanship.