One of my sepoys was lying asleep in the [Pg 82]verandah of the bungalow. A variety of articles hung from his belt: an antelope's horn made into a powder-flask, several tassels of red and green silk threaded in a row, a triple chain of copper serving to hang up lamps in front of the sacred images, a small damascened knife in a crimson velvet sheath, and a tiny yellow earthenware bottle containing kohl.
Beyond Siliguri, where we left the main line, a little toy railway, going very slowly, jostles the travellers across rice plantations and woods of giant trees, under whose shade tree-ferns expand on the banks of the streams. By the side of the water springs are hung prayers written on strips of rice-paper that flutter in the wind from the shrubs and bamboos, mingling with the blossoms of rhododendron and funkia, spots of bright colour showing against the forest of mighty cedars and sycamores and gloomy palms. Clinging to the highest branches, orchids like birds are to be seen, and from bush to bush hang bright green threads covered with white stars, tangled into hanks and hooked on to every thorn. The vegetation of banyans, ph?nix, and other tropical plants gradually becomes mixed with oak, box, and plane trees, and then disappears altogether as we get higher; and presently, as we pass through a belt of great dark firs, the shrubs, the mosses, and even the flowers are those of Europe. Higher up, the mountain side is mapped out into lines and squares, green and russet, looking from a distance[Pg 146] like ribbed velvet; these are the tea plantations. The horizon grows broader, spreading away and out of sight towards the vision-like mountains forming the outposts of the Himalayas; up to the very verge of the eternal snows they are cultivated in the same rib-like strips, all tea plantations; and amid the shrubs are the little factories where the precious leaves are dried, and villages of little homesteads lost among the greenery, or peeping through the opalescent haze, intensely blue under the pure, cold sky and crude sunshine. The natives here wear skins with the fur inside; the leather outside is patterned with red or blue cloth. Men and women alike go about in felt boots, which give them an unsteady and straddling gait. Outside the fortifications is a peaceful township of large gardens with row on row of tombstones and mausoleums; some of enormous size, palaces of the dead, and others smaller, but wrought like lacework of stone. For a league or more the necropolis lies on both sides of the road. Across the door of each mausoleum hangs a chain by the middle and the two ends. At the bottom of the steps, almost in the street, was another school at the entrance to a temple. The children, in piercing tones, were all spelling together under the echoing vault, a terrible noise which seemed to trouble nobody.
The crimson sky seen above the tall coco-palms turns to pink, to pale, vaporous blue, to a warm grey that rapidly dies away, and almost suddenly it is night. After him came another little Hindoo, dragging a mongoose, very like a large weasel with a fox's tail. He took a snake out of a bag, and a battle began between the two brutes, each biting with all its might; the sharp teeth of the mongoose tried to seize the snake's head, and the reptile curled round the mongoose's body to bite under the fur. At last the mongoose crushed the serpent's head with a fierce nip, and instantly a hawk flew down from a tree and snatched away the victim.
The post-chaise was a tonga, escorted by a mounted sowar, armed with a naked sword. He rode ahead at a rattling trot, but the clatter was drowned by the shouts of the driver and of the sais, who scrambled up on the steps and urged the steeds on with excited flogging. Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.
On the sloping bank to the river stood a large wooden mosque falling into ruins. In front of this building was a plot full of tombstones, some overthrown, some still standing on the declivity.