十二届全国人大五次会议开幕会

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. Beyond the new town of broad avenues planted with trees and bordered with gardens, was a brand-new bridge of gaudy bricks over a river, almost dry, where a swarm of naked natives were performing their ablutionswashing linen and shaking out red and white cloths, as far as the eye could see. Buffaloes lying in the mud were sleeping among the tame ducks, the ibis, and the herons, all seeking their food. An elephant plunged into the water, splashing it up and scaring thousands of bright birds, which flew up against the intensely blue sky.

[Pg 157] Inside the building, under a silken Persian rug, stretched like an awning, there were piles of coin on a cloth spread on the ground, with flowers, rice, and sweetmeats offered there. In a recess was a band of musicianstom-toms and fiddlesscarcely audible in the turmoil of shouted prayers and the chatter of the faithful.

Dilbar dances and sings before the brothers, and[Pg 230] then proposes to play cards. The stake is the liberty of the loser. The four princes play against the dancing-girl, who wins and has them imprisoned on the spot.

Gauze and muslin dresses moved gracefully about against the background of bamboos and roses. Light footsteps scarcely bent the grass; the ripple of talk, with its sprinkling of Indian words, was sweet and musical. Fireflies whirled above the plants making little tendrils of light; there was dreaminess in the airan anticipation of fairyland to which the music seemed the prelude.

In the hotel compoundmore absurd than all the rest, lost in a waste of open land beyond the seething native townthere was a swarm of coolie servants, their wives and their children, who played all day at climbing about the coaches put up under the trees. And, without ceasing, a maddening hubbub of laughter and crying came up from this litter of brats, more weariful than the silence of vacancy all around.

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.

In the silence of a moonless night nine o'clock struck from the great tower of the Law Courtsa pretty set of chimes, reminding me of Bruges or Antwerp; and when the peal had died away a bugle in the sepoys' quarters took up the strain of the chimes, only infinitely softer, saddened to a minor key and to a slower measure; while in the distance[Pg 32] an English trumpet, loud and clear, sounded the recall in counterpart.