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OUT OF THE HURLY-BURLY.
It was close upon midnight when we reached Ajmere, the last halting stage on the return journey to Bombay. It was some consolation to know that the dak bungalow, where we were to stay, was just over the way from the station. These dak bungalows are an institution peculiar to a condition of things rapidly passing away in India.
They are, in their way, identical with the refuges sprinkled over the bleak passes of the Alps. The structure is created by the Government, who, at more frequented stations, place a khansamah, or caterer, who supplies food at charges subject to the supervision of the district committee. In out-of-the-way places the dak bungalow is simply a shed, as comfortless as any in Alpine passes.
It had not hitherto come in our way to stop at a dak bungalow, and hearing that there was an exceptionally good one at Ajmere, we decided to go there. The room into which we were shown was plain, but sufficiently comfortable for a traveller's rest. The lofty walls were recently whitewashed; there was a spacious bath-room, and the bedroom was furnished with a few chairs, a table, and a small truckle bed in the corner. There were neither sheets, blankets, nor quilt on the bed ; but the man, who had disappeared after showing us into the room, had doubtless gone in search of them.
After waiting a reasonable time I went to hurry him up, and made the pleasing discovery that sheets, blankets, and counterpanes do not enter into the domestic economy of a dak bungalow. We had omitted in packing up for our journey to put in a feather bed, a blanket or two, and a change of sheets, and the prospect for the night was not attractive. It was varied by the appearance on the scene of a boisterous Briton, a fellow-lodger, who, hearing of our dilemna, literally broke into the room, dragging his bed-clothes with him, and insisting upon our accepting the loan. I weakly protested; but he stormed so, declaring in typhoonic manner that he “could not lie in his bed and know that a lady was without sheets,” that there was no help for it. The
matter settled by his insistance, he left his bed-clothes and disappeared down the passage like a gale of wind blowing itself out to the southward.
Ajmere is not one of the show-places of India, lying out of the hurly-burly of trade, and having nothing well advertised in the way of tombs and temples ; but it is, in its quiet way, a singularly interesting exemplar of native life. Moreover, it has its Hindoo temple and its Moslem mosque, both of hoar antiquity. The temple is known to the Hindoos as Arai-din-ka-jhopra, which, being translated, means "the work of two days and a half.” The story is that the king, one of the old Rajahs of Rajputana, projecting a journey to his residence on a hill overlooking the town, gave orders for the building of a temple, mentioning by the way that he would be back on the third day, and that he expected to find the work complete. He went off, returned in sixty hours, and the temple was ready for service.
This fact, strange in itself, becomes even more amazing reflected upon among the ruins of the temple, and taking note of the enormous labour that must have been expended on its construction. There remain now only the brick wall and the roof, supported by red sandstone pillars. These are exquisitely and elaborately carved. Some recent excavations, accidentally conducted, have brought to light a number of slabs of stone covered with inscriptions, which, as far as I could gather from inquiries on the spot, no
one has attempted to decipher.
In the main street stands the mosque, in much better preservation and in daily use by the faithful, who form a considerable proportion of the population of Ajmere. The mosque was founded in the early days of the Mogul Empire, by Khaja Synd, the first missionary to the heathen Hindoo of Ajmere. We have visited many mosques in India without let or hindrance, and were taken aback when, on proposing to enter this building, a Mussulman, with ferocious beard and imaginary scimitar in his hand, waved us back.
The barber is one of the luxuries of European residence or travel in India. He is innumerable and ubiquitous. On arrival at a station after an all-night journey he is sure to be waiting, and will enter the carriage and shave you without troubling you to move from your seat. At the hotels he knocks timidly at the door as soon as he conceives time has been allowed for the consumption of chota hazree, will patiently wait half an hour or
an hour, and thankfully takes his threepence, conscious that it is eight times as much as he would get from a native, whilst Sahib is not exigeant in the matter of nostrils and ears, and would even be angry if he laid waste a square inch or so on the crown of his head.
It was curious, as we strolled about, to find the dogs barking at us.
One suddenly coming upon us would stand and gaze for a moment, marvelling at the strange thing, and then, first observing the precaution of sidling out of the way, begin to bark. Others coming out to see what was the matter, and being equally disturbed in their mind, took up the cry till matters began to grow exciting. We came upon a shoemaker sitting full in the sun by the dusty roadside with the forlornest agglomeration of wrecked boots and shoes ever seen off a dust-heap. He was gazing upon the mouldy mass of soleless uppers and earthquake-rent soles, a picture of despondency. A possible customer coming along, he brightened up, and in a long and animated speech appeared to be demonstrating that, though eccentric in appearance, these were the kind of shoes which, with judicious mending, were warranted to carry a man on to fortune.
Boot-making and boot-mending, a poor