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I AM in quite a new India — the Dekhan. I can see it very characteristically from the temple of Parbati, above Poona — characteristically in every way.
A highly educated Brahman shows me eight-armed goddesses and elephant-headed gods, compared with which a penny doll is artistic and spiritual; then adds in his gusty Marathi head-voice, "Here-is-the-historic-window. From-which-the-Peshwa-surveyed-the-battle-of- Kirkee. Which-resulted-in-his-conquest-by-the-British. You-can-command-an-extensive-view." And if I loiter — "Command-the-view!" he urges encouragingly. I hastily command it — Poona city and cantonment and the lines of Kirkee, all cloaked in trees, looking immense, like all Indian cities. They lie on a rumpled carpet of grey-brown, sunburned down, with a ring of low, grey, stony mountain enclosing it. Only here and there, where there is water, the grey is lit up with vividest green — emerald lines where a canal runs, or emerald squares of irrigated field. And here and there are spots of vermilion and red-lead — the wonderful gold-mohurtree, whose blossoms clothe it in spring, and glow ever more fiercely with the fiercer sun, till it looks like a tree hidden in butterflies. Uneven, colourless tableland, undecided shapes of colourless mountain, gemmed here and there with dazzling green and scarlet — that is the type of the whole vast triangle of the Dekhan.
On the way to Hyderabad you roll through nearly four hundred miles of it with scarce an incident. It looks like a tableland, as it is; at this season it also looks worthless land, as it is not. Potentially, say men who ought to know, the Nizam's territory is of the richest in India. You notice at once the wealth of cattle — thousands on thousands, satin-skinned, melting-eyed, humped little beasts, with long horns that stand straight up over their foreheads like the frame of a lyre. The scantily watered soil grows few crops, but it affords copious pasture of the frugal Eastern kind. The people are astonishingly well-to-do. A plague-officer told me that he visited a small town off the railway, where hardly a white man had ever been, and found there the most prosperous population he ever saw. Everybody had enough of everything; and, as this land was well irrigated, the one agent of Ralli Brothers, the great merchants of India, enjoyed a lucrative monopoly in cotton. These happy villagers, on the first sign of plague, had independently isolated themselves — shut up their houses, and put up a temporary town in the fields. They deserve their prosperity. Besides the crops and the cattle, enthusiasts believe there is enough gold in Hyderabad State to cut the throat of Klondike and beggar the Rand. I have heard the same of Utah, Tibet, Madagascar, the Libyan Desert, and the bottom of the sea; yet who knows?
At a station, through the sun-shutters, there swept a sudden volley of yells, imprecations, shrieks, groans, gibbers. The native of India can make himself heard when it is a question of giving or receiving the third part of a farthing; yet surely but one race on earth can make such music as this. I looked out, and — yes: it was Arabs. A gang of half a dozen, brilliantly dishevelled, a faggot of daggers with an antique pistol or two in each belt, and a six-foot matchlock on each shoulder. For Hyderabad, you must know, is full of Arabs. They serve as irregular troops there, and it must be owned that if irregularity is what you want, no man on earth can supply it better. Presently there got into the carriage an Arab chief, a big man in breeches and gaiters, a revolver and a fez; his family have been feudal lords under the Nizam for generations. The fez appeared to be the fashionable headdress hereabouts; even the railway guard wore one over the black curls that greased his official collar. I observed that the railway tickets in this country are stamped with a crescent. Next I noticed a Sikh with his hair tied into a bob; then a vulture-beaked Pathan; then a group of half-a-dozen soldiers in ill-fitting khaki, each with a different badge on his chain mail epaulettes. The civilian, hugging his corded bundle cased in a blue-and-red-striped rug — the badge of the Indian third-class passenger — also cherished under his arm a cavalry sabre. Everywhere I breathed Islam and the Middle Ages: was I not coming to Hyderabad, the last stronghold of medievalism in Southern India?
Its threshold is of a piece with it. The train had caught the local atmosphere, and was forty minutes late. For an hour we had been running through his Highness's huge preserves — grey leafless bush and coppice, spangled with gold-mohur-trees. Now on either side rose dump-heaps of grey-black boulders as large as houses — obelisks, walls, hemispheres, mushrooms, uprights and cross-bars, formless jumbles as if a baby Titan had been playing at Stonehenge. Little lonely domes appeared below them, then flat-roofed houses, then broken lines of suburbs. Next came a broad blue lake, with round-headed trees low on its farther shore, and a long white palace at its far end — a mirage made substance. Then a broad platform, full of men, armed with Martinis and matchlocks, bayonets and scimitars, in khaki and blue and amber and green and carnation. Then broad streets, with broughams and servants in gold-lace, with bullock-carts and beggars in ashes. Then a hotel with a large compound and a deep terrace in front, two flights of broad steps to the door, the naked slate of a dismantled billiard-table within, dinner laid outdoors for eight, and I the only guest. There was spacious profusion in every detail of Hyderabad.
Next day — of course with two horses, and one footman to fold his arms on the box, and another to run in front and push cattle out of the way — I drove out to see Golconda. Although the diamonds were never found there, and are cut there no longer, the opulent name of Golconda suits well with Hyderabad. What is there now — the fort and tombs of the kings who reigned here before the Nizams — is not less barbarically vast. You drive among the littered Titan toys till you find yourself heading for one higher hill. It looks like the rest of them — a dump-heap of the world's raw material — till suddenly you are driving through a lofty arched gate with guard-houses. Inside are lines, some ruinous, some alive with soldiers and soldiers' families; you drive and drive through a great city. Presently another tall gateway, with more guard-houses; you go through, and are at the foot of the hill.
Then you see it is only half a hill and half a building. Men have filled up the gaps in God's dump-heap. You climb between walls that eke out cliffs, turn descents into scarps, slopes into ramps, make curtains of cromlechs and bastions of rocking-stones. They are true cyclopean walls — huge unfaced stones laid as they will fit, without mortar. You doubt which is the ruder and more massive — man's Work or Nature's. But when you struggle to the top you see that Nature is avenged on her improvers. Nature's chaos still stands; man's is as chaotic, and less stable. From the roof of a ruined palace you look out over a tossing sea of broken masonry. You can trace the line of the rough outer wall, still hardly broken, dwindling and narrowing below you, dipping into a depression, climbing again as a thread across a rise — the mummied skin of what was a teeming city. Within it the bones sear and gape and crackle under the pitiless exposing sun. Palace and mosque, armoury and treasure-house, they are all gone. Only remains a shapeless waste of stones, almost as rough, and not so substantial, as the huddled granite that was before them and remains after. Two miles away rises a heap of boulders about as high; two miles from either you could not tell which was fabulous Golconda and which was creation's lumber.
Nothing remains whole, except the tombs. Great domed chambers, square without, octagonal within, vague wistful suggestions of the Taj without its beauties, they lie grouped in the plain below, stripped of their embellishments, crumbling and forlorn, kept standing by the alms of the kings that have succeeded to their glories. Ghosts of the dead past — and that is all there is of Golconda.
But Golconda is nothing to us that we should weep for it; which of us ever heard of the Kutb Shahi kings, of Mohammed Kuli and his beautiful favourite, Bagmati? Come, instead, into living Hyderabad.
Scale the sheer elephant that awaits you, and seesaw along streets as gay as a ballet. A mingling of incense and cinnamon, sugar and civet and dirt — the pure smell of India — deliciously fills the air all about you. There is little dirt either: the regular terraces of houses — you look into the upper-storey windows as you pass — the plain tall arches across the roadway, the four elaborate minarets whence diverge the four broad, thronged main streets: it is all orderly and bright and spacious, as befits Hyderabad — an Asiatic Place de l'Etoile.
Along the street comes a tiny boy held on to a pony. He lifts a vague salaaming hand towards the fez that sits above his solemn little yellow face. Behind him is an escort of half-a-dozen lancers, and you naturally conclude that he is of the Royal family. But he is only the son of one of the nobles, and the lancers behind him are his father's. Everybody who is anybody in Hyderabad has a little army of his own. In the city and cantonments — it is a dozen miles from one end of them to the other — are eight distinct kinds of troops. These are the British and the British native, the Hyderabad contingent — four cavalry regiments, four field-batteries, and six battalions, maintained and officered by us for the Nizam in return for the province of Berar — the Imperial Service Troops, the Nizam's regular troops, the Nizam's irregular troops, the Nizam's female troops, and the private feudal irregulars. Of the irregulars, many represent corps originally raised and led by French officers; some of them still preserve a kind of French in their words of command, which only one native in Hyderabad understands. The Arab irregulars are brought over to serve their time, and then sent back to Arabia; there is one at this moment who is a subaltern in Hyderabad, but as soon as he crosses the British border gets a salute of nine guns: he is a sheikh in his own country, near Aden. As for the woman's battalion — alas! I could not see it paraded, since it is quartered in his Highness's zenana. But think of it — of the sheer joy of riding on an elephant through a city where they still maintain a Royal Regiment of Amazons!
As you pad-pad along through the panorama of Indian types and the spectroscope of Indian colours, the sound of tom-toms floats up. Down the street, beyond the four minarets, you see an elephant, then a squibbing flame, and the scent of black powder is in the air. A fight? No, a wedding, which is even more Hyderabadi — a procession that seems to stretch through the whole ten miles of city. First half-a-dozen men letting off fireworks and tapping tom-toms, then a towering, red-coated, gilt-tusked elephant bearing standards. After that a band, and then the family troops. The infantry had a semblance of uniform — a flat Ghurkha cap with "I" on it: presumably they were the bridegroom's First Foot. But the irregular cavalry was superb, riding two and two all over the street like a circus — big Afghans, desert pilots from Arabia, Rathore Rajputs, and sheer black savages from Fashoda way; boys and old men in grey beards and spectacles, half-bred Walers and country-bred rats and living skeletons almost too lame to hobble, lances and sabres and carbines, and flintlock pistols and yataghans and switches. Then more elephants, more troops, more musicians, and the bridegroom under a great crimson canopy. Tom-tom-tom-tom — squeal and clatter from a horse that hates elephants — fiz-z-z-z from a squib.
Hyderabad seems too good to be true. It is not so much a city as a masque of medieval Asia.