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Across India by Oliver Optic

And the roof was thatched with cocoanut leaves


There are many Hindu temples in Bombay, though not many of them are accessible to strangers; but the party drove to one in the Black Town. It had a low dome and a pyramidal spire. Both of them were of the Indian style of architecture, very elaborate in ornamentation. It looked like a huge mass of filigree work.

The visitors next found themselves at Girgaum, which is a forest of cocoanut-trees extending from the Bazaars to Chowpatti, at the head of the Back Bay. Among the trees, as the carriages proceeded along the Queen's Road, they found a great number of Hindu huts, half hidden in the dense foliage. They paused to look at one of them.

The walls were of bamboo and other tropical woods, and the roof was thatched with cocoanut leaves, which required poles to keep them in place. It had several doors, and cross-latticed windows. There was no particular shape to the structure, and certainly nothing of neatness or comeliness about it. A large banana tree grew near it; a woman stood at one of the doors, staring with wonder at the strangers, and a couple of half-naked coolies were at work farther away. The morality of the residents of this section could not be commended.

"In the evening this grove is lighted up with colored lamps," said the viscount. "Taverns and small cafes are in full blast, the sounds of music are heard, and a grand revel is in progress. Europeans, Malays, Arabs, Chinese, and Hindus frequent the grove. Far into the night this debauchery continues, and I trust the authorities will soon clean it out."

The carriages continued on their way to Malabar Hill, and made a thorough survey of the locality. At the southerly point they came to the village of Walkeshwar, whose pagoda-like towers they had seen from the ship, filled with residences, though not of the magnates of the city. Most of the buildings here were very plain. The hill is not a high one, but along its sides the elaborate bungalows of the merchants and others were erected, all of them with fine gardens surrounding them.

Breach Candy, on the seashore, in front of Cumballa Hill, is the most aristocratic neighborhood, and contains the finest mansions. Tramways, which is the English name for horse-cars, extend to this locality, as well as to most other important parts of the city; and there is a station on the steam railroad near it, though most of the wealthy residents ride back and forth in their own carriages.

The Tower of Silence, in which the Parsees expose their dead to be devoured by birds of prey, was pointed out to them. No one but the priests are allowed to enter it; and the relatives leave the body at the door, from which they take it into the building. It is placed between two grates, which allow the vultures to tear off the flesh, but not to carry off the limbs. It made the Americans shudder when their guides told them about it more in detail than when it was described in the lecture.

Passing by the cemeteries of the English and the Mussulmans on their return to the city, they halted at the Hindu Burning-Ground, on the shore of the Back Bay. Here the natives are burned to ashes. For some distance they had noticed funeral processions on their way to this place. The remains are borne on open litters. A granite platform is the base of the funeral pyre, and the bodies wait their turn to be reduced to ashes; and the cremation is far more repulsive than that in our own country.


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