The steps are adorned with small temples with plenty of spires. Near the top of the flight was the Man Munder, the great observatory. Though the building is plain, as a whole, Captain Carlisle pointed out a highly ornamental window, with a profusion of handsome brackets. The stairs on the city side of the river were unlimited as far as the eye could see. Behind them was a forest of spires, domes, and cupolas.
“You ought to have left the ghat before sunrise,” said the captain, who was walking up and down the deck, with an eye on the Hindu pilot. “Then you would have been in time to see the sight of the day, for the appearance of the sun is the holy moment for the natives to plunge into the holy river. For miles along the shore the ghats are thronged at the first appearance of the orb of day, and there is a continuous murmur of voices. No matter how cold the water is, they dive in and swim like fishes. You can see a thousand heads in the water along the shore at any moment. Then they support themselves on the surface, and gaze motionless at the sun as it mounts in the sky.”
“Are you a sailor, Captain Carlisle?” asked Louis, who thought he was rather poetic for an uneducated man.
“Not as the commander of your ship would understand it, though I was in command of a Thames steamer, and fell into the same business when I came to India,” replied the captain, laughing at the question. “My father was a good Baptist; he wanted to make a minister of me, and I was educated far enough to enter the university; but I concluded that I did not like the business, and took to steamboating.”
“But aren’t the women as religious as the men?” inquired Captain Ringgold.
“More so, if anything. But they come down to the river before sunrise and take their swim. If you had been here this morning you would have seen them coming out of the water just as the men are ready to go in, and you would have observed them in their white garments, dripping like drowned rats. That pagoda you see ahead of us with the bell tower and shining in gilt is the only temple the Buddhists have in Benares.”
“We are coming now to the Munikurnika Ghat. It is a five-syllable word, but you can easily pronounce it,” said Sir Modava, who thought he would “spell” the captain for a time; and he was quite as familiar with the banks of the Ganges.
“And it is quite musical,” added the captain.
“Pronounce u like double o, and the rest of the letters as in English, and you can speak it without choking,” said the Hindu gentleman. “But there are some letters in Hindu that have no equivalents in English.”
“Moo-ui-koor-ni-ka Ghat,” added Louis, pronouncing the word. “But what is it all about?”
“It is the place for burning the dead, such as you saw in Bombay, but on a much larger scale,” replied Sir Modava. “You see that it extends a considerable distance. Please keep to the leeward of the smoke, Captain Carlisle.”