CHAPTER XIV. THROUGH INDIA.
South of Paniput the trees alongside the road are literally swarming with monkeys; they file in long strings across the road, looking anxiously behind, evidently frightened at the strange appearance of the bicycle. Shinnying up the toddy-palms, they ensconce themselves among the foliage and peer curiously down at me as I wheel past, giving vent to their perturbation in excited cries. Twenty-five miles down the road, an hour is spent beneath a grove of shady peepuls, watching the amusing antics of a troop of monkeys in the branches. Their marvellous activity among the trees is here displayed to perfection, as they quarrel and chase one another from tree to tree. The old ones seem passively irritable and decidedly averse to being bothered by the antics and mischievous activity of the youngsters. Taking possession of some particular branch, they warn away all would-be intruders with threatening grimaces and feints. The youthful members of the party are skillful of pranks and didoes, carried on to the great annoyance of their more aged and sedate relatives, who, in revenge, put in no small portion of their time punishing or pursuing them with angry cries for their deeds of wanton annoyance. One monkey, that has very evidently been there many and many a time before on the same thievish errand, with an air of amusing secrecy and roguishness, slips quickly along a horizontal bough and thrusts its arm into a hole. Its eyes wander guiltily around, as though expectant of detection and attack - an apprehension that quickly justifies itself in the shape of a blue-plumaged bird that flutters angrily about the robber's head, causing it to beat a hasty retreat. Birds' eggs are the booty it expected to find, and, me-thinks, as I note the number and activity of the freebooters to whom birds' eggs would be most toothsome morsels, watchful indeed must be the parent-bird whose maternal ambition bears its legitimate fruit in this monkey-infested grove. In me the monkeys seem to recognize a possible enemy, and at my first appearance hasten to hide themselves among the thickest foliage; peering; cautiously down, they yield themselves up to excited chattering and broad grimaces.
Peacocks, too, are strutting majestically about the greensward beneath the trees, their gorgeous tails expanded, or, perched on some horizontal branch, they awake the screaming echoes in reply to others of their kindred calling in the jungle. In the same way that monkeys are regarded and worshipped as the representatives of the great mythological monkey-king Hanumiin, who assisted Kama, in his war with Havana for the possession of Sita, so is the peacock revered and held sacred as the bird upon which rode Kartikeya the god of war and commander-in-chief of the armies of the Puranic gods. Thus do both these denizens of the jungle obtain immunity from harm at the hands of the natives, by reason of mythological association. English sportsmen shoot them, however, except in certain specified districts where the government has made their killing prohibitory, in deference to the religious prejudices of the Hindoos. The Rajput warriors of Ulwar used to march to battle with a peacock's feather in their turbans; they believe that the reason why this fine-plumaged bird screams so loudly when it thunders is because it mistakes the noise for the roll of war-drums. Large, two-storied passenger-vans, drawn sometimes by one camel and sometimes two, are now frequently encountered; they are regular two-storied cages, with iron bars, like the animal-vans in a menagerie. The passengers squat on the floors, and when travelling at night, or through wild districts, are locked in between stages to guard against surprise and robbery.