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Both Adela and Mrs. Moore are bored on their journey towards the Marabar Hills. Adela busies herself with plans for the forthcoming wedding and promises to devote herself to Ronny. She also tries to act interested in what is going on around her, uttering occasional enthusiasms. Mrs. Moore carries on casual conversations with her as well. They discuss their servant, Anthony, and wonder how the British manage in the intense summer heat of India. Mrs. Moore has come to the picnic only to please the others. She is tired and feeling disconcerted about human relationships.
The train reaches the Marabar Hills. The guests are carried on an elephant's back up the slope, which impresses the ladies. As a result, Aziz begins to look and feel regal. Feeling confident, he plays a couple of practical jokes, which the others do not find funny. Then Adela sees a snake, which turns out to be only a stick. When they reach the hills, they find them barren and unattractive. Everyone seems disappointed. Aziz tries to improve matters by serving lots of food; he desperately wants to please the two ladies. To entertain them, he talks eagerly about his ancestors, various Muslim emperors like Babar and Akbar. The ladies are interested, especially Adela, who wishes to know India's universal character. Aziz admits there is not one.
The group soon begins its visit to the first cave. It is a disaster. Mrs. Moore is crushed by people in the circular chamber and loses Aziz and Adela in the dark. She feels something vile and naked strike her face; she cannot breathe. She tries to rush out, but the heavy influx of villagers pushes her back into the cave. Gasping, she strikes out and thinks that she might go mad because of the stench of the cave, the crush of the crowd, and the terrifying echo of sounds. In all of the Marabar Cave, any sound or voice is repeated in a monotonous boom that is dull and terrifying.
While she waits, Mrs. Moore rests and tries to write a letter to her children in England. Her mind, however, goes back repeatedly to the incident in the cave. The more she thinks about it, the more disagreeable it becomes. She cannot forget the terrifying echo; in fact, everything in her life seems to be reduced to a senseless echo. She is terrified, for she realizes she is becoming uninterested in everything. To her now, "Everything exists, nothing has value." Even her strong feelings of Christianity do not help. Somehow she has lost her will to live.