Page images
PDF
EPUB

contrasting vividly with the peculiar red hue of the roads, one of the first things that attracts the eye of a stranger." This “utmost Indian isle" of the old geographers has also been long celebrated for the aromatic odours which are supposed to herald it afar off. Its "spicy breezes” are, indeed, stock allusions with the poets who refer to Ceylon, the belief with these gentlemen being that because the island produces spices

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

the winds which blow over it must necessarily be impregnated with their perfumes. No doubt there is a certain odour in the air of the tropics—this the writer can confirm from his personal experience—just as there is in a pine-forest or on a Highland moor. But this has been much exaggerated; the only ones which at all correspond to those described by the writers—who have not visited Ceylon—are the overpowering perfumes exhaled by the lemon-grass (Andropogon), by the honey-scented nilla, and by

*“Ceylon, by an Officer late of the Ceylon Rifles," Vol. I. (1876), p. 371. This exhaustive work, which the industrious author has seen fit to publish under a thin pseudonymic disguise, I shall in future quote as“ Ceylon."

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

the coffee-plantations, which when in full blossom send forth a jessamine odour. The cinnamon, however, exhales little scent until the leaves are crushed in the hand.

The low level of the coast-line gives the palms which encircle it the appearance of rising out of the ocean. But this level zone encircles a loftier region on the east, south, and west, extending inland from thirty to eighty miles, and forming a picturesque assemblage of hills, of which the most prominent, though not the loftiest, is Adam's P-ak. This pre-eminence is claimed by Pedru-talla-galla, 8,295 feet in height, while there are two other mountains which surpass Adam's Peak in altitude, though in sanctity it maintains a dignity which none of them can pretend to. In Adam's Peak is a hollow which has the happy distinction of being equally reverenced by all the prevailing religionists of the island. The Brahmins declare that it is the footprint of Siva, the Buddhists that Buddha made it, the Mahommedans that it is the work of Adam, while the Christians are divided in opinions between the claims of St. Thomas and the eunuch of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. Hence pilgrims crowd the mountain at certain periods of the year. The footprint is covered by a roof, and the superstition of the devotees administered to by priests, who live in a monastery half-way up, but daily attend the shrine on the summit. March is the favourite season for the climbing pilgrimage—one, moreover, which is not devoid of danger, and has to be aided by chains riveted to the rocks at critical places, and fabled to have been placed there by Alexander the Great. In addition to money and other gifts, the worship at the summit consists of offerings of rhododendron flowers and various invocations. Notwithstanding the various religions of the pilgrims, they agree to differ about the origin of the footprint, and once there, get along without discord of any kind, the awe which the sacred spot inspires, and the sublimity of the view from the summit, apparently quelling in the pilgrims' breasts the contentions usual among sectaries of such pronounced views. Indeed, the spectacle from Adam's Peak is by general concensus one of the most sublime in the world. Sir James Emerson Tennent has very justly remarked that though people climb many mountains much higher, there are few which present so unobstructed a view over land, or tower so much over the surrounding mountains. “On the north and east,” the author of “Ceylon” remarks, “the eye ranges over the Kandyan hills. Turning to the south and west are undulating plains of light and verdure, with rivers showing out at intervals in their silvery course, while in the extreme distance the glitter of the sun on the surf marks the line of the coast. This grand view is frequently eclipsed by clouds or dense mists which envelop the summit, when neither land nor sky can be seen ; the mountain appears to melt under your feet, and you feel suddenly lost in a cloud, without a footing on earth. The sensation which it produces is very peculiar, and must be felt to be understood.” The mountain region of Ceylon covers an area of about 4,300 miles, but the whole breadth of the island on the north, from Kalpitiya to Batticaloa, is an almost unbroken plain, covered with noble forests of many trees, from the cashew-nut, which decays a month after it is felled, to the ebony and satin-wood, which can alone resist for any great length of time the climate and white ants of Ceylon. The latter insect pests are ubiquitous except when the climate is too cold for them, and in a few hours destroy every

the sea.

vegetable substance within their reach. All of the mountains are covered with verdure to their summits; but the slopes of many of them, once clothed with great forest trees, have been cleared, and turned into finely cultivated coffee-plantations.

Among these mountains are some extensive plains, such as those of Horton, 7,000 feet above

But as this splendid site for a sanitarium is at present difficult to reach, that of Newera-Ellia, 6,240 feet high, has taken its place, the locality being distant only 112 miles from Colombo. Here the European, jaded with the heat of the coast and plains, where a single sheet at night feels too much, may regain somewhat of his lost vigour, and as he sits by a fire, and finds blankets necessary, begin to get new life into his languid, flabby limbs. He awakes after a refreshing sleep, and sees “ the grass white with hoar-frost, and hears the voice of the robin and the blackbird near one's window. If an early riser, the new arrival takes a stroll before breakfast, feels the crisp grass and leaves crackling under his feet, expands his chest, and inhales the pure air with a degree of delight only understood by those who have felt the magical change, returning to breakfast with a sharp appetite and a vigour of limb almost forgotten. Clothing which makes one hot to look at in Colombo is here donned with pleasure, and we are glad to sit near a fire at breakfast and in the evenings." Since the increased facilities for travel Newera-Ellia is yearly visited by numbers of Europeans, and the place is fast becoming a Singbalese Simla, or an insular representative of one of those sanataria in the Neilgherry Hills to which the jaded Indian flees during the “heats.” Many English flowers and vegetables grow to perfection ; and though wheat and other cereals have not succeeded very well, potatoes are grown in such quantities, in spite of the introduction of the potato disease, as to have become a considerable source of profit. Sir Samuel Baker, who, prior to the days when be attained the acme of his fame as a traveller, lived several years in Newera-Ellia,* advocates European colonisation of the mountains of Ceylon; but, even with its comparative advantages of climate, the European constitution, anywhere in a tropical climate, becomes most frequently too enervated to be capable of much exertion. Ceylon compromises an area of 24,700 miles, is 271 miles long, and at the widest part is 137 miles broad--in other words, it is about one-sixth the size of Ireland, though altogether different in shape, being cone-shaped, with the apex of the cone pointing towards the north. The Hindoo poets call it “the pendant jewel of India :” the more prosaic Dutch compared it to a ham.

However, in spite of Ceylon being so near India, it is probable that it has never formed a part of the continent of Asia as at present constituted. The Ceylon elephant is specifically identical with that of India, but at the same time its variety is nearer that of Sumatra than that of the continent. But in Ceylon we do not find the tiger, hyæna, cheetah, wolf, fox, various deer, birds, &c., common in India, while several of the Ceylon animals are wanting on the other side of Palk's Straits; and some of the insects have more affinity with those of Australia than of India. On the other hand, the likeness to the fauna of the Indian Archipelago is almost as superficial, for many

* Baker: “ Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon " (1855); Tennent : "Ceylon” (1860); Sirr: "Ceylon and the Cingalese" (1851), and the numerous other works referred to in these books.

Malay forms, such as the argus pheasant (Vol. IV., p. 249) and the rhinoceros of Sumatra, are absent. The gaur (Bos gaurus) is not now found in Ceylon, though at one time it seems to have been present. On the whole, the facts we are in possession of do not point to Ceylon having ever been actually joined to Sumatra, nor to India, but to its having been part of a southern continent now nearly all submerged, and of which Southern India, then entirely disconnected from Northern India, was a portion. Though heavy rains usher in the changes of season, and swell the rivers to great dimensions, after the rains are over these streams fall back to such narrow dimensions that under normal circumstances there are few rivers in the island which cannot be forded on horseback. The lakes are numerous, and some of considerable dimensions. Some of these, like those of Colombo and Negombo, are formed by the emboucheres of rivers having become closed by an accumulation of silt, &c., without, and, to use Mr. Dickson's words, “the rivers, swollen by the rain, forcing new openings for themselves, and leaving their ancient channels converted into lakes.” The long, low embankments of sand, both on the east and west coast-locally known as “gobbs” -are formed in this manner. They are often several miles in breadth, and are covered with thriving cocoa-nut plantations. There are also some lakes artificially formed, and which play an active part in irrigation, and in the system of canals which the Dutch, following the natural bent of their genius, constructed in various coast-lying districts during their occupation of the country.

As the seasons of Ceylon do not differ widely from those prevailing along the shores of the Indian peninsula, it is needless to enter into this portion of our subject in much detail.

The south-west monsoon begins to blow along the south-west coast between the 10th and 20th of May, and the north-east monsoon appears on the north-east coast between the end of October and the middle of November. But while the south-west side of the island is deluged by rain, owing to the moist breezes impinging on the mountains, the opposite shore may be suffering from drought; and not unfrequently, it is said, the opposite sides of the same mountain may be suffering at the same time, the one from an overplus of rain, the other from having none at all. Owing to the proximity of the island to the equator, the length of the day does not vary more than an hour all the year round, and, as happens under these circumstances, dawn and twilight are of brief duration, and their pleasures consequently little, if at all, experienced.

Coal, with the exception of a little anthracite, has not yet been found in Ceylon, but in all likelihood it awaits some future explorer; but plumbago forms a considerable item in the island exports, and the Singhalese have from time immemorial been in the habit of manufacturing rude tools of fine temper out of the excellent iron which exists in such vast quantities in the western, southern, and central provinces. Tin, platinum, copper, black oxide of manganese, nitre, nitrate of lime, salt, &c., are all found, and, in some cases—as, for example, in that of salt-worked as a Government monopoly, to the not inconsiderable benefit of the revenue, though perhaps not of the natives. The soil of the ground is not uniformly rich, but there is yet a vast amount of country covered with swamp or jungle capable of being cultivated. Agriculture is yet the chief occupation of the natives; but it is evident, from the irrigation works which have been allowed to fall

« PreviousContinue »