There is not a path, stream, hill, or plain, within many miles of Newera Ellia, that I do not know intimately, although, when the character of the country is scanned by a stranger from some mountain-top, the very act of traversing it appears impossible. This knowledge has been gained by years of unceasing hunting, and by perseveringly following up the hounds wherever they have gone. From sunrise till nightfall I have often ploughed along through alternate jungles and plains, listening eagerly for the cry of the hounds, and at length discovering portions of the country which I had never known to exist.
There is a great pleasure in thus working out the features of a wild country, especially in an island like Ceylon, which, in every portion, exhibits traces of former prosperity and immense population. Even these uninhabited and chilly regions, up to an elevation of seven thousand feet, are not blank pages in the book of Nature, but the hand of man is so distinctly traced that the keen observer can read with tolerable certainty the existence of a nation long since passed away.
As I before mentioned, I pitched my settlement on the verge of the highland, at the eastern extremity of the Newera Ellia plain, where the high road commences a sudden descent toward Badulla, thirty-three miles distant. This spot, forming, a shallow gap, was the ancient native entrance to Newera Ellia from that side, and the Cingalese designation for the locality is interpreted "the Path of a Thousand Princes." This name assists in the proof that Newera Ellia was formerly of some great importance. A far more enticing name gives an interest to the first swampy portion of the plain, some three hundred paces beyond, viz., "the Valley of Rubies."
Now, having plainly discovered that Newera Ellia was of some great importance to the natives, let us consider in what that value consisted. There are no buildings remaining, no ruins, as in other parts of Ceylon, but a liquid mine of wealth poured from these lofty regions. The importance of Newera Ellia lay first in its supply of water, and, secondly, in its gems.
In all tropical countries the first principle of cultivation is the supply of water, without which the land would remain barren. In a rice-growing country like Ceylon, the periodical rains are insufficient, and the whole system of native agriculture depends upon irrigation. Accordingly, the mountains being the reservoirs from which the rivers spring, become of vital importance to the country.
The principal mountains in Ceylon are Pedrotallagalla, eight thousand two hundred and eighty feet; Kirigallapotta, seven thousand nine hundred; Totapella, eight thousand feet; and Adam's Peak, seven thousand seven hundred; but although their altitude is so considerable, they do not give the idea of grandeur which such an altitude would convey. They do not rise abruptly from a level base, but they are merely the loftiest of a thousand peaks towering from the highlands of Ceylon.
The greater portion of the highland district may therefore be compared to one vast mountain; hill piled upon hill, and peak rising over peak; ravines of immense depth, forming innumerable conduits for the mountain torrents. Then, at the elevation of Newera Ellia the heavings of the land appear to have rested, and gentle undulations, diversified by plains and forests, extend for some thirty miles. From these comparatively level tracts and swampy plains the rivers of Ceylon derive their source and the three loftiest peaks take their base; Pedrotallagalla rising from the Newera Ellia Plain, "Totapella" and Kirigallapotta from the Horton Plains.
The whole of the highland district is thus composed of a succession of ledges of great extent at various elevations, commencing with the highest, the Horton Plains, seven thousand feet above the sea.