CHAPTER XXVI. TO ADEN.
Heaven speed the canvas, gallantly unfurled
To furnish and accommodate a world,
To give the Pole the produce of the sun,
And knit the unsocial climates into one.
Friday, April 6th. - Our visit to Ceylon has been so delightful that I wish it could have been prolonged for a month, instead of lasting only a week; but in that case I should have preferred to select a cooler season of the year, when travelling is more practicable. A most interesting journey could be made through the centre of the island to see the ancient cities, temples, and tanks, over the road from Matelle to Nalandi Senadoora, to the curious rock temple at Dambool, near which is the fortified rock of Sigiri, and a few miles further are the vast ruins of Topari, or Ponamira, the mediaeval capital of Ceylon. It is full of wonderful ruins, some of them among the oldest in the world. The Ranhol Dagoba, the Jayti Wana Rama, and the Galle Wihara and rock temple, carved out of the living rock, are alone worth a long journey to see. Then think of visiting Anajapoora, the city of rubies, the sacred capital of the kingdom of ruins, on whose splendours even the Chinese travellers of the early ages used to expatiate with fervour. From this point it would be easy to reach the peninsula of Jaffna, which has been peopled with Tammils for more than two thousand years. It is the country par excellence of gardens exquisitely kept, and skilfully irrigated on the old Moorish system. Here are grown all the ingredients for the making of curry, which are sent to all parts of this island and to Southern India. The most important crop of all, however, is tobacco, whose excellence is famed throughout India, and of which the Rajah of Travancore holds the monopoly.
Then one might go southward from Jaffna, past Aripo, and the Gulf of Calpentyn, until the curious reef of Adam's Bridge was reached, which almost connects Ceylon with India. People say it has been separated by some convulsion of nature in former days, and that the passage is gradually deepening; but recent examinations have shown that instead of being a remnant of the original rock by which Ceylon is supposed to have been once connected with the Indian continent, it is in reality a comparatively recent ridge of conglomerate and ironstone, covered with alluvial deposits carried by the current and heaped up at this particular point; whilst the gradual rising of the coast has contributed to give the reef its present altitude.
Balchus tells a most improbable story of fifteen Portuguese frigates escaping through the passage of Panupam, when pursued by some Dutch cruisers in 1557. Formerly the Straits were only thirty-five yards wide, with a maximum depth of six feet of water, but lately they have been widened and deepened by ten feet, and a little Government steamer frequently passes through on a tour round the island. At present a sailing ship going from Bombay to Madras has to make a curve of five thousand miles in order to weather the Maldives and Ceylon. It seems a long course for any vessel drawing over ten feet of water to be obliged to take.
In the centre of the channel there is a little island where a Dutch establishment for horse-breeding formerly stood, the original stud having been imported from Arabia. The horses were all turned into corrals and caught by means of lassos, and then conquered by domidores, exactly as they are at the present day in South America. Now the stud is dispersed, the buildings are in ruins, and all that remains is the Indian pagoda, where religious ceremonies, curious processions, and dances of nautch-girls occasionally take place and are attended by great crowds. To the southward again of Adam's Bridge is the celebrated Gulf of Manaar, from which the best pearls come.
This is an exceptionally good year for pearls, and the price of the shells went up many rupees per thousand in the first week. The pearl fishery can be reached in about eight hours by steam from Colombo, and it would have been delightful to have visited it, had time permitted. We were shown an oyster with some beautiful pearls in it, all found in the one shell. When a boat with pearls reaches the shore, the shells are divided into equal heaps, one-fourth going to the boat's crew, and three-fourths to the Government Inspector. They keep whichever heap he chooses to kick; so that, being uncertain which they will get for themselves, the boat's crew are sure to make a fair division. These heaps are then divided and sold by auction in thousands, and then subdivided again and again. Of course it is always a matter of speculation as to whether you get good pearls, bad pearls, or no pearls at all, though this last misfortune seldom happens.