The most visited and best known town in the hill country of Ceylon, and the most popular summer resort in the island, is Newera Ellia-the city of light’- or, as it is pronounced, Nurellia. This town stands in an elliptical mountain valley, or cirque, between one and two miles across; the mountains that surround it range from 1,500 to 2,000 feet in height.
The plateau itself is at about 6,000 or 6,200 feet above the sea level. The climate and scenery here are strikingly different from those of the coast, and resemble those of the mountain chains of central Europe; for though the tropical sun raises the temperature at noon to twenty-five or thirty degrees, the nights are always cool, and early in the year it is not unusual to find the grass white with hoar frost before sunrise, while the water jars placed out of doors to cool are covered with a film of ice.
Fires are lighted in the living rooms, morning and evening, almost every day, and the low stone houses are all built with chimneys. When we remember that Newera Ellia is only seven degrees north of the equator, an average annual temperature of from fifteen to sixteen degrees centigrade (below sixty degrees Fahrenheit) at a height of only six thousand feet above the sea appears extraordinarily low.
This, like the comparatively low temperature which prevails throughout the hill country of Ceylon, is, no doubt, due, in the first instance, to the situation of the island, as well as to the excessive evaporation by day and the rapid cooling at night by radiation. The air is always damp. Dense clouds often fill the cirque for the whole day.
The rainfall is very great, and numbers of springs and rivulets, which tumble down the cliffs and slopes, maintain a luxuriant vegetation and feed the little lake which occupies the southern half of the plateau.
There is no doubt that the cold, damp air of Newera Ellia has a singularly refreshing effect on the health of Europeans, when they have become debilitated by too long a residence in the hot low-country; and when, in twenty-four hours, by railway and post-chaise, the traveller comes up to Newera Ellia from Colombo, he feels as if some magical change had been wrought.
The unwonted pleasure of shivering with cold, and having only one side warm at a time in front of a fire; the exquisite delight of being obliged to encumber yourself with a great coat and shawl when you go out of doors, and of having to pile blankets on your bed before you can go to sleep- the contrast, in short, to the easy going and light clothing of the hot coast, makes the Englishman feel quite at home, and he does nothing but sing the praises of Newera Ellia. If he were transported bodily to our wretched northern climate, perhaps he would not find its charms quite so great.