Cats and Dogs

World’s high­est rain­fall and still no wa­ter to drink.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asma Sid­diqui

Cher­ra­punji is a town in Megha­laya, a north­east­ern state of In­dia, bor­der­ing Bangladesh. Megha­laya is so beau­ti­ful that it has been called “the Scot­land of the East.” Not sur­pris­ingly, its very name means “abode of the clouds.” But why has Cher­ra­punji long been re­garded as one of the wettest places on earth? Although In­dia has faced wa­ter short­ages and droughts, within In­dia this won­der­ful place ex­ists at a place where it rains ev­ery day or night, lead­ing the peo­ple to crave for sun­light. Peo­ple in­hab­it­ing the place for many years have found amaz­ing ways to make them­selves adapt­able to the rain dur­ing the mon­soon sea­son. The rain and the unique meth­ods adopted to com­bat the ex­ces­sive rain are a treat for the tourists who throng

the place dur­ing heavy rain­fall.

For those who have vis­ited Megha­laya or Cher­ra­punji, they know how the dark clouds form and scare you with the prospect of rain­ing cats and dogs. There are won­der­ful flow­ers, in­clud­ing some 300 species of or­chids and a unique species of the car­niv­o­rous pitcher plant. More­over, there is a wide va­ri­ety of wildlife to ad­mire and there are liv­ing bridges made out of roots to ex­plore.

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial web­site of Megha­laya tourism, “Sohra, pre­vi­ously known as Cher­ra­pun­jee, a sub-di­vi­sion of the East Khasi Hills Dis­trict of Megha­laya, is set upon a plateau on the south­ern slopes of the state. Sohra is dot­ted with wa­ter­falls cas­cad­ing over deep gorges. The swift flow­ing rivers and streams flow in a southerly di­rec­tion to­wards the plains. Sohra is 56 kms from Shil­long and is lit­er­ally the high point of any visit to Megha­laya. A It is an eco-friendly des­ti­na­tion and is known for re­ceiv­ing the high­est rain­fall in the world. Set against the back­drop of a breath­tak­ing land­scape, it is a place to dis­cover the In­dian sum­mer mon­soons - a unique an­nual me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non di­rectly in­flu­enced by the south­west mon­soon and the north­east winds. The heavy mon­soon rains over these moun­tains un­doubt­edly cre­ate in Sohra one of the rarest bio-di­verse veg­e­ta­tions in the world. It is truly a beau­ti­ful cor­ner in north-east In­dia, wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered and ex­plored.

The four main sea­sons of Megha­laya are Spring (i.e. March to April), Mon­soon (May to Septem­ber), Au­tumn (Oc­to­ber to Novem­ber) and Win­ter (De­cem­ber to Fe­bru­ary).

The tem­per­a­ture starts warm­ing up by the third week of May and con­tin­ues right to the end of Septem­ber and some­times ex­tends well into the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber. The av­er­age rain­fall is 12,000 mm a year, with the max­i­mum rain­fall oc­cur­ring over the south­ern slopes of the Khasi Hills in Sohra. The high­est recorded to­tal an­nual rain­fall was 24,555 mm in 1974. The max­i­mum for a sin­gle day was recorded in 1876 in Sohra, when 1,040 mm fell in 24 hours. Sohra also holds the world record for a month's rain­fall when 9,300 mm fell in July 1861.

The old Cherra or Sohrarim was the orig­i­nal Cherra vil­lage but with the com­ing of the Bri­tish who set up their head­quar­ters fur­ther south, the vil­lage came to be known as 'Sohra' or the present day Cher­ra­pun­jee. It was here that the Bri­tish re­al­ized the enor­mity and in­ten­sity of the rain­fall and set up a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal of­fice for mea­sur­ing the rain.

Sohra was de­clared by the Bri­tish to be the cap­i­tal of As­sam in 1832, which was later shifted to Shil­long in 1866 due to the in­clement weather.”

Cher­ra­punji is 4,000 feet [1,300 m] above sea level. Trop­i­cal re­gions ex­pe­ri­ence heavy rain­fall when the sun evap­o­rates a large vol­ume of wa­ter from the warmer parts of the oceans so when wa­ter-laden winds from the In­dian Ocean strike the south­ern slopes of the Hi­malaya Moun­tains and are forced to rise, they un­load them­selves in the form of tor­ren­tial rains. The Megha­laya plateau is a ma­jor re­ceiv­ing ground. More­over, it ap­pears that since this high area re­ceives the full power of the trop­i­cal sun in the day­time, the rain clouds rise and hover above the plateau un­til the air cools them to­wards the evening. This may ex­plain why much of the rain falls at night.

Ac­cord­ing to an un­usual places web­site, ‘The vil­lage of Mawsyn­ram in Megha­laya an­nu­ally re­ceives 467 inches of rain. The out­door work­ers of­ten wear wa­ter­proof suits made from bam­boo and banana leaves. These labour­ers walk into Mawsyn­ram un­der the tra­di­tional Khasi um­brel­las known as knups. Made from bam­boo and banana leaves, the knups are fa­vored for al­low­ing two-handed work, and for be­ing able to stand up to the high winds which lash the re­gion dur­ing heavy rain­storms. The most un­usual and gor­geous sights in the re­gion are the “liv­ing bridges” span­ning rain-soaked val­leys. For cen­turies, lo­cals have been ma­nip­u­lat­ing the roots of rub­ber fig trees that grow into nat­u­ral arches, far out­last­ing man-made wooden struc­tures that rot in just a few years. The bridges are self-strength­en­ing, be­com­ing more sub­stan­tial over time, as the root sys­tems grow.’

The vil­lage of Mawsyn­ram claims to have the high­est av­er­age rain­fall on earth. Perched atop a ridge in the Khasi Hills of In­dia’s north­east, the vil­lage re­ceives 467 inches of rain per year – thir­teen times that of Seat­tle. The heavy rain­fall is due to sum­mer air cur­rents sweep­ing over the steam­ing flood plains of Bangladesh, gath­er­ing mois­ture as they move north. When the re­sult­ing clouds hit the steep hills of Megha­laya they are “squeezed” through the nar­row gap in the at­mos­phere and com­pressed to a stage where they can no longer hold their mois­ture, caus­ing the near con­stant rain the vil­lage is fa­mous for.

It is hard to be­lieve that with so much rain, this re­gion could ever ex­pe­ri­ence a wa­ter short­age. Yet, that is the most un­for­tu­nate part. It is dur­ing the win­ter months that the area faces the worst wa­ter short­age. Where do the mon­soon tor­rents go? Be­cause of ex­ten­sive de­for­esta­tion just out­side Cher­ra­punji, most of the rain pours off the high plateau, fill­ing the rivers of the plains, which flow mainly into Bangladesh. To con­serve this nat­u­ral re­source of wa­ter, the damming of streams and the con­struc­tion of reser­voirs are projects which are be­ing con­sid­ered. But ac­cord­ing to the tribal king of Mawsyn­ram, G. S. Mal­ngiang, there have been “no se­ri­ous ef­forts to solve the wa­ter prob­lem.”

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