Wettest place on planet earth. That’s what the signage on the road says. As did our geography textbooks in school.
Yet Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya isn’t what one would imagine it to be. The landscape isn’t lush green and the roads aren’t dotted with evergreen trees. The area here looks parched, almost arid. And has been getting drier on the way to the town, which is just over 50 km away from Shillong.
There is water scarcity here these days. People have to walk for miles to collect drinking water, despite receiving rainfall in abundance every year (463.66 inches annually at last count by reliable data). Deforestation, lack of rain harvesting and constant mining are often cited as the reasons.
Now, the rain god has chosen to look away. The area is receiving nearly 20 per cent less rainfall annually. It lost its coveted ‘Wettest Place’ title to Kauai in Hawaii a few years ago.
Now, a small town in Colombia holds that record. But a day trip to the place is a must. If only to visit the tourist spots Cherrapunjee has to offer, to see what impact human activity and climate change can have on the environment or to just stand at the spot that was at one time the ‘Wettest Place On Planet Earth’.
A major cave network exists in the Khasi Hills in areas like Cherrapunjee, Shella, Pynursla, Nongjri, Mawsynram and Langrin. The Mawsmai cave is the only cave that is fully lit. It has impressive formations of large passages and chambers. Though locals will say that the trek through the caves is tough, young tourists will enjoy this adventure into the unknown.
Local lodgings market the venue as the ‘Wettest Place On Planet Eath’. But it isn’t true. Though difficult to pinpoint the exact spot that receives maximum rainfall, acccording to the most reliable data, Puerto Lopez de Micay in Colombia may be the wettest inhabited place. Between April 1960 and February 2012, the local weather station recorded an average annual rainfall of over 507 inches.
A day trip to Cherrapunji is enough to explore the place. The best way to get there is from Shillong (over 50 km away). The drive time on a good day is little over an hour. There are regular flights to Shillong.
Like most tourists, we drove down to Cherrapunjee from Shillong. It was November and the monsoon had just retreated. However, as we approached, the landscape changed dramatically from green mountains to brown flatlands, providing quite a contrast in scenery.
Legend has it that this was the spot where a young mother (named Likai) threw herself over the precipe after finding out that her husband killed her daughter. Her act gave the falls its name. It literally means ‘Leap of Likai’.
Mine your business
The terrain around Cherrapunjee is rocky and does not support vegetation. It is also impacted by deforestation. Rich in coal, limestone and sand, mining is popular. Unfortunately, due to lack of planning and constant drilling, soil erosion is common and eats into the natural beauty.