Cherrapunjee gets new name - Sohra
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Cherrapunjee gets new name - Sohra

The state government has decided to rename Cherrapunjee as Sohra - the name locals have always used for it.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2007 10:45 IST

Tribal elder Peter Marbaniang is a happy man today - he is jubilant after his village, one of the world's rainiest places, reverted to its local name.

For close to 180 years, it was known as Cherrapunjee to the outside world, a picturesque village perched on the edge of a cliff some 1,290 metres above sea level and about 60 km from Meghalaya's capital Shillong.

Now the state government, under sustained lobbying for decades by the nearly 150,000 tribal Khasi inhabitants, has decided to rename Cherrapunjee as Sohra - the name locals have always used for it except in official communication.

"Sohra is the actual name of this village, but the British rulers tweaked the local name unable to pronounce it correctly and started saying 'Cherra'... Some of the Bengali bureaucrats later added 'punjo', which means a cluster, to make it Cherrapunjee," 82-year-old Marbaniang, a retired schoolteacher, told IANS.

Lighting his antique tobacco pipe near the famous Mawsmai cave, five kilometres off Sohra, Marbaniang said the fight to get the original name back was more of a sentimental issue for locals.

"How would you feel if someone for the sake of convenience changes your name from Tom to Harry? If I am Tom call me Tom and not Harry," he said firmly.

The British had made Sohra their regional headquarters in the 1830s as the area resembled Scotland, with rains and fogs enveloping this quaint little village. Meghalaya, meaning the land of the clouds, later earned the British sobriquet "the Scotland of the East".

Now it may take time for the Guinness Book of Records to change the name, with the village being in the record books for many years as the place with the highest rainfall. Some say Mawsynram in the same state now wears this mantle.

Lashed by intermittent showers, Sohra overlooks the plains of Bangladesh. From August 1860 to July 1861, Cherrapunji recorded 26.5 metres of rainfall and during the month of July in 1861 it was lashed by 9.3 meters of rainfall.

For a majority of the people who belong to the dominant Khasi race and a predominantly matrilineal society, the fickle weather is what they look forward to.

"We want the rains to beat down more heavily than ever before," said Rosy Lyngdoh, a housewife.

During the tourist season from June to September, Rosy brews tea by the roadside with homemade pancakes and biscuits for visitors. "We want the rains to continue so that we get more tourists and earn money," she said.

Tourist guide Williamson Marbaniang says they never want a sunny day.

"We want the weather to always be misty and raining. Nobody would come here to experience a sunny day," he said.

But despite the torrential rains, water is the scarcest of commodities for locals. The southwest monsoon and thunderstorms soak the village from June to September. But during the winters, the natural springs and streams dry up and crops suffer.

"It is an irony of sorts that one of the world's rainiest places is in reality a wet desert where people have to buy drinking water, especially during the winter season," said Robert Jrwa, a government official.

Villagers go to distant places and streams downhill to fetch drinking water during winter.

But for the moment, the hardships are far from the mind of tribal residents here as they celebrate the new name.

First Published: Aug 04, 2007 10:38 IST