Cherrapunji ? The Rainy Valley of India
High above misty valleys and foaming rivers, ensconced in swirling clouds and perched on an escarpment, lies Cherrapunji (4,500 feet). This is a stunning location and the year-round rain earned Cherrapunji coveted entry long ago into the Guinness Book of World Records as the wettest place on earth, the place where the rainfall can be recorded in feet rather than in millimeters.
Today, climatic changes have edged Cherrapunji out of the topmost ‘wet’ slot, but it still retains its pristine beauty, its unusual facets, the perpetual clouds, and the perpetual mists…. Appropriately, Cherrapunji lies in the heart of the State of Meghalaya-the abode of clouds.
As in days gone by, the faces of Cherrapunji change not with the seasons, but with the pattern of rainfall. The heaviest downpours span approximately five long months-from May until September. The clouds then are dark and menacing, full blown with rain, which descends earthwards with the stinging force of a whiplash.
Tour to Cherrapunji Throughout these months, Cherrapunji is transformed into a sea of tiny, gushing rivulets. The raindrops beat incessantly on rooftops and treetops creating a compelling tattoo of awesome sounds, which cannot be savored anywhere else but in the Northeastern states. These are also the ‘record-making’ months, which contribute to records such as the stunning 22,987 mm of rainfall in 1861. The annual average rainfall of Cherrapunji stands today at 10,871 millimeters. Barely 10 km from Cherrapunji stands the village of Mawsynram, which has snatched away the heaviest rainfall record, with 12,163 millimeters of rainfall.
With the passage of September, the rhythm of the rain-its main force spent-changes to a gentle patter. And the Khasis and other residents of Cherrapunji, the flora, and the fauna respond to the change in the Rain God’s mood. Soft pastel shades begin to appear in skies that were gray all day and rainbows that are a photographer’s delight begin to make unexpected guest appearances.
The home of enterprising Khasi clans, Cherrapunji’s place in the Guinness Book of Records is not its only claim to fame. Along with falls lesser in height but no less alluring, the spectacular, cascading 1,035-ft-high Mawsmai Falls-the fourth highest in India-lie just a few kilometers beyond Cherrapunji.
Close by is situated a fascinating labyrinth of underground passages beneath age-old caves-a veritable dream for amateur explorers. Elsewhere around Cherrapunji, Khasi monoliths (stones in memory of their ancestors) lie dotted around-a vague reminder of the forests of Bastar.
Amidst all the surprises of Cherrapunji, perhaps the most abiding is the startling realization that the wettest place on earth where it rains every month also has an amazing amount of warm sunshine. When the clouds drift away, there are a series of memorable views, and one can see as far as Bangladesh. Orchids blooming a few feet away from a patch devoid of vegetation. Dense woods interspersed by rocky, cliffs furrowed by erosion.
As the months move on, the smell of decaying vegetation lessens as the showers become intermittent. New plants spring to life, and people go about their tasks with renewed energy.
The hills around Cherrapunji do not have the lush green vegetation one normally associates with wet places. The vegetative cover in the form of dense woods appears in patches and constitutes yet another marvelous surprise: the richness and variety of the flora in these ‘zones’ has to be seen to be believed. An amazing variety of rare orchids, ferns, and moss convert each pocket into a botanist’s paradise. Cherrapunji produces the best quality of oranges as well as pineapples. In fact, Cherrapunji oranges are the ancestors of the famous Nagpuri oranges in the Central India.
How to Reach:
Cherrapunji is 58 km from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. A steep motorable road, almost perpetually bathed in mist as it climbs upwards on the last lap, leads up to Cherrapunji. Buses and taxis ply to Cherrapunji from Shillong.
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