Cherrapunji—One of the Wettest Places on Earth


ONE of the wettest places on earth? But how can that be? Water shortages are fairly common here in India, and on most days you do not even need an umbrella! What curious place are we describing? Cherrapunji—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.” Its very name means “abode of the clouds.” But why has Cherrapunji long been regarded as one of the wettest places on earth? Let us take a brief trip to this intriguing natural wonder. *

We begin our journey in Shillong, the capital of the state of Meghalaya. Boarding a tourist bus, we head south. As we pass rolling hills and open grasslands, we see the waiting clouds ahead of us, instantly reminding us that the name Meghalaya is fitting.

Our road climbs and winds along the lip of a deep gorge thickly blanketed with trees. Waterfalls tumble from a great height, feeding the river surging through the valley. As our bus stops at Mawkdok, we see low cloud formations moving through the hills. Suddenly they blot an entire segment of scenery from view and then lift just as quickly to reveal it. For just a moment, we too are enveloped in the cloud mass and are lost in a soft white blanket of invisibility. Soon, though, the clouds swirl away, and the sun illuminates the breathtaking view.

Cherrapunji is 4,000 feet [1,300 m] above sea level. When we reach the town, there is not a rain cloud in sight, and no one is carrying an umbrella. Only we visitors are prepared for a downpour! So when does the rain fall?

Tropical regions experience heavy rainfall when the sun evaporates a large volume of water from the warmer parts of the oceans. When moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean strike the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains and are forced to rise, they empty their load 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 toward evening. This may explain why much of the rain falls at night.

During July 1861, Cherrapunji received an astonishing 366 inches [930 cm] of rain! And 1,042 inches [2,646 cm] of rain fell during the 12-month period from August 1, 1860, to July 31, 1861. Today, on the average, Cherrapunji has rain 180 days a year. The rain is heaviest from June through September. Since most of the rain falls at night, visitors can enjoy their sightseeing without getting soaked by a downpour.

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

The visit to Cherrapunji has certainly been exciting and educational. What breathtaking scenery the place has to offer! And 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 limestone caves to explore and megaliths to examine. The area’s extensive orange groves produce the juicy fruit as well as make possible the natural production of delicious orange honey. All of this awaits visitors to Meghalaya, the “abode of the clouds,” and to Cherrapunji, one of the wettest places on earth.


^ par. 3 Mount Waialeale on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and Mawsynram—a village about ten miles [16 km] from Cherrapunji—have at times recorded a higher average rainfall than Cherrapunji.

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Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.

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Waterfalls feed the river surging through the valley

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This species of the carnivorous pitcher plant is unique to this corner of the earth

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Photograph by Matthew Miller