Cheerapunji

Chirapunji in Sohra District of Meghalaya, which for long had earned a place for itself in the book of world records as the wettest place on earth, was once again in the news. With a rainfall of over 13,700 mm, a recent meteorological report placed it once more at the top of the list of places that recorded the highest rainfall in the country this year. Surprisingly the remaining four of the top five, including Mangalore my place of origin, were all from the West Coast.

I knew Chirapunji had lost its position of pre-eminence even when I was still in school. Then making place for Agumbe, near the horse-faced Kudremukh mountains famous for wildlife and its treacherous and dangerous mountain pass through the Western Ghats. And I learn Mawsyran in Chirapunji's own neighbourhood received more rainfall in the last few years, trying to usurp its position of pride. But this didn't stop me from visiting the place with my family out of sheer tourist interest over ten years ago, while on a posting in the north-east. Making Meghalaya's beautiful Shillong the base from where to make forays into the wonders of the north-east in different directions, we considered this opportunity the highlight of my posting to Mizoram. But the visit to Chirapunji was disappointing. Nay, down right shattering.

For a place with the highest rainfall, one would have expected a dense rain forest of the Amazon kind, with exotic fauna and flora. What greeted us as our vehicles laboriously climbed up winding roads to the top, was a barren rocky and pitted hill plateau with not a tree in sight; only dissipated decades-old stumps that still braved the inclement whether as witnesses to what vegetation that perhaps once existed.

There was nothing to shield us from the high velocity winds that whistled in from the plains of Bangladesh, which could be seen in the distance like a misty and hazy panorama, the kind one witnessed from an over flying aeroplane. But bracing these winds and hoping the mists would lift to give us a view of the famous Mausmai waterfalls that cut into these hills to form the enormous valley, was the ultimate and only goal for this visit. So leaning over the man-made protective parapet on the valley side, against high winds in intermittent rain and sleet, we had to lie and wait for a considerable time before my starved camcorder could record the breath taking grandeur of the falls; - in stops and gaps, each time the mists cleared to bless us with the heavenly spectacle. All was then worth it.

And this was not everything that Chirapunji had to offer. The Christian Brothers of Shillong's St. Edmund's who accompanied us as guides were veterans of the area. With the long handled trap nets they carried, we were introduced to the glorious hunt for capturing exotic butterflies that seemed to abound. And more adventurous, was the hair raising under ground trek through the famous Maukshmai caves fighting knock-outs on the head and elsewhere from jutting rocky stalactites, stalagmites and even screeching vampire bats. Armed with torches, we entered the caves on one side of the hill and emerged from the other, but not before suffering a few tell-tale bumps on the head - coupled with screams of fear and excitement from the fairer sex and the children when torches failed or 'were informed of losing our way in the maze of the labyrinth within the bowels of the mountain.

Memories of Chirapunji come a flooding at the mention of its attaining once again the distinction of being the wettest region in the world. Sad memories though, remembering the anti-climax of our visit, the devastation of the place we witnessed, its fragile infrastructure, and the total neglect that makes it by no means a sought after tourist destination. A disgruntled local people who cry for a clean glass of water, while calling their abode as the driest along side it being the wettest! A place with potential that's been victim to total human apathy. One can only hope that concerned authorities will wake up one day!

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Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com



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