My and friend ayan’s trip to the world’s rainiest and wettest place began in Guwahati City, from where it took us a five hour drive to reach our destination Cherrapunji. The journey crossed some splendid scenery of the Khasi Hills, which appeared astonishing green due to the summer monsoon rain. The forests, farmlands and pastures felt alive and were shining. Once nearby Cherrapunji, the scenery changes drastically. The effect of receiving the highest rainfall is clearly visible on the landscape. Eroded hills devoid of forests lie scattered. Instead, grass grows overwhelmingly everywhere and creates a backdrop that is similar to the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands. As it was July, the busiest month for the Indian monsoon, it was no surprise that throughout our journey we encountered an endless harmony of rainfall. Though many people prefer to visit Cherrapunji in the winter months when the weather is sunny and calm, our ambition was to visit at the heart of the rainy season and experience firsthand the phenomenon of being in the rainiest place of our incredible planet in the rainiest month of the year. That’s my kind of travel and it may sometimes seem extreme, but trust me, July is magic in Cherrapunji and an experience of a life.
The landscape around Sohra, which is the name locals use for Cherrapunji, is truly magical. It gives the feeling of being in a place where nature is at its extreme; a dominant force that creates true wonders. The rainfall was heavy when we reached. Numerous streams could be seen everywhere, all flowing in an uncontrollable velocity and creating a deafening thunderous sound. The clouds, playing a game of hide and seek, would engulf the landscape in a beautiful whiteness, bringing down the visibility to a null. All around, there were also countless waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, some even falling right on the road. I was left at awe.
We ended up finding accommodation in a delightful guesthouse. They gave us a cozy room which was perfect for the weather, or rather; it was the wet and cold weather outside that made the room appear cozier. It was almost dark by the time we finished our late lunch. Once the sun sets, there isn’t much to do in a place like Sohra. So, we spent the night conversing with the guesthouse staff over a couple of drinks of warm rum and both of us retired early to bed.
It had rained the whole night and it was still raining when I woke up. Hoping for the rain to stop when in the world’s rainiest place in the rainiest month of the year is like an oxymoron. Naturally, we did not wait for the water to stop, and armed with both a raincoat and an umbrella, we ventured outside into the great open air. The heavy rain which has been falling in Sohra since many thousands of years, colliding with rocks for as far as time can remember and creating beneath them marvelous dark worlds which have marvelous formations and life forms, has made the region a hotbed of caves, some touristy but most unexplored or undiscovered. But as July is not the month to go exploring the hidden caves,
we decided to visit the touristy ones which are easily accessible through roads. The world inside caves is a straight contract to the sun-blessed world we live in, but nevertheless, they offer an overwhelming and incredible experience. The caves in Sohra were no different. The ones we visited had beautiful limestone formations of stalagmites and stalactites which you can admire for hours. Due to the rain, water was dropping everywhere inside the caves and it made it a bit difficult to see the biology of the caves, though, I managed to see three different bat species and some weird creepy insects I had never seen before. It was almost afternoon by the time we got done seeing the caves, and after some lunch, we headed to see the other significant feature in the unique landscape of the Khasi Hills – waterfalls. In all the falls we visited, the cloudy and rainy weather had made it hard for us to get clear views. However,
I found the Nokhalikai Falls to be the most gorgeous of them all. It is a breathtaking site, and being July, the swollen stream was freefalling in a thunderous noise that could deafen a new born child. The clouds seldom allowed us a view of the falls, lifting their veil just for seconds to leave us astonished and waiting. And as soon as it was evening, visibility was almost down to zero and it was still raining. We decided to retire to the guesthouse. Both of us were drenched by the end of the day, and neither the umbrella nor the raincoat could protect us completely from the weather that inhabits the rainiest place of the earth. For the rest of the evening, the cozy room felt like heaven, a protection from the rain that seemed would never stop. The evening tea tasted lovely and in a way warmed the senses. Over dinner, we discussed the plan for the next day. Though there are many pretty hikes around Cherrapunji, such as the one which goes to Nongriat Village where you find the double-decker living root bridge, we decided to leave the next morning. The weather was just not suitable to go hiking and I felt I had a fever coming. The dinner though was superb. I retired to bed early and felt in a deep sleep, resonating with the rain that never ended the entire night or the next day when we left Cherrapunji. It was eventually in the plains of Assam that the rainfall stopped and the weather cleared. Even though we were just two days in Cherrapunji, I felt like I was seeing the sun after a long time, and it felt great.
I did visit Cherrapunji again the same year; this time in the sunny days of the winters, with a group that consisted of our guests from Bangalore. It was incredible to see the differences brought by the change in seasons. Sohra appeared calm and basking in the glory of the sun. The locals looked more comfortable and plenty of tourists were around. But it was not as magical as it was during the heart of the Indian monsoons. I did manage to get clear views of all the waterfalls and the caves. I even took the guests to Nongriat Village in a long hike which crosses breathtaking forested scenery and plenty of crystal clear streams which appear ocean blue in color. The double-decker living root bridge demands respect because of its ingenuity. It is truly a marvel of man-made sustainable architecture, an example of man coexisting in harmony with nature.
But throughout the trip, I felt the rain was missing. The monsoon is when Cherrapunji in a way becomes alive, when nature makes everything dance to its tune, creating wonders which men would never be able to replicate. Rivers and streams swell with water, caves deepen to hidden depths and countless waterfalls come alive, igniting our excitement and filling our minds with wonder.