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Sunday, October 1, 2023

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Sunday, October 1, 2023


Cherrapunjee (now, Sohra) strikes a romantic chord not just with the people of Meghalaya, but tourists, who throng the place in droves to get a glimpse of the stunning waterfalls and landscape. Donboklang Majaw goes beyond the usual perception to write about how people are adversely affected by the weather.

By Donboklang Majaw

Renowned all over the world as a unique tourist destination, Sohra is also known for its extreme weather during monsoons, scoring an average of over 11,000 mm of rain annually. It is second only to Mawsynram, a neighbouring village, about 8 km in the aerial distance – currently the wettest place on earth.

In 1974, the highest rainfall on a single day was at 2,455 mm. Earlier this year, Sohra recorded a staggering 2500+ mm in a space of three days between June 15 – 17, 2022.

The rainy season usually lasts from April to mid-September every year. Because of the incessant rains during this period, the place is also well sought after by tourists from all over the world for the majestic waterfalls, the wild greenery, the ever-permeating mist and its unmatched scenic beauty that springs to life as soon as winter retreats.

Given that the place is located at 4267 feet above sea level, the rains would collect and feed a huge number of waterfalls in the region during this period, making Sohra more closely associated with elegant cascades and seasonal waterfalls rather than just the heavy rains.

Nohkalikai Falls, the fourth-highest single-drop waterfall in the world, is one of the most documented of them all and has lately become a symbol of the growing Sohra tourism. Thousands of tourists visit the place in a single day and this has led to a boom in the local economy of the region in recent years.

The Khasis were entirely an oral-based culture prior to the British era and songs and stories about the Sohra monsoon were often celebrated, becoming a source of pride and wonder for the people of the region… something that holds true even now. However, Soso Tham (1873-1940), in his book of poems, Ka Duitara Ksiar, while writing about the wrath, beauty and the overall majestic aura of the mighty Sohra weather, also touched upon the fears and anxiety of the poor – their fragile homesteads could be victims to the raging onslaught of rain and windy storms.

He, and a handful of others, were perhaps the only poets who had written about this side of the Sohra experience.

Stories of tin roofs and thatched houses being ripped apart and blown away by the wind are still reported to this day.

Although the rains were a source of wonder and romantic deliberations to the visitors and the residents, it is, however, an unwavering force of nature, impossible to overcome even by the native population. Life is tough and difficult, especially for daily wagers and small-time traders – they often find it difficult to go to work on rainy days for it impedes movement and travel. Most people stay at home when the rains get too heavy.

Since the place is heavily ravaged by continuous rainfall, farming is next to impossible, given the erasure of the soil. The heavy downpour, accompanied by regular hailstorms, is hard on the tender crops. Only a handful of cultivated crops can withstand the raging Sohra climate, and they cannot be produced in bulk. Hence, the people of the region have adopted various occupations for their livelihoods other than farming – construction work, trade, service providing and, of course, tourism.

Writers and columnists who are familiar with this actuality had often referred to Sohra as “The Wettest Desert”. An oxymoron, yes, but it definitely fits the bill.

It is no surprise that many of the local poets, artists, and singers would draw inspiration from the rainy season in writing and composing their more sombre pieces, such as the ‘monsoon blues’. They are not rampant among the natives of Sohra. The monsoon, after all, is often associated with feelings of loneliness, longing and raging heartfelt emotions – for sunny days are few and far between.

Sometimes, people don’t see the sun for more than a month or two… a legacy of Sohra, right from times immemorial.

Children were also affected by the rains since parents would make them stay at home for days on end, affecting their academics. Happy and fun-filled childhood memories were often made not in the monsoon but during drier seasons. Most of the cultural and community festivities, weddings and concerts are celebrated and observed in dry seasons, usually in winter, when it doesn’t rain.

“We, the Sohra people, are like ants,” says Wanki Diengdoh, a local entrepreneur. “We work hard all winter so that we can eat during the rainy season. It still amazes me as to how our people survive year after year without complaints. The resilience is remarkable.”

Banlamkupar Lyngdoh, a school teacher and published author from Sohra who has recently released a book of poems, Khmih Pyn-or, also remarked and concurs that the rain of Sohra is seemingly romantic only to those who are far from it but not to those who face it every day. The unpredictability of the weather, he said, is a huge problem for people, especially those from marginalised families. It puts them in a constant state of unease and low spirits as they wait for it to subside – although technology has somewhat eased these problems. “Sometimes, it looks like the raging rain seems to be intentional… as if pouring to sabotage the day-t0-day earnings of the people,” he sardonically observed.

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