Where rain is cherished

  • 30/03/1996

TO THE Khasis of Meghalaya, Cherrapunjee, the place receiving the highest rainfall in the world, was known as Sohra. Briti~h administra- tors, who declared it their official state headquarter in 1835, consistently mispro- nounced it as "Churra" to finally call it Cherra. Its close geographical proximity to the plains of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) and 'most trade minded' nature of the Khasis, put Cherrapunjee in direct contact with Bengalis from the plains.

The Bengalis exported coal, lime, iron, potato, orange, bay leaves, honey, bee wax, betel nut and spices by ferrying the fare to Sylhet, Dhaka and Calcutta. The influence of this com- mercial interaction along with the fact that Cherra possessed ;1 rich varietY of natural wealth, prompted the suffixing of the term 'punjee' to it.

Cherrapunjee a grassy, marshy plateau with limestone deposits, crystal' ~lear streams, majestic waterfalls, stalactite and stalagmite caves, has a distinct history abounding with wars, unhindered exploitation of its natural resources and rapid changes in its physical and cultur!,l. parameters. The famous Treaty of Yandaboo (negoti- ated be~een U Tirot Singh, the Syiem of Nongkhlaw and David Scott, political agent for the East India Company) granted petmis. sion to the East India Company to construct a road from Sylhet to theKhasi hills via Sohra to Guwahati in Assam.

Cherrapunjee soon be- came the training ground for raising potential British soldiers, because of factors like quick draining off of rain water, long sunshine hours, mist-free climate and more importantly, easy and abundant local availa- bility of building materials like stone, bricks, lime, wood, bamboo.

This book, subtitled as The arena of rain, could probably have treated the rainfall pattern of Cher~a'- punjee more extensively. The author, however, expresses his concern~ at the disturb- ing phenomenon of Che'rra- punjee recently going dry for days even during peak monsoon and the markedly declining level of preci- pitation, the rapid thinning down of the once luxurious forest cover, and unscientific mining of Cherrapunjee's estimated 19 million tonnes of coal, particulaFly after 1840.

In course of his exposi- tion, the author quotes a study which mentions Waialeale in Hawaii as the area of highest rainfall fol- I~wed by Cherrapunjee. This has been arrived at on the basis o~ 32 yea~s' annual average rainfall (11,684 mrn) in case of the former, and 37 years' average (11,161 mm) in the latter.

While commenting on the study, he contends that a much lesser known place like Mawsynram (16 km away from Cherrapunjee), which neve~ managed to catch the attention of the British administrators, has in fact, recorded much higher rainfall than Cherrapunjee or Waialeale. To conclusiyely prove his point, h~ cites the data obtained during the last 26 to 36 years.

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