January 03, 2015

The Wettest Place on Earth

Resuming my journey in the northeast of India, I caught a bus to Shillong near my lodge at Kaziranga. The capital of the state of Meghalaya, Shillong is a scenic hill station nestled among rolling green hills. My thirst for cheap accommodation left me, as it often does, in the seediest part of town. The hotel I was staying in only housed a vegetarian restaurant, so I had to venture out into the night in search of dinner. Narrow alleys, uneven mud caked streets, and a winter chill greeted me. Wrapped in shawls and warming their hands around bonfires, locals eyed me with intrigue. Who was this handsome stranger?

I found an Islamic restaurant open after a lengthy stroll and ordered a chicken biryani. The taxi driver who dropped me off at my hotel had left me his phone number, and I gave him a call while waiting for my meal to arrive. I arranged for him to pick me up early the next day for a trip to Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth, as my dish was deposited roughly on the table in front of me.

Holding the records for both the greatest total rainfall in a month and in a year, Cherrapunji (now once again referred to by its original moniker Sohra) is almost a kilometre and a half above sea level and a spectacular winding drive away from Shillong on mountain roads.

Despite its claim to fame, Cherrapunji was bone dry during my visit. The winter months face water shortages and California drought-like conditions, with the bulk of the rain hitting the region during the monsoon season. The tallest plunge waterfall in India, Noh Ka Likai (Leap of Ka Likai) trickled weakly like urine down the streets of San Francisco.

The most memorable aspect of the waterfall was the grisly tale of how it got its name. Ka Likai, was a widow with a child who was forced to enter a loveless marriage with a second husband. When she was out running errands one day, the jealous husband cooked her baby. Tired, the wife returned home and had a meal before going out to find her child. When she found a tiny bone but not her baby, she went wild with grief and leapt off the cliff.

A friend of a friend had been stationed in Sohra as an administrator by the government. He gave directions over the phone to my driver on some sights I should see before heading over to meet him for lunch. I met my friend of a friend at his office and we soon headed out after he wrapped up a few orders of business. We dropped by his residence for a tasty home-cooked meal, and then he gave me a tour of the township before we parted ways.

Although less than 60 km separates Shillong from Sohra, there is a lot to see on the road to Cherrapunji. There is a viewpoint at Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge, named after a former chieftain of the region. Unfortunately haze shrouded my glimpse into the plains of Bangladesh as I stood on the cliffs of Cherrapunji, my broad shoulders dropping in disappointment. At the Mawsmai Cave, sharp rocks, slippery pathways, and narrow openings allowed for some spine-tingling exploration of eerie limestone structures. As we returned into Shillong, my driver and I agreed to continue our partnership into a third day for further adventures.