Heaven no more

I do not believe in heaven or hell. But after visiting Cherrapunjee, my faculties were numbed by the pristine nature and its vastness, the wandering clouds which kissed the deep green hills and romanced with the waterfalls, sometimes hiding them behind the white veil. I admit it was heaven and I could only borrow Wordsworth’s lines and tweak them a little to say ‘My heart leaps up when I behold/the pristine beauty of Cherrapunjee’.”
These were the exact words of a professor of English, an avid traveller, who had introduced me to the beauty of Cherrapunjee one August evening in 2014. He was narrating his experience from 1982.
The professor inspired me to visit the “heaven” in my lifetime and I did, in 2016. Cherrapunjee, whose local moniker is Sohra, had lost much of its beauty by then, or at least that’s what I was told by some fellow travellers who were revisiting the place for the nth time.
Indeed Sohra has lost its charm over the years. The mushrooming RCC buildings dotting the hills would strike even a first-time visitor. The concrete juts out of the green cover like a malignant growth on the hills. Restaurants, guest houses and home stays are aplenty today making Sohra an easy terrain for tourists.
The pernicious impact of development in one of the most popular tourism sites in Meghalaya can be felt now as urbanisation overpowers nature.
Prabir Dutta from Kolkata, who visited Cherrapunji for the fourth time in 2018, was disappointed by the decadence that “is gradually setting in ruining the charm of Sohra”.
“Sohra was once my favourite retreat for its natural beauty and tranquility. However, with time it is only worsening. Last year, I visited during summer and the temperature was unbearable during the day. It is one of my favourite places near home and I was saddened by the gradual deterioration in the environment. The quietness of the place is also disturbed by honking cars,” Dutta told Sunday Shillong on phone.
Dutta felt the ‘heat’ as an outsider and the locals too are feeling the same. Several residents of Shillong whom Sunday Shillong spoke to say Sohra has lost its charm all thanks to “mindless development” (if at all we call it development) and its fallout.
The hills surrounding Sohra have lost much of its green cover, both forests and vegetation, and the place has become drier.
“We had read in our geography textbook that Cherrapunjee is the second wettest place on the planet after Mawsynram. But where is the rain now. Textbooks should be updated,” says Parash Chhetri, a resident of Shillong.
Minarcia B Khongwir, principal of Cherra Teachers’ Training College, was born and brought up in Sohra. She rues the growing pollution level. She echoes Dutta’s views saying while temperature has gone up rainfall has reduced.
The effect of global warming and climate change can also be felt in this once sleepy town in East Khasi Hills.
“Earlier, it would rain heavily in July but that is not the case now. Overall rainfall has also come down. This is of course the direct fallout of deforestation,” says Khongwir.
Data provided by the India Meteorological Department in Shillong shows wide fluctuations in annual rainfall patterns in East Khasi Hills in the last two decades. While 2014 was the driest year with 1327.5 mm rainfall, 2000 was the wettest with 3,824.6 mm.
Coal mining, which was practised till 2014, has done irreparable damage to the place. Even today, one can see rat-holes along the road like eyesores.
Parag Dutta, an old resident of Shillong who now lives in Kolkata, says rainfall has drastically decreased and “women in Sohra have a tough time fetching water and they have to trek kilometers to do that”.
With the changes taking place fast, Cherrapunjee may soon lose its position as the second wettest place on Earth. If tourism continues at the current pace, and which is bound to increase over time, and the number of buildings continues to multiply, then the place will also lose its serenity or what is left of it.

~ NM

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