By Priyan R Naik
For the longest time, I have eagerly wanted to visit the wettest place on earth. The problem was whether to visit Cherrapunji or Mawsynram? When I was in school, and when quizzed, the answer to ‘Which is the wettest place in the world?’ was always Cherrapunji. Now, a town 80 Kilometres away by road from Cherrapunji has reached the top. All quiz masters now realised Mawsynram was the answer to the “wettest place” question.
Hardly 15 kilometers apart as the crow flies, the reason for heavy rainfall in these two places is the monsoon clouds that form over the Bay of Bengal. They fly over relatively flat terrains until they reach this part of Meghalaya forming a funnel effect and get forced to converge into a narrow zone after they encounter the steep slopes of the Khasi Hills. They are compelled to offload their moisture before they can cross the hills.
Rainfall was bountiful in June 2022. Data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) shows Mawsynram rewrote its longstanding June rainfall record, with a whopping 1003.6 mm on June 17, beating the previous record of 945 mm in 1966. Despite receiving 973 mm of rain, Cherrapunji was pushed to a second place although it rained more than the 1966 Mawsynram record. The extra 69 mm of rain helped Mawsynram retain its top position.
Normally, the average annual rainfall is considered to be the ‘wettest place on earth’. With its average annual rainfall of 11,872 mm, Mawsynram is arguably the wettest place on earth making Cherrapunji with its rainfall of 11,777 mm the second wettest place. (Two places in Columbia – López de Micay and Lloró, that claim an average annual rainfall of 12,892 mm and 12717 mm, respectively dispute this assertion).
Debates aside, Cherrapunji still holds other rainfall related records. In July of 1861 for example, Cherrapunji had received a total rainfall of 9,300 mm and had also received rain totalling 22,992 mm in the whole year, the maximum rainfall received in one calendar year.
So much for statistics, which undoubtedly confirmed that Mawsynram enjoyed a slender edge over Cherrapunji. Nevertheless my dilemma remained, which of the two wet places should I visit? Constantly having heard of Cherrapunji right through my school days and beyond, also conveniently accessible from Shillong and with such a small difference in rainfall to boot, it made eminent sense to visit Cherrapunji instead of the town of Mawsynram, which was also so difficult to pronounce and to spell!
So Cherrapunji it was, the high-altitude town, also known as Sohra in local parlance, famous for its living root bridges made from rubber trees, for its waterfalls and for its ‘view points’ that overlook verdant gorges. Ironically, on the day of my visit there wasn’t a drop of rain. The place looked dry as a bone, bleached by the weather, while dust flew all around. Noticing my exasperation at finding Cherrapunji without rain, my driver immediately suggested going to Mawsynram. It struck me that as a local, he would be able to address my quandary. His reply : “Both are equally wet, it’s just a marketing gimmick to increase tourist footfalls!”
Bengaluru too has its fair share of rain, its rainfall patterns show a variation in annual rainfall from as low as 500 mm to as high as 1350 mm, the city’s average being 970 mm. To put the figures in perspective, remember the 973 mm of rainfall in Cherrapunji – Bengaluru’s rainfall in one whole season is what Cherrapunji achieves in just one day!
The writer is a contributor at The Shillong Times