SHILLONG, May 1, 2018 (TNN): One of the rainiest places on earth is going dry. Cherrapunjee, now renamed Sohra, has long been part of the collective memory of generations who first encountered the name in school textbooks as “the rainiest place on earth”. Receiving about 450 inches of rainfall in a year-despite the dry months in winter-Sohra now takes turns in sharing the distinction with neighbouring Mawsynram in the East Khasi Hills.

The idea of making Sohra the capital of the northeast was abandoned by the British in 1864 after months of incessant rain dampened the spirits of the colonisers. “When the British were here, people wouldn’t see the sun for three months at a stretch,” says former Sohra legislator Titos Chyne. In 1861, British records state Sohra got 1,042 inches of rainfall annually.


More than a century later, tourists keep arriving in droves just to witness the biblical proportions of rainfall. For the people of Sohra, however, all of this amounts to nothing. “What do we do with a record if we don’t get drinking water?” asks 29-year-old Balbinia Lyngdoh, a resident of Sohra. Water is supplied for an hour a day only. “That’s during the rainy season. In winter, we can’t even count on that,” she adds.

 “Piped water from PHE (public health engineering department) comes for an hour a day. Right from Mawpdong, you can see people queueing up for drinking water,” says Chyne. It has been decades since the oxymoron “wet desert” was first applied to Sohra. And it still holds true.
PHE is one of the two departments looking after water supply in Sohra, the other being the soil and water conservation department. In 2010, it launched the Greater Sohra Water Supply Scheme at a cost of Rs 4.13 crore. Eight years later, dependable water supply is still a pipe dream. “If we don’t get water, we have to buy it at Rs 300 for 1,000 litres. Those who can’t afford to do so have to walk to the nearest stream or well,” says Phos Tariang, headman of Khliehshnong, a village in Sohra.

Sohra is located at an elevation of 1,484 m atop a plateau overlooking Bangladesh. The topography of the place is responsible both for its record-breaking spells of rain and is also one of the reasons why water supply is such a challenge here. Monsoon winds blowing from across the plains of Bangladesh hit the plateau, rise, cool and precipitate.

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