April 20, 2008 4:35:25 pm
In Sohra, one of the wettest places in the world, what you find is a barren, mysterious beauty—and the rampage of raindrops on your roof
For a place which till recently called itself the wettest on the planet, the landscape of Sohra (Cherrapunjee) is incredibly sparse. As you move your eyes across the green and rocky plateau, you hardly see trees. Instead, the harsh black of the boulders and the cloud-filled valley underlines the remoteness of this weeping landscape. It’s also ironic how, in spite of recording an average of more than 11,000 mm rain per year between 1973 and 2006 and more than 12,000 mm in 2007 itself, Sohra suffers from acute water scarcity owing to the massive run-off.
The first night in the town, I am woken up by a loud drumming on the tin roof. The first drops have arrived. Soon, the air is overtaken by a monstrous thunder, a coordinated noise rivalling the wild rampage of a thousand elephants. The rain does not fall at Sohra, it lashes. It travels horizontally over great distances on forceful gusts of wind.
The next morning, while walking on the Shella (pronounced che-lla) road towards Mawsmai caves and Nohsngithiang or the Seven Sister waterfalls (both 6km from Sohra), I come across hills dotted with monoliths and old graveyards. These crosses and moss-ridden stones speak of the mysterious past, of the legends that have circulated over these brooding hills for centuries. The Khasis (the tribe that mostly inhabits this region of Meghalaya and comprises around half of the population of the state) have a story for everything. They believe the monoliths are the work of an ancient race of men of Herculean strength, who drove these stones into the earth with just a single blow.
The most revered of the stones is Ka Khoh Ramhah (or the giant cone). Around 13km from Sohra, the locals believe it to be the Khoh ( a traditional Khasi conical basket) of a giant called Ramhah who used to wreak havoc on the nearby villages. The people had their revenge by feeding him broken glasses and ground iron pieces along with his meal. In this barren landscape, you may be the only one gaping at its magnificent size and the plains of Bangladesh in the background.
An even better view is promised at Thangkharang Park (around a kilometre from Ka Khoh Ramhah) where it is said on a clear day you can see right up to the lights of Dhaka. When I reach the viewpoint, all I notice are cloudy, meandering outlines of great rivers. In this part of the country, you can travel the whole spectrum of weather conditions within hours. At the park, a group of Khasi women are plucking some local berries called sohum, which they offer me, and I am intrigued by the world of Khasi food.
Later that evening, I visit Magrita Nongkynrih’s Khasi restaurant in Cherra bazaar. I am led to a glass counter behind which the various dishes of the day are stocked in bowls. I indicate all, along with a cup of sha sao (translated as red tea, as they call black tea here). The thick, sticky rice is brought in a deep plate, and surrounding it lie four plates. On my immediate left is doh syrwa (a delicious thin soup made up of pork chunks and mustard greens). My waiter informs me that this is a local speciality in Cherrapunjee. On its right is doh jem (small chunks of pork cooked with oil), next fried potatoes and finally doh kjat (pig’s trotters cooked in a thin ginger-infused broth). Unbelievable as it may sound, this sumptuous meal costs me Rs30.
Before leaving, I make a quick dash to the Nohkalikai falls (6km from Sohra), and once again face the alluring inscrutability of this region. The mist refuses to clear up and for the first 45 minutes, I have to settle for hearing the roar of water falling from a great height. Then, in a flicker, the sunrays penetrate the fog, and I can see a thin milky spray plunging down the bare face of a mountain. The landscape relents, at last, but leaves so much still to be deciphered.
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