Road Less Travelled Travel

A journey to Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth

In the land of clouds Panoramic view of the East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStock Danielrao

Slanting drops of rain slam the sodden earth like iridescent sheets of gunfire. They beat a steady drumroll on the houses scattered across the countryside. They glisten on the brown cows that stand as stock-still as the rocks. A pillar of cloud, like its biblical ancestor, leads the car I’m travelling in on a misty road that snakes into the distance. The wheels crunch over gravel and whirr through red mud as 26-year-old Rafelong, the Coldplay-loving taxi driver from Shillong, drives kamikaze-style to Mawsynram in the East Khasi Hills. Although I have a growing sense of kinship with Lord Cardigan, the luckless commander of the charge of the Light Brigade, I’m keen to visit the town that ousted Cherrapunji from the podium.

A journey to Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth

Shillong is still a charming town with its home-brewed brand of Western music, gracious cafés and friendly people. But, the former capital of undivided Assam bursts at its seams, thanks to hordes of tourists who arrive to escape the heat of the plains and catch a glimpse of the monsoon. When you are done exploring its quieter suburbs crowded with clusters of pine and rhododendron, push on to discover the sacred groves at Mawphlang, the root bridges at Nongriat, Asia’s cleanest village at Mawlynnong, the underground caves at Mawjymbuin and the drizzly hills of Mawsynram.

How to get there
  • By road: Mawsynram is 60.9 km from Shillong and takes around two hours. Taxis charge between ₹2,500 and ₹3,000.
  • By rail: Guwahati Railway Station, 99 km from Shillong, is a 150-minute bus ride on NH6.
  • By air: Umroi, 30 km from Shillong, has flights from Kolkata and other Northeastern capitals. The Guwahati International airport has daily flights from across India.

The road to Mawsynram is good, but the drifts of rain and spray from the innumerable gushing waterfalls that line it, and sometimes wash over it, lend poor visibility. Bamboo-splints divert water to the fields where farmers in wellingtons and knups — a tortoise shell-shaped shield made of grass and bamboo used as rain cover — are taking a bidi-break from turning over clods of earth. The countryside is an immodest green and frogs peep from under huge Jurassic-era ferns. Young men kick a ball covered in slush into the goalpost on a field. School kids scurry into classrooms, their socks surprisingly white and uniforms dry. Lunch is at Tyrsad — local rice with mashed potato and a bland chicken gravy — in a lace-curtained roadside restaurant. “After this, we drive through forests,” says Rafelong. So, I decide to use the privy. It’s unbelievably clean, although its walls are swollen with damp and the water has a sheet of moss on it. We arrive at Mawsynram an hour later, fortified by steaming tea and vanilla cake.

A journey to Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth

With nearly 11,861 mm of rain, the equivalent of nearly 40 feet, the monsoon that runs for nearly 10 months makes rains at other places seem like a child’s tearful outburst. The subtropical highland climate and the showery rain keep the temperature below 20 degrees C. Summer air currents from the steaming Bangladesh plains to the South swarm up the hills, but when they squeeze through them they are forced to drop the rains here. It was through the same route that Christianity came to Meghalaya when Reverend Thomas Jones introduced the Khasis to Presbyterianism in 1841. Other missionaries followed suit, clambering over from Bangladesh, resulting in the countryside sprouting churches of various denominations. Tussocks of grass are thrown over the town’s tin roofs to lessen the noise of the maddening drizzle. I climb down a hillside and lose my footing on the moss-lined steps. I come up drenched, clutching handfuls of wet grass, feeling like one of the characters in a Jack London novel who wants to lie down and let the wolves pick her bones. A woman stops by, holding an umbrella over my head. Her brother gives me his hand. And, her mother leads me to their home for vanilla cakes and tea.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 2:56:34 AM |

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