I am standing in front of a notice board at the Ramakrishna Mission in Cheerapunji. A neat table is filled with numbers penned by hand. On the left are cumulative numbers for the past months of the year. On the right are daily rainfall figures for the month of May. Had I come tomorrow, I might have seen only one little entry for the month of June. There is possibly no direct link between spirituality and rainfall but Ramakrishna Mission is the place where the raingauge for Cheerapunji is located.
A sign says boldly that photography is strictly prohibited as if these measurements of rainfall are valuable information to be guarded tenaciously. I take note of a few numbers:
|Period||Millimeters of Rain|
These are probably readings taken at a certain time every morning. Yesterday’s rainfall is no indication of today’s. It is not raining at this moment and though clouds are everywhere, they do not appear to threaten immediate rain. It may rain in an hour, after sunset, through the night or only in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. One can never be certain about the rain in Cheerapunji. When it does, it may be a light drizzle or a torrential downpour. This unpredictability comes with lots of drama. The dynamism of nature and the movement of clouds are more important than the rain itself. They deserve attention and audience.
It is said that this town situated on a high plateau is facing water shortage these days. Let us not blame global warming. Let us blame the lack of initiative and action of the people of Cheerapunji and the government. With so much rain, rain water harvesting and storage should be more than enough. This is still a village with a sustainable population. They say that Mawsynram just a few miles from here has overtaken Cheerapunji in annual rainfall but this is still a wet place with a great deal of weather wonder.
Hills surround Cheerapunji in all directions. A deep valley descends on one side. Great white clouds linger in the valley for a long time. Light breezes sweep them around. Once in a while, a single cloud escapes from its companions and travels far into the valley. It travels lightly, pausing often on its way. It is like a reconnaisance before the main attack, to ascertain what parts of the valley require rain and how much. When the winds gather force, the clouds billow up from the depths of the valley and stand on the brink of Cheerapunji. They wait for the right moment to leave the valley and enter town. It is a sight to reckon – clouds poised together ready for attack. When they do, whiteness envelopes every street and corner. The clouds pass. There is not going to be any rain this afternoon. I am not in luck.
I would like to see some rain. I enquire for places to stay but Cheerapunji, a famous place on the world map and visited often by tourists, is undeveloped for tourism. The fact is that all of Meghalaya tourist industry is concentrated in Shillong. People do day trips to Cheerapunji and return to the capital. The same can be said of many of the state’s tourist destinations spread around Shillong. The most basic room starts at Rs. 550. A more comfortable one is at an outrageous Rs. 1200 per night.
‘Do you have rooms for visitors?’ I ask at the Ramakrishna Mission office.
‘The rooms are only for devotees,’ tells the man.
‘Well, I have read some of your books,’ I reply. I am not lying but the man looks at me without conviction. With a ten-year old tattered cap, a backpack and hiking boots, I hardly fit the profile of his idea of a devotee.
‘You have to get permission from the manager,’ he tells me. I go in search of this special person but I don’t find him. Instead I take some time to visit their museum. It has a good collection of tribal artefacts of the region.
With no place to stay or have proper food, I need to move on. There are places to see around Cheerapunji but without own transport it’s going to be difficult for me to explore any of them. I return to the bus stand and get a Tata Sumo bound for Shillong. The journey back to the capital is not any different from the way into Cheerapunji. To the right is the same beautiful valley, steep on both sides, descending deeply to a narrow pass and thickly forested. It is a remarkable valley of complete green cover with not a single hut or walking path. It is truly nature untouched. I am awed by the wonder of this valley. Suddenly there is a waterfall plunging against a backdrop of rugged red-brown cliffs. It is more than beautiful. It is a dream and a poem.