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The place with world record rainfall July 22, 2013

Posted by Jenny in nature, travel, weather.
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Sign at Cherrapunjee, India.

Sign at Cherrapunjee, India.

Read Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater.*  It’s about a man who, after a spell of physical illness and mental stagnation, breaks out of his torpor and embarks on a journey to follow the course of the monsoon in India. His final destination is Cherrapunji in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, a small town that holds the world record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and in a year.

Those records were set during a freakish period. Cherrapunji received 366 inches of rain in July 1861 and 1,042 inches between August 1, 1860 and July 31, 1861. Yet despite what the sign says above, it is not currently the wettest place on earth. That title is in dispute between Mawsynram—a village close to Cherrapunji—and Lloro, Colombia. Mawsynram has average annual rainfall of 467.4 inches, while Lloro averaged 500.7 inches a year between 1952 and 1989.

I begin to see how hard it is to define “wettest place on earth.” Over what period? How recently? Wettest in normal conditions or during a period of bizarre, catalysmic drenching?

But any way you look at it, these places have incredible amounts of rainfall compared with annual precipitation of around 45 inches for temperate Eastern cities in the U.S. and about 85 inches for the highest points in the Smokies. Totals for this very wet year will be quite a bit higher than average, here in western North Carolina and east Tennessee, but I think it’s fair to say the Cherrapunjians would laugh at us.

Alexander Frater reached Cherrapunji with great difficulty on his 1987 trip. The region was experiencing political unrest that year, and it took formidable persistence in the face of the famously sluggish Indian bureaucracy to obtain the precious document he needed, his “Cherrapunji Permission.” But after shuttling back and forth between one self-important official to another, from ministry to agency to Foreigners Registration, pulling strings, whining and pleading his case, he obtained the magic words: He could go within a window of three days.

He got there in a small aircraft piloted by one of India’s best monsoon flyers, and even so the landing was hazardous.

Captain Ravi went skimming down the valley wall like a swallow, racing the mist and rain to the runway threshold. It was a wild, exhilarating ride, made with surging engines and many small, abrupt course changes. The strip, visible across a rushing forest canopy, began diminishing as the rain squall reached its further end and hastened along it. Green birds exploded from the tree tops and passed inches beneath our wheels.

And so he arrived in a world of water, everything vivid green under gray supersaturated skies, where waterfalls tumbled from a massive plateau down to the Bangladesh plains.

I first read the book quite a few years back, and I still dip into it—so to speak— from time to time. It’s one of my very favorite travel books. Read it, if you have a chance.

* Alexander Frater, Chasing the Monsoon. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1991.

Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji.

Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji.