Dinesh in Cherrapunjee

Most people don't want rain on their vacation; some misguided souls actually go looking for it. I recently went to one of the world's wettest places--Cherrapunjee, India--specifically to experience the heavy rains.

The town of Cherrapunjee (locally called Cherra) in eastern India has an average yearly rainfall of 450 inches, second only to Mt. Waialeale on the island of Kauai which receives 460 inches of rain per year. The rainfall on Mt. Waialeale is spread over 12 months, while Cherra gets almost all of its rain in the six monsoon months of April through September. And while nobody lives on Mt. Waialeale, 70,000 people call Cherra their home.

Unfortunately, the rain gods didn't cooperate with me. In the two days prior to my arrival, it rained 19 inches. During my seven day stay, it rained only 10 inches and all of it at night.

Exasperated by a lack of opportunity to experience the rain, I finally walked at 3 A.M. one night with an umbrella in one hand and a small flashlight in my mouth. Luckily, the temperature was quite pleasant. The heavy raindrops hitting the pavement soaked up to my knees in a matter of minutes, but I was elated at finally getting my walk in the rain.

 
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Cherra is located just 15 miles north of the India-Bangladesh border in the Indian state of Meghalaya, which means "the abode of clouds". To get there, I flew from San Francisco to London to Delhi to Guwahati; then, took a helicopter to Shillong and finally a two hour taxi ride to Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, a small six room hotel. Note the waterfalls. I could see 16 from my hotel.

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A collapsing hillside exposes the previously buried water line.

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I arrived in Cherra on the afternoon of June 20. June is the month with the most rain; about 108 inches on average. My plan was to walk five to six hours every day, hopefully in heavy rain, but as I walked the next morning, there was only mist.

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The town of Cherra is green but not as lush as you might expect. Most trees have been cut and turned into firewood.

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My hotel is a few miles outside the town of Cherra and the surrounding area is quite lush. Villages tucked away in the hills are accessed only on foot by stone steps like these.

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While Joel, a local boy, and I were descending steps to a river 2,000 feet below my hotel, I slipped on a fruit skin and broke a bone in my left arm. A local medicine man prepared some plant lotion and applied it to my arm while pulling and tugging at it and somehow setting the bone into place. The next day, an orthopedist in Shillong reset other smaller fractures and put my arm in a cast.

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Looking down towards the water-soaked Bangladesh plains. The terrain rises steeply from the India-Bangladesh border to Cherra, which sits at an elevation of 4,500 ft.

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The weather instruments at Cherra. The instrument on the left graphically records minute by minute rainfall. The other two are electronic and manual rain gages. Cherra records go back well over 150 years. A world record 1,042 inches of rain fell between August 1860 and July 1861. More recently, 1974 saw 967 inches of rain.

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A typical overloaded inter-city bus.

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Would you believe that Cherra has a drinking water shortage? Government apathy, a population surge due to local jobs, and a very porous limestone layer all contribute to the problem. Notice hardly any standing water even after three inches of rain.