on Rainfall in Cherrapunjee

SourceHistory of the Catholic Missions in Northeast India (1890-1915) Written By: Rev. Fr. Christopher Becker SDS. Translated from German to English by: Rev. Fr. G.Stadler SDB & Rev. Fr. S. Karotemprel SDB
Published by: Firma KLM Private Limited , 257-B, B.B. Ganguly Street, Kolkata – 700 012, India. Copyright: Vendrame Missiological Institute, Shillong, 1980 
Pages: 199 – 202

Another mission station in the Khasi Hills is that of Cherrapunjee. Who has not heard of this place, which merits mention in geography books as the place, which has the highest rainfall in the world? The place stands 1484 metres above sea level on a plateau in the southern part of the Khasi Hills. Nature, which has decked the higher regions of the Khasi Hills with a green carpet of grass and pine forests, seems to be less generous here. All round one sees bald hills with scanty vegetation and rocky soil. Only here and there in the narrow gorges groves of trees can be seen. These are sacred places reserved for sacrifice. Thundering mountain streams carve their way through hills and valleys along the stony beds in the rainy season. There are magnificent waterfalls as they plunge down from high rocks to form deep pools in the plains below, the Sylhet valley spreads out in a wonderful panorama from Cherrapunjee. Laitkynsew can be reached from here in two hours. The area surrounding the village is rich in minerals, especially coal and limestone.

Cherrapunjee nestles on the road, which joins the large valleys of Assam: the Surma Valley and the Brahmaputra Valley. This road divides the Khasi Hills from the north to south. After the annexation of the Khasi Hills in the year 1833, the British made Cherrapunjee their headquarters. Several reminders of their presence are still found here. The Government headquarters were shifted to Shillong in 1864 on account of the adverse effects, which the humid climate and the incessant rains had on the morale of the British soldiers stationed in Cherrapunjee. Under such trying conditions some even committed suicide. The heavy monsoon clouds, which come from the south west are driven on to the slopes of the hills and then pour down immense quantities of water on the southern slopes of the Khasi Hills around Cherrapunjee. In higher altitudes such as Shillong, the volume of rainfall is far less. The distance from Shillong to Cherrapunjee is fifty-five kilometers. Not without reason has Cherrapunjee achieved fame as being the place with the heaviest rainfall on earth. One must experience it to have an idea of the immense quantity of rain which comes down from the skies, at times day and night without a stop. It is enough to go a few steps from the house to be drenched from head to foot. An umbrella serves no purpose. The heaviest rainfall occurs from May to October. For several years there has been an official hydrometer at the Catholic Mission. The missionary sent the report of the measurement of rainfall to the government once a month, to be published in the official gazette. The rainfall at home is about sixty centimetres per year, but the average rainfall at Cherrapunjee during the last thirty years has been nearly twelve metres (488″ – i.e. 12512 mm). There were several years when the rainfall was more than fifteen metres. You can well imagine what a large sea there would be if this amount of water were stored up!

Since it rains only during the rainy season, the rain is always heavy. What is called heavy rains at home is something quite different from the rainfall in Cherrapunjee. The missionary, for example on 25th July, 1910, measured in one day, within 24 hours, 28 ¼ inches of rain (that is, 724 mm)! This amount of rain alone is more than a whole year’s rainfall at home! (On 19th July 2004 it rained 793.2 mm.)

Such heavy rains produce extreme dampness which penetrates everything, causes severe soil erosion and floods as the waters rush down to the plains. Tables, chairs, benches, etc. must be fixed with bolts; otherwise they fall to pieces. Iron bolts cannot be used because they rust and become loose. Only wood or brass can be used. It is the same with nails. Shoe nails must be made of wood! Leather articles get mildewed and deteriorate. Books disintegrate and become discoloured. New books no longer look new after a rainy season! Clothes, linen, bed sheets and blankets are always damp and have an unpleasant odour. One longs for sunshine in order to bring everything out into the open to dry. Salt melts and medicines are spoiled. Flour and rice become lumpy unless they are closed in airtight containers or kept in a heated room! The host for Holy Mass must be made only two or three days in advance. It cannot be kept long because it begins to decay. The consecrated host in the monstrance breaks off at the edge of lunette and warps. The consecrated hosts in the ciborium which are kept in a double box of lead covered with wood, form into a lump. The priest does not put the hosts on the paten before Holy Mass but he takes them in a box to the altar. Only at the offertory does he open it. In the short time from the offertory to the consecration the host becomes so soft because of the dampness in the air that it is warped by the time of the elevation