Cheerapunji - Rain, Oranges and Honey
Once famed for having the highest rainfall in the world, Cheerapunji has now slipped
to second spot in those rankings. When it rains there, it pours. However when it
doesn't rain, it is extremely pleasant. Grey clouds wander about the sky so low
that you are tempted to touch them.
Cheerapunji lies on the southern edge of the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. It is
a 56- km, two hour drive from the State Capital, Shillong. Just outside Cheera,
as it is fondly called, is Mawsmai village, where the misty hills covered with lush
vegetation begin their slope into a deep,deep valley. From a vantage point, one
can see the famous Nohsnglthiang falls. On the southern side beyond the hills, lies
Bangladesh, barely 10 kms away. The Mawsmai village is an enchanting picnic spot.
The waterfalls, the Mawsmai limestone caves-said to be kilometers long and full
of stunning stactites and stalagmites- are tourist attractions.
Cheera is not really so much a place to 'see' as a place to 'feel'. The inhabitants
are Khasis, the tribe of Khasi hills. They speak khashi, though they script in the
An old Presbeterian Church built in 1848, the Cheera Theological college established
in 1887 and a Ramakrishna Mission of similar vintage, proclaim the antiquity of
The British once frequented the Cheera for its 'rain, oranges and honey'. Cheera
used to be a prolific producer of oranges. The British had even built a tiny airstrip
in the valley, in order to transport the fruit to Calcutta and then to England.
Today the airstrip has disappeared with disuse because there are no oranges to transport
out. Why widespread orange cultivation has stopped is not clear. Some attribute
it to changes in climate, others to deforestation. Another version ha it that an
epidemic destroyed the crop, and cultivation has never been the same again. However,
enough oranges are produced to make the orange flavoured honey that the region is
Despite its obvious tourist potential, Cheera has not been developed as a tourist
destination. The notable shyness of the people who look at you curiously from behind
their half closed doors, contrasts with their disarming affabilty and chattiness
once they get to know you a little better. Tourism would boost the town's economy
which, at present, revolves around a single source of employment.-the state owned
Mawmluch Cheera Cement Factory, which produces 250 tonnes a day.
Two years ago, the locals set up the Sohra Employment generation and Development
Council. The council wants Cheerapunji to be given its due importance as a tourist
centre by opening up hotels and restaurants.
Cheera is a place you would love to linger, but a dearth of hotels forces you to
back to Shillong.
How to go there:
Meghalaya Tourism runs buses between Shillong and Cheerapunji; shared taxis also
Government circuit house
you can apply for permission to stay here at the Deputy Commissioner's office, Kacheri
Best time to visit:
After the monsoon or in summer
Whom to contact for travel bookings: Department of
What to see:
Cheerapunji town, bazar, Mawsmai village, Nohsngithiang falls, Nohkalikai Falls,
What to buy: Honey and handicrafts