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 English alphabet.

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 town.

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 famed for.

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.

Travel Tips

How to go there:
Meghalaya Tourism runs buses between Shillong and Cheerapunji; shared taxis also ply.

Government circuit house

you can apply for permission to stay here at the Deputy Commissioner's office, Kacheri Road, Shillong.

Best time to visit:
After the monsoon or in summer

Whom to contact for travel bookings: Department of tourism, Meghalaya.

What to see:
Cheerapunji town, bazar, Mawsmai village, Nohsngithiang falls, Nohkalikai Falls, Mawsmai caves.

What to buy: Honey and handicrafts

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