Poor facilities washing away Cherrapunjee’s tourism prospects


Cherrapunjee (Meghalaya): Dotted with waterfalls cascading over deep gorges, this town – renamed Sohra – is famous the world over as the wettest place on earth due to its magical rains. But lack of facilities have prompted some to dub it as a “third class tourist destination”.

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“Cherrapunjee is a third class tourist destination. I feel tourists visiting Cherrapunjee are being cheated,” H.T. Sangliana, vice chairman of the National Minority Commission, told IANS.

Cherrapunjee is based on the edge of a plateau on the southern slopes in the East Khasi Hills district. Located 1,290 metres above sea level and 56 km from state capital Shillong, it is known to receive the highest rainfall in the world.

This town records an average rainfall of 12,000 mm a year, with the maximum occurring over the southern slopes of the Khasi Hills. The highest recorded total annual rainfall was 24,555 mm in 1974.

Heavy rains have created rare bio-diverse vegetation here and made the town a high point of tourism in the state.

But infrastructure for tourists are woefully lacking. The town has just 25 rooms for visitors and poor toilet facilities.

Sangliana, MP, a former Indian Police Service officer, said the road leading to Cherrapunjee is in an awful condition.

“It’s awful. There are no proper public toilets and very few hotels. There is no afforestation and no flower beds. Tourists are being cheated, they come for something and are getting nothing,” Sangliania added.

Tourism Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh disagreed with the criticism.

“He (Sangliana) must have expected Cherrapunjee to be like Switzerland…It cannot be so. We are a growing state and the government is doing its best,” she said.

Sangliana’s criticism, however, has received support from many, including the local legislator, inhabitants and the tourism industry.

“Yes, he (Sangliana) is right. Cherrapunjee needs a lot of improvement, but it will take some time for the government to develop it,” P.W. Khongjee, the legislator from Cherrapunjee, told IANS.

“The government needs to take serious steps to provide basic infrastructure to attract tourists,” he said.

Firstborn Kharkongor, a resident, said the natural beauty of Cherrapunjee is “first class, but roads and infrastructure are definitely third class”.

“The interior roads, especially those leading to the falls and caves, are full of potholes and narrow. The government has failed to maintain this tourist destination,” he said.

Denis P. Rayen, who runs the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort in Laitkynsew village, blamed the government’s “unrealistic” tourism policy on Cherrapunjee for the present condition.

“The government unrealistically wants to charter foreigners into Cherrapunjee without giving a thought that the bulk of tourists visiting are from Assam and West Bengal,” Rayen told IANS.

Initially the locals were averse to tourists visiting the area, he said. Places of accommodation were destroyed as they feared outsiders coming to the area. “This mindset has changed and locals are slowly catching up with the modern world,” Rayen said.

With the coming of the British who set up their headquarters further south, the Cherra village came to be known as Cherrapunjee. It was here that the British realised the intensity of the rainfall and set up a meteorological office to measure it.

Sohra was declared by the British to be the capital of Assam in 1832, which was later shifted to Shillong in 1866 due to the weather.