January 18, 2020
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No Stones In Bangladesh

No Stones In Bangladesh
'Welcome to the Wettest Place in the World,' proclaimed a signpost as we drove through the clouds into Cherrapunjee, now known by its original name, Sohra. The town is older than the state capital, Shillong, but doesn't look it. Surrounded by a grassy plateau marked with the occasional standing stone and piles of coal from tiny "rat hole" coal mines, it looks like a frontier town. The buildings are mainly modern concrete boxes. Officially, it's not the wettest place in the world either now, although locals are sceptical about Mawsynram village's claims to be wetter. According to them, the PWD official in Mawsynram sent in inflated figures because his official rain measure broke and he began collecting rain with an inaccurate glass bought from the local bazaar.

The road from Sohra to the area's only resort reveals some of the most impressive scenery in India. The tree-clad escarpments of the flat-topped Khasi hills drop dramatically into the plains of Bangladesh. Innumerable waterfalls spout from the hillside. Most visitors come to see the rain, the waterfalls and look down on Bangladesh. With standard bird-watching binoculars I could see not only Bangladesh but also Bangladeshis. Where a river flowed down on to the plains there was a kumbh mela of country craft. Dozens of people stood midstream. A local villager watched me watching. "No stones," he observed, "they don't have stones in Bangladesh. They take the ones the river brings down." He was right. The men midstream were collecting boulders which were then piled on the sandy banks. Not far off, limestone being mined from the Khasi hills was for a modern cement factory just across the border. The factory stood on what looked like an island. Much of the Bangladesh plains was under sheets of water. Even before global warming kicks in, this inundation already happens every monsoon. The joke in Sohra is that in a few years' time the Khasi hills will have a beach.

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