Cherrapunjee Now a wet desert

When Sted Syiemlieh was a little boy, people in his mountain village, Tyrna, a few km from Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, could predict when the skies would open up. "It was always at the same time,' the 75-year-old farmer says. "Those days, we could tell how long the rain would last. If it went beyond three days, we knew that the rains would go on for nine days. So, we would prepare to plant our crop accordingly,' he says.

Back then people in his village used to plant oranges, coffee beans, paan and bay leaves, betel nut, sweet potatoes, yam and other tubers which they traded for rice, vegetables and dried fish at the weekly haat some 25 km away, in what's now Bangladesh. That trade stopped decades ago with the drawing of borders. "Those days, we did not have to worry about food like we do now,' Syiemlieh says. "Now everything is upside down. It's difficult to predict when the rains will come."

Difficult to predict maybe but skies do open up in Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills. It had been pouring incessantly since we left Shillong for Cherrapunjee in the wee hours of June 16. Thick, swirling clouds that give this northeastern state its name