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The Wettest Place on Earth (and How To Get There)

This is part 4 in Extreme Travel series.

It’s a certain type of person who wants to visit the wettest place on earth. Maybe the Pacific Northwest was just a bit too arid for their liking. Or maybe a week-long trip to the Atacama left their skin drier than… well, the Atacama.

But who am I to judge? Whatever the reason, it’s time to get down with the wettest place on earth.

Sure, there are rainforests all across the globe that are pretty darn wet. (I mean, rain is in the name.) But to get to the true record holding wettest place, adventurous travelers will have to trek to South Asia.

Mawsynram and Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, India

Sandwiched between Bangladesh to the south and Bhutan to the north, Mawsynram is a village in northeast India that receives a stupid amount of rain every year. Its annual rainfall averages out to 467.4 inches (38.95 feet, 11.872 meters).

If those numbers aren’t blowing your mind on their own, consider that Seattle (the American cultural touchstone for a “super-wet place”) averages around 38 inches annually. Mobile, Alabama is the actual wettest place in the U.S., with a now-unimpressive average of 67 inches of rain each year.

The culprit behind all this precipitation? A monsoon climate coupled with the arrangement of the surrounding Khasi Hills. This combination of climate and geographical features results in near-continuous rainfall for most of the year.

The title of “wettest place” isn’t held without controversy, however. The nearby town of Cherrapunji also claims to be the wettest place on earth––though its average annual rainfall of 463.7 inches is just shy of Mawsynram’s1. But with rainfall totals like this, what’s a few inches? There’s no harm in saying both Mawsynram and Cherrapunji are both pretty sodden.

Mawsynram also holds the record for rainiest individual year in the 20th century. In 1985, Mawsynram got 1008.4 inches of rain (84 feet, 25.6 meters). Cherrapunji holds the world record for rainiest year since records began, with 1,042 inches (86.8 feet, 26.47 meters) from July 1860 to July 1861. In other words, Cherrapunji received 2.85 inches of rain every day for an entire year.

How to get there

India requires visitors obtain a valid visa prior to entry. U.S. citizens who plan to stay for under 30 days can apply for an electronic travel authorization here. Over 30 days and you’ll need to apply for a visa at an Indian Embassy or Consulate.

The CDC recommends that all India-bound travelers should be up to date on routine vaccines, and most should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Malaria and Japanese Encephalitis (if the planned stay is longer than a month.

Once the paperwork is in order, get ready to spend a long time in the air.

First, book a flight to New Delhi. From there, hop on a plane to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). From Kolkata, a prop plane will take you to Shillong. It’s about a two hour drive southwest from Shillong to Mawsynram. My advice would be to stay in Shillong (or nearby Cherrapunji) where there are hotels. Take a day trip or two down to Mawsynram.

Thankfully there are many tours available. I can’t imagine how often the road down gets flooded over; best leave the driving to the experts.

What to do

There are plenty of things to do and see in the region. There’s the Mawjymbuin cave system and a ton of waterfalls––including the seven-segment, 1,035 foot high Mawsmai Falls. (Of course the attractions rely on water.) There’s the food and culture of the region and scenic view in the hills when it’s not cloudy. (Good luck.)

But the coolest things about this region are the living bridges of Cherrapunji. Seriously, check this out:

Bamboo Bridge

Since the constant moisture would quickly compromise most wooden structures, these bridges were built using the root systems of rubber trees. Using trunks of a different tree, the roots are guided across a river until they reach the other side and root in the soil.

Each bridge takes 10 to 15 years to grow to a functional size; they increase in strength over time from there. There’s even a double-decker root bridge:

Double Decker Living Root Bridge

Essential items

Umbrellas, vinyl ponchos and a few good pairs of rubber boots.

Towels: of the beach, bath, hand and face variety.

A snorkel (just in case).

And every kind of waterproofing known to man. Whether it’s that spray-on waterproofing for clothing and shoes or a plastic baggie to put a smartphone in, you’ll thank me later.

1 footnote

  1. Puerto Lopez, Colombia may actually be the wettest place on earth. But its rainfall records are missing a few months, so it falls short of the necessary 30 continuous years of climate data. Until that requirement is met, Mawsynram technically holds the title.
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