The history of the Khasis – the inhabitants of Sohra – may be traced from the early part of the 16th century when the people were ruled by the Syiems (chieftains) of Khyriem in the Khasi hills. Sohra is a Hima (Syiemship), one of twenty that make up the Khasi Hills and is now one of the towns in the present East Khasi Hills district of the state of Meghalaya. In the early 18th century the British rulers entered Northeast India via Sylhet plains in the then East Bengal and set up their first headquarters at Sohra as it was well connected with Sylhet plains. The British could not pronounce the word Sohra and ended up calling it Chur(r)ra or Cherra. This name eventually evolved into the name, Cherrapunji ('land of oranges') when the word 'punjee’, a Bengali term to refer to a cluster of villages in the area was later suffixed to Cherra by the people coming from plains. After a long-standing demand of the indigenous groups of people in the state, the naming committee of Meghalaya state government's General Administration Department has dropped the name Cherrapunji and changed it back to Sohra, as it is traditionally called by the local tribal population.
Located at 4267 feet above sea level and inhabited by over 70,000 people from the Khasi tribe, Sohra received total 11,931.7 mm of rainfall during 1973-2006 with the record for the highest rainfall in a single day recorded at 2,455 mm in 1974. The heaviest rainfall in the place is experienced during the monsoon from April to September every year. Currently, Mawsynram, a small village near Sohra has replaced Sohra as the place that receives the highest rainfall anywhere in the world.
Sohra was the first town where the British sent the first British Christian missionaries, Reverend Thomas Jones and his wife Anna Jones from Wales. In his attempt to convert the Khasis to Christianity, Reverend Thomas Jones made an effort to learn the language and develop the written script. He is now known as the Father of the Khasi Alphabets and also the founder of the Khasi Literature. Five years after the arrival of the first missionaries, the first two Khasis were baptized and this event marked the establishment of the first Presbyterian Church at Nongsawlia and indeed the first Presbyterian Church in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. The original church built in 1846 was destroyed by an earthquake and the current church building that stands in its stead was build a hundred years later.
Sohra is also home to the memorial dedicated to David Scott, a British Administrator who served as an agent to the Governor-General on the North-East Frontier during the British period. A huge brick structure in the shape of an obelisk made of ashlar stone masonry raised over a square platform with an inscription engraved on the pillar, it sits behind an iron fence in the Sohra cemetery. David Scott is known for discovering and establishing a horse-cart track to travel from the then state of Assam to Bangladesh that later resulted in a war between the Khasis led by Tirot Singh and the British. The 16km track aptly named the David Scott Trail has now become one of the most famous and popular trekking trails in Sohra.
Famous not only as the first British foothold in the Northeast and its heavy rainfall, Sohra is also home to a number of natural sights that make this small town nestled in the clouds a must-visit destination in Meghalaya.
Must-visit spots in Sohra
Living root bridge:
Meghalaya is home to numerous living root bridges of which the most famous one is the Double-Decker Living Root Bridge in Nongriat village accessible by a 2-3 hour trek from Tyrna, a village in Sohra. More than 500 years old, the bridge is formed out of a tangle of massive thick roots, which have been intermingled to form a bridge that can hold several people at a time.
Sohra is dotted with numerous waterfalls cascading over deep gorges and almost all the waterfalls have legends associated with them. The most famous ones are the Nohkalikai Falls (India’s highest plunge waterfalls), the Kynrem Falls (the 7th highest waterfall in India), Dainthlen Falls and the Nohsngithiang Falls (also known as the Seven Sisters Falls).
Meghalaya is renowned for its complex cave systems underneath its hills and the longest sandstone cave, Krem Puri was recently discovered in East Khasi Hills. Sohra is also known for its caves, primarily limestone caves out of which the most common on the tourist route are Mawsmai Caves and Arwah Caves. The more adventurous can also explore the Krem Mawmluh with the help of competent guides only.
- Weather in Sohra is unpredictable so make sure you have your umbrella or Winchester at all times as well as a warm sweater or jacket.
- Try and stay at a homestay especially in Nongriat to experience the local culture first-hand.
- Don’t forget to visit the local market in Sohra to buy the famous Khasi Mandarin or Sohra oranges as well as Orange-flavored honey.
- Most of the tourist points in Sohra will have stalls selling bamboo handicrafts as well as handlooms that you can take away as souvenirs.