Cherapunjee: cliffs, gorges and sacred groves

Country/territory: India

IBA criteria met: A1, A2, A3 (2004)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 1,000 ha

Bombay Natural History Society
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) Threat (pressure) Condition (state) Action (response)
2003 high not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring, please click here

Site description (baseline)
Cherrapunjee also known as “abode of cloud” is one of the highest rainfalls areas in the world (24,461 mm in 1860-61 and over 24,000 mm in 1974). Under Sohra Subdivision in East Khasi Hills, Cherrapunjee is traversed by a number of deep gorges that have cliffs like Nohkalikai, Mawiir, Mawpyrkong, Thankarang and Mawiew beside the Shillong-Sohra road near Sohra Bazar. Large smoothly undulating plateaux are found over the cliffside. This site is the home for 30% of the total global known population of the Dark-rumped or Khasi Hills Swift Apus acuticauda. The climate is subtropical monsoon with distinct wet and dry seasons. The long wet monsoons are from May through October and cold dry from November to February with a short spring during March-April. Current average annual rainfall is just above 12,000 mm. The temperature varies from a maximum 25 °C to a minimum of 3 °C. Relative humidity ranges from 47% to 92%. Frosted dew is also observed early morning in different parts of Cherrapunjee during January. The vegetation of Cherrapunjee is quite peculiar and has a ‘shola’ like appearance. Vast tracts of short as well as tall grassland and patches of ‘crooked’ forest occur on the slopes along the streams and rivulets (Tripathi et al. 1995). The local people regard most of the patches as ‘sacred groves’. However, ecologists believe that this landscape of Cherrapunjee has emerged due to deforestation and traditional jhum cultivation in the past (Tripathi et al. 1995). Broadleaf Evergreen Forest is found on the steep slopes below cliffs and gorges. Waterfalls and scenic beauty attract many tourists to this area. Cherrapunjee and its surroundings have many small and largesized sacred groves, which are refuge to a number of species of birds and other fauna. The Mawsmai sacred groove is the largest among them with an area of 600 ha.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: About 100 bird species have been recorded till now in this IBA (Ahmed et al. 2003), particularly hill birds such as Mountain Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola fytchii, Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis, Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus, Orangebellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii, Ashy Bulbul Hemixos flavala, Striated Prinia Prinia criniger, Hill Prinia Prinia atrogularis and Grey-hooded Warbler Seicercus xanthoschistos. This site is selected as an IBA on the basis of the presence of Vulnerable Dark-rumped or Khasi Hills Swift. This bird is specialized to live in the crevices present on the perpendicular cliff in this wettest place in India.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: There are not many larger mammals in this area, only Serow Nemorhaedus sumatraensis is reported to be present.

Key contributors: M Firoz Ahmed, Bibhuti P Lahkar and Hilloljyoti Singha.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Cherapunjee: cliffs, gorges and sacred groves. Downloaded from on 03/06/2023.