Monsoons

Akshat Jiwan Sharma, Sat May 09 2015

In India there is no other event that is anticipated with as much eagerness as the monsoons. The look out begins late in March or if we are lucky in mid April. By this time, in most parts of the country the remaining hint of cool wintry air is replaced by the warm summer wind which gets hotter by the day. The source of this heat are the great northern plains which absorb considerable sunlight during the day and raise the temperature of the surrounding air. The Thar desert on the western end becomes the hottest place in the country. The rest of the plains though comparatively cooler consistently record temperatures >40C.

The heat affects everyone. Now there are no more flowers in the parks, the grass needs to be watered at least three times a day and the sales of ice cream goes up. People are reluctant to step out in the noon and the evenings see an increased activity in the streets. The air conditioned malls become a popular hangout spot and the membership of the swimming pools are all sold out within a week. In these hard times the strained Indian populace needs a little help. We do not ask for much you see, just a little cloud here, a cool breeze there, to soothe the simmering land. And who better to listen to our pleas than the mighty seas.

As it happens we've got one on the west, on one the east and one on the south. And all three of them are quite willing to help us out. The generally accepted principle behind the monsoons is simple. To understand it let us take the example of a balloon:-

Imagine that you've a balloon in your hand. Breathe some air into it, hold it for a while to appreciate the work you've done and then let it escape. Hear how it makes a whooshing sound as it goes out. This escaping of air from the balloon to the outside air is similar to how the monsoon winds work. When the balloon is filled up with air, the pressure inside is greater than the pressure outside. When you let go the air rushes out to fill that gap in pressure.

In the case of monsoon winds as the temperature of the surrounding land gets higher, the air heats up which in turn creates a low pressure scenario. The heavy, moisture laden high pressure winds from the sea rush in to fill this gap in pressure. The land being higher than the sea level causes the winds to rise. As they rise the winds cool and the water vapour condenses to form water droplets which cause rain. So the essential conditions to causing monsoon rains are

  1. The presence of temperature difference between the land and the sea.
  2. The presence of geographical features which cause the winds to rise and consequently the water vapours to condense
  3. The good will of the rain Gods :)

Gods willing the monsoon arrives at the southernmost tip of the country on the first day of June. The V shaped Indian peninsula distributes the winds into two directions.

The Arabian sea branch heads westwards, causing rainfall along the western ghats and on-wards. The western ghats are hilly regions that cause the monsoonal winds to rise up along it's slope. As the winds rise they cool down and the vapor condenses to cause rain. Many coastal areas along the western ghats including popular tourist destinations:Goa,kochi and Mumbai receive heavy rainfall during this period.

The bay of Bengal branch moves towards north-east and is responsible for precipitation in the eastern parts of the country. Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in meghalya which are the two of the wettest places on earth receive rainfall due to the bay of Bengal branch of the monsoons.

During this time the dry plains and valleys are transformed into lush green scenic vistas. The change is remarkable. Such total transformation of the land has to be seen to be believed.

gone the dust from the valleys

Advancing and retreating monsoon

The period of June to September is the period of advancing monsoons. The winds from the sea rush to the hot plains. While it accounts for most of the rainfall within the country the coverage is not complete. Some parts of the country like Tamil Nadu don't receive as much rainfall during the first half of monsoons but average our during the retreating monsoons.

During the winter seasons the temperature of the northern plains decreases considerably. The air pressure builds up causing it to rush from the plains towards the Indian ocean. Along the way it picks up moisture and pours it over the southern states which were left behind during the advancing monsoons. The monsoon winds are quite fair and just for most part of the country. The only region where it fails to deliver is in the western most end of Rajasthan which is desert area.

As I mentioned before the geography of the country plays a big part in the rainfall. The Arabian sea Branch advancing monsoon rapidly cools off the western ghats causing immediate precipitation. The Bay of Bengal branch flows over Bangladesh and is trapped by the eastern Himalayas in Meghalaya where it is responsible for the highest recorded rainfall in the world. The winds that reach further north are blocked by the Himalayas and prevent them to escape the country, cool and cause rainfall.

Of course in monsoons flooding of rivers is quite common. The streams that seemed gentle and playful during the summers turn into raging torrents. Kosi river is infamous for the flood it threatens to cause every moonsson. The river is so consistent in this task that it has been dubbed as "The sorrow of Bihar" for causing widespread destruction in the state of Bihar.

Life: Before, during and after monsoons

Depending upon where you live in the country the life pre monsoon can be either compared to living next to an iron furnace or to a pleasant English country summer. The northern plains including the capital Delhi become unbearably hot. Higher up in north the valley dusts off it's snow to present itself in all of it's green glory. These spots become a popular tourist destination for carefree people.

In some cities like my own power cuts during extreme summers are quite common. The heavy use of electricity in homes for AC's becomes too much to handle and it s not uncommon to have power cuts for up to 8 hrs a day. The preservation of water becomes essential. Gurgaon has no natural (continuous) water supply. Though Haryana has a few seasonal rivers and a drainage system that is responsible for supplying water.

Married couples blessed with off springs have to wait until June before they can think about a holiday. 'cause it's in June that the schools offer a summer break. And with monsoon rapidly advancing on them they only have a few weeks before the rain dampens every tourist location. Ah well such are the sorrows of married life! it's in monsoons that us ole life-without-a-care bachelors have our sweet revenge.

Being an agricultural country monsoon has a great impact on Indian economy. The farmers eagerly await their arrival. The artificial irrigation methods are no substitute for nature's blessing. The importance of monsoons have even been recognized in parliamentary discourse where it has been dubbed as the "real finance minister of India".

While the rains close off many beaches and hampers water sports it opens a whole new door for exploration. The valleys which seemed melancholy during the summer start bursting with life. Now there are innumerable waterfalls, dozens of streams and flowers. The air fresh, the surroundings calm and clean. Strolling through the lush plains and green valleys is an experience like no other.

The month of October marks the onset of winters. The slight coolness in the air promises the wintry chill in the coming months. This period is generally regarded as the best time to travel in India the months are dry, the temperature is cooler.

October? Who cares about October? No one I tell you. Why? It's may, 1 in the morning and the room temperature is 35! For me the the rains can't come soon enough. Until they do I've got the beautiful song of Jane Morgan as a consolation.


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