All You Need To Know About The Living Root Bridges
In the Northeastern region of India, there is a lush tropical paradise in the state of Meghalaya, which receives copious amounts of rainfall each year. Mawsynram, one of the villages in Meghalaya, annually receives about 11,873mm of rain, thus earning the title of wettest place on Earth.
The Living Root Bridges are scattered all across the Khasi Hill region of Meghalaya. When the streams of these forests turn into torrential rivers during monsoon, these indigenous bridges come in aid which are in the form of green architectures.
Ceaselessly assisting the community of the War Khasi tribe who reside on the southern hills bordering Bangladesh, these Living Root Bridges are forged by manipulation and weaving of the aerial roots of Ficus elastica (the Indian rubber trees).
How Are The Living Root Bridges Made?
Passed down over generations, the Living Root Bridges were constructed in aiding as a mode of transporting products from their farmlands to villages. They served as a link between streams, rivers and impenetrable forests of the region. These bridges were often built on the frameworks of the hollow trunks of areca nut trees or even the scaffolds made out of bamboo. Then the laid framework is entwined and woven in by the roots of rubber trees from their branches which grow on the banks of the either side of the ravine.
Although, due to the humid and damp conditions of this region the bamboo starts to rot and, thus, the framework requires change in every two years. The framework of the bamboo or the hollowed trunks work as a guide and support until the roots of the rubber tree require no more sustenance and can stand on its own. After a period of 25 to 30years, they require no more care and monitoring, and grow 50 to 100feet long. Situated near Mawkyrnot, a village in the district of East Khasi Hills, the longest recorded Living Root Bridge in the states of Meghalaya is as long as 175feet.
During the initial period of the bridge, varying from height and gap between the stream or the river, only 5 to 10 people are allowed to cross in a day. It also requires great care in the beginning. Especially in the monsoon season, rotten leaf, wood and soil are applied to the tree’s bark so that it receives nutrition. In case of an old rubber tree which consists of no roots, those parts are chopped off so that during the rainy season new branches emerge through which new roots would grow.
The Most Uniquely Everlasting Bridges
Meghalaya is widely known to have a misty and pleasant weather for the major part of the year. The ecosystem of this place is full of flora and fauna where nature is at its finest. You can find various types of wildflowers like the beautiful yellow swan flower or the bracted balsam (that are pink in colour) which is native only to Meghalaya. The region is also known to be a host to many wildlife creatures like the macaque monkeys.
The dense forests residing in the state have deep valleys, cascading waterfalls and natural caves. There are also many features like stalagmites, pillars and stalactites along the journey. Imagine experiencing such a surreal beauty of nature, walking on the Living Root Bridge (a living architecture) with rainbows going across the plateaus and waterfalls due to frequent rainfall in the area. The river that flows beneath the bridges is a cool place to take a dip after a worthwhile trek to this grandeur.
Amidst these condensed jungles of the murky Jaintia and Khasi hills, the locals have laid and maintained numerous Living Root Bridges over generations. Among these, lay the abode of arguably two most unique bridges that are seemingly everlasting. One of them is known as the Umshiang double decker root bridge in Cherrapunji and the other is the single decker root bridge in Shillong.
Double Decker Root Bridge
Located in the village of Nongriat of Meghalaya, many tourists, especially the hikers, visit this village for a trek from the neighbouring village of Tyrna. Tyrna is the base village of this trek. From Tyrna, Cherrapunji acts as an intermediate village to Nongriat.
The real journey begins from Cherrapunji to Nongriat where people have been left awestruck. The trek from Cherrapunji to Nongriat is about a 7km one, and along the journey of the trek, trekkers have been blown away by its beautiful jaw dropping tropical heaven of wildflowers (like the pink wood sorrel), wildlife and with the most unique bridge that is made out of nature and has lasted for years.
Right after stepping into the village of Nongriat, the path towards the double decker bridge lies a minute ahead. One would describe it to look as if two bridges were stacked one upon the other. It is told that it can support the weight of 50 people at a time. This natural architecture is known to be at least 180years old. Unlike the erected bridges of men with cement, this bridge gets only stronger and stronger over time.
Single Decker Root Bridge
An alternative to Cherrapunji’s most famous Living Root Bridge, the Double Decker Root Bridge, is the Single Decker Bridge in Mawlynnong which is just as pristine and grand. Similarly to the Double Decker Root Bridge, the Single Decker Root Bridge is also used as a tourist spot where people come to hike. The base village of this trek is Riwai, a small village nearby to Mawlynnong.
Mawlynnong is about 3hour ride far from Shillong and lies very close to Bangladesh. This village is also known as the ‘garden village’ as it is proud of its environment friendly ways of living. The entire view of the trek is breathtaking and has many interesting places to look at. One of the most famous attractions is the naturally balancing rock. From the village of Mawlynnong, the bridge is only at a 15 minutes walking distance.
How To Reach The Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya?
Over the years, there are quite a few Living Root Bridges areas in Meghalaya that are famous among tourists. As of now only 11 are known to be functional. They are located about 2 and half hours drive away from Shillong. Among which, the town of Cherrapunji hosts about five of these wonders of nature. They are namely Mawsaw Root Bridge, Ritymmen Root Bridge, Ummunoi Root Bridge, Umkar Root Bridge and the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge.
Single Decker Root Bridge
The distance from Shillong to Mawlynnong is roughly 78kms. From Shillong, you can take a cab from the Bara Bazaar market to Khasi Hills. There is a Sumo stand at the market, which is about 15mins walk from Police Bazaar, which can take you to Mawlynnong village.
Double Decker Root Bridge
The distance from the base village, Tyrna, to Cherrapunji is about 20kms. The buses are not frequent. Thus, it is best advised to hitchhike or share rides to the Double Decker Root Bridge. Sumo taxis are known to be used widely for commuting in this region.
What Is The Best Time To Experience The Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya?
The best time to visit are during the months of March to early May. It is the summer season and receives relatively less showers of rain compared to the rest of the year. Another excellent time to visit would be during the winter season in the months of November to February. Although the temperature drops below -3° C with occasional showers of rain, if you can brave that, it is a sight to behold.
What Makes The Living Root Bridges Special?
This untouched labyrinth in Meghalaya has made the locals reach for the greatest of innovation that is a lesson for modern day architecture. It is not only a mode of preserving nature but also helps in adapting better during climate changes. A marvel of indigenous people that have excelled in engineering and manipulating nature.
With patience and care over centuries, they have made living architectures that have helped them during monsoon seasons when the rivers of the state swell up. Living Root Bridges are not prone to decay over time for reasons like insects, fungi or rust. They are very low maintenance, cost free and are an engineering model of nature, made for mankind to get aspire from.
This nature’s marvel with the efforts of the locals for centuries has garnered it the 9th National Grassroots Innovation Awards in the year of 2017. Furthermore, the Living Root Bridges are classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.