In the Northeastern region of India, there's a lush tropical paradise in the state of Meghalaya that 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 the wettest place on Earth.
The famous living root bridges are scattered all across the Khasi Hill region of Meghalaya. When the streams of these forests turn into torrential rivers during the monsoon, these indigenous bridges come in aid. Witnessing them is witnessing green architecture at its finest, and a connection to nature like no other.
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).
Also Read: Mawsynram Travel Guide
Passed down over generations, the living root bridges were constructed to aid the transportation of 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, and the scaffolds were made out of bamboo. Then the laid framework would be entwined and woven in with the roots of rubber trees that grew on the banks.
The framework of the bamboo and the hollowed trunks work as a guide and support until the roots of the rubber tree require no sustenance and can stand on their own. Although, due to the humid and damp conditions of this region, the bamboo starts to rot. This means the framework requires a change every two years. After a period of 25 to 30 years, the bridges require no more care and monitoring and can grow 50 to 100 feet long. Situated near Mawkyrnot, a village in the district of East Khasi Hills, the longest recorded living root bridge in the state of Meghalaya is as long as 175 feet.
During the initial period of the bridge, varying in 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. In the monsoon season, rotten leaves, wood, and soil are applied to the tree's bark so that it receives nutrition. Old rubber trees which don't have any roots will have those parts chopped off so that during the rainy season new branches emerge through which new roots would grow.
Meghalaya is known for its misty and pleasant weather that lasts 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 pink bracted balsam 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 in the state have deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and natural caves.
Amidst these condensed jungles of the murky Jaintia and Khasi hills, the locals have laid and maintained numerous living root bridges over generations. Imagine experiencing such surreal beauty of nature, walking on the living root bridge. The river that flows beneath the bridges is a cool place to take a dip after a worthwhile trek to this grand sight.
Among all these sights lays the abode of arguably two of the 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.
Located in the village of Nongriat of Meghalaya, many tourists, especially hikers, visit this village for a trek from the neighboring 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 7 km, and along the journey of the trek, trekkers have been blown away by its beautiful tropical heaven of wildflowers like the pink wood sorrel and wildlife. But the stealer of the show is 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. It looks like two bridges were stacked one upon the other, and is said to support the weight of 50 people at a time. This natural architecture is known to be at least 180 years old. Unlike the erected cement bridges of men, this bridge gets only stronger and stronger over time.
An alternative to Cherrapunji's Double Decker Root Bridge is the Single Decker Bridge in Mawlynnong, just as pristine and grand. Similar to the Double Decker Root Bridge, the Single Decker Root Bridge is also a tourist spot where people come to hike. The base village of this trek is Riwai, a small village near Mawlynnong.
Mawlynnong is about a 3-hour ride from Shillong and lies very close to Bangladesh. This village is also known as the 'garden village' as it is proud of its environmentally friendly ways of living. One of the most famous attractions along the trek is a naturally balancing rock. From the village of Mawlynnong, the bridge is only a 15-minute walking distance away.
Over the years, there are quite a few living root bridges in Meghalaya that are famous among tourists. As of now only 11 are known to be functional. They are located about a 2 and half-hour drive away from Shillong. Among them, 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.
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, about a 15-minute walk from Police Bazaar, which can take you to Mawlynnong village.
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.
Also Read: 7 Unmissable Things To Do In Cherrapunji
The best time to visit is during the months of March to early May. This is the summer season and Meghalaya receives relatively fewer 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.
This untouched labyrinth in Meghalaya has made the locals reach for the greatest of innovation that is a lesson for modern-day architecture. It isn't 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, they're worth the trip.
With patience and care over centuries, the people have created a living architecture that has helped them when the rivers of the state swell up during the monsoon. living root bridges are not prone to decay over time and are very low maintenance and cost-free. They're an engineering model of nature, made for mankind, by mankind working together with nature.
This marvel with the efforts of the locals has garnered 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.
How Many Living Root Bridges Are There In Meghalaya?
There are currently 11 living root bridges in Meghalaya, of which 5 are functional.
How Do You Make A Living Root Bridge?
The locals of Meghalaya make living root bridges by guiding the roots of the rubber trees across rivers, often on a framework made of bamboo. The roots are then allowed to grow and looked after as they grow stronger. The framework is strengthened when needed until the roots are strong enough to sustain themselves. They only grow stronger over the years.
How Old Is The Tradition Of Making Living Root Bridges?
Some of the living root bridges in Meghalaya are estimated to be nearly 500 years old, which is how old the tradition itself is.
Where are the living root bridges located?
The living root bridges are common in the southern part of Meghalaya and are handmade from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of the mountainous terrain.
How difficult is living root bridge trek?
The trek is easier and shorter if started from the Nongriat Village (1.5 - 2 hours), otherwise, the trek takes pretty much the whole day to complete. It's 3,000 steps each way to the Double Decker root bridge and then some more.
How do I get from Shillong to the living root bridge?
The Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge is located around three hours from Shillong. The root bridge is a few kilometers from the Riwai Village approximately 15 minutes away.
How many steps is one root bridge?
The one root bridge is easy to reach with about 50 steps but these stairs aren't paved.
How old is the living root bridge?
The Double-Decker Living Root Bridge in Cherrapunji is said to be 180 years old!