Deep in the verdant greens of Meghalaya skirting the India-Bangladesh border, in Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth, people do not build bridges —they just grow root bridges. The climate in the southern Khasi and Jaintia hills fluctuate between humid and warm. The narrow forest is dotted with swift rivers and streams.
Growing root bridges
The Ficus elastica, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system flourishes in these hills. The tribes in Meghalaya noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots the answer to cross the many rivers. Now, they simply grow their bridges.
The Khasis use different strategies to grow the bridges. They pull the roots of the trees tie and twist them to merge with each other. Finally, over a period a bridge grows. In the village of Nongriat, the Khasis slice betel nut trunks, down the middle and use it to create root-guidance systems.
Strong enough to support 50 people
The roots of the rubber tree thus grow straight out. The roots grow to feed on the trunk and finally take root on the other side of the river. With time a living bridge grows strong enough to support the weight of 50 or more people at a time. In fact, some of the ancient root bridges may be well over 500 years old.
The bridges grow as long as 170 feet and soar 80 feet above the streams. Several root bridges have two parallel spans, such as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.”
Mawsynram and Dawki root bridges
To visit the bridges it is good to enlist a guide from the tour operator. Assam Holidays tour take you to most of these remote bridges in Nongriat. The village is also accessible from Cherrapunjee by private taxi. But you have to walk down 2500 steps to reach Nongriat. Nongriat is a good place for hikes to several root bridges in Mynteng, and Nongthymmai.
A large number of living root bridges grow in Pynursla. To reach these, be sure hiking, make sure to find a reliable, local, guide. The Rangthylliang to talk to your tour operator. The remote, village of Kongthong is a great base to explore the area. The village of Shnongpdeng, in the West Jaintia Hills, near Dawki is also a staging area to explore several villages with root bridges.
Fitness required to Trek to Root Bridge
If you are an active and adventurous person nothing should stop you. Any person with no cardiac or asthmatic issues can trek down to the bridges and back.