Living Root Bridges are to be found in Cherrapunji, Laitkynsew and Nongriat in the present-day of Meghalaya State of North East India.
Root Bridges are made by an ingenious technique. The tiny hair-thin hanging roots of a Banyan fig tree are intertwined with boughs and twigs and allowed to grow naturally. After a few years, the intertwined roots and branches become strong enough for people to use it as a bridge across the stream. The pliable tree roots are trained to grow through betel tree trunks which are placed across the gap, until the figs’ roots take root on the other side. Sticks, stones and other inclusions are placed with the growing bridge. This process can take up to 15yrs to complete. There are specimens spanning over 100ft. The useful lifespan, once complete, is thought to be 500-600yrs. They are “naturally self-renewing” and “self-strengthening” as the component roots grow thicker.
The local Khasi people do not know when or how the tradition of “living root bridges” started. The earliest written record about them is by Lieutenant H. Yule in 1844. The “living root bridge” at Laitkynsew is 53ft long. Locally known as JINGKIENG DEINGJRI which means “bridge of the rubber tree”, this bridge is remarkable in that it is more than 100yrs old. The chief advantage of a “living root bridge” is that it does not get washed away by the strong currents of the rains, but remains permanent and, in fact, grows stronger year by year.
You can enjoy beautiful travel delights in Meghalaya as it is a unique destination. Visually a kaleidoscope of energy and vibrancy, Meghalaya brings forth to you the “incredible root bridges”, which are not only “natural structures” but absolutely “lovely living structures” These ‘root bridges” are one of the best examples of “living architecture” here. They were initially constructed by people from the nearby villages around the lovely Cherrapunji region which is a “dream place”.
These “root bridges” lie at the foot of the Meghalaya Plateau. The Khasi people have actually trained the branches and the roots of trees to result in “living bridges” across the rivers. These bridges, today, seem to belong to God and are very close to Mother Nature. Once these bridges become totally functional, their life span is 500-600yrs. This period is much longer than that of a conventional bridge.
The surface of the bridge has bits of wood and rocks added to the mix, so that it is easier to cross. There is also another reason why wood is added. The wood decomposes and it gives nutrients to the roots of the tree growing around it. The area gets about 15mts of rain each year. So, a normal wooden bridge would completely rot. But the “growing bridges” are alive and they are still growing, so they gain strength over a period of time. The “hanging bridges”, made out of roots, is a very special feature of tours to Meghalaya.
All Khasi villages are connected by a network of stone pathways known as the “King’s Way”. Throughout this network 100s of “living root bridges” form the bridleways over the myriad of water channels that criss-cross the area. The bridge at WAHTHYLLONG, is the most beautiful of all the bridges, in the East Khasi Hills and it was featured in Human Planet.
In the dry season, women come to this place to wash their clothes and a trip here, at sunrise, is an “unforgettable experience”. This is certainly a “magical place”, augmented by the beautiful nature of the Khasi people. The view from above reveals the majesty of this masterpiece. It is “organic engineering at its best”. The development and upkeep of these bridges is a community affair. Lesser known than their cousins (living root bridges), but equally fascinating are the Khasi’s “living root ladders”.
Nongriat is a village containing the somewhat more famous “double-decker” root bridge and it has remained a relatively unaffected by the boom in indigenous travelling, mainly because there is still no road there.. So, getting to Nongriat is more complicated. Look for the Sohra Sumo and take the first one available for Rp50. (SOHRA is the Khasi name for Cherrapunji). from there you need to hire a small taxi to get you to TYRNA, which is the village where the road ends. It will cost you about Rp200 and it takes about one and a half hours. From Tyrna, you have to start walking, then descend the 2,004 steps down to NONG THYMMAI and then on to Nongriat over 2 “suspension bridges” and a couple of “root bridges” (about one and a half hours). The guest house in Nongriat is just on the other side of the “double-decker” bridge and costs about Rp400 a night. In the rainy season, this is quite a walk and you may be advised to pay a local to carry your largest bag. The going rate is Rp100 per trip. Thes “living root bridges” are sustainable and environmentally-friendly architecture.