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Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya

04 Oct 2013 By  Shrirang Joshi

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A cousin of mine, a Colonel in the Indian Army recently got posted at Tejpur,Assam – one state from  the Seven Sisters in India. This was good enough a reason to make a trip to that part of the country. We had about a week at hand. In this time, we selected the obvious choices – Guwahati, Kaziranga National Park, Shillong and Cherrapunjee.

We all studied as kids,   Cherrapunjee is the place which gets (or used to get) the maximum rainfall. There is one more natural wonder at Cherrapunjee and, is relatively less known. In Meghalaya, one finds living root bridges. These bridges are made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree. This tree produces a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk which can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves. Whenever and wherever the need arises, the Khasis (the tribals in this region) simply grow their bridges. In order to make a rubber tree's roots grow in the right direction - say, over a river - the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced. The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong .Strong enough to   even support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time . Some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over five hundred years old.

The access to the closest root bridge around Cherrapunjee is little tricky. Here are the directions:

  • Start from Shillong and drive towards Dawki.
  • The winding road continues for some time and you hit a 'T' junction. At this 'T' turn right.
  • Continue driving for some time till the road forks. At the fork, the right turn goes to Nohmet and the left one goes to Mawlynnong. From both these villages, you could reach the root bridge.
  • There is a parking lot in Mawlynnong. Going to root bridge via Mawlynnong is more convenient.
  • GPS can locate Mawlynnong, Meghalaya. But, it may not show the road to this place. That could be because the version of maps that my GPS has, could be a bit old.
  • The steeply winding road to the Root Bridge may cause some people to feel sick.
Country : India
State : Meghalaya
City : Cherrapunji
Language : English
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