Meghalaya's Natural Wonders - The Living Root Bridges

As the name suggests, Meghalaya is truly the home of the clouds. Wrapped in mist, cloud and rain for most part of the year, this state’s verdant green cover is a respite to the tired eyes and souls of city dwellers. Though Meghalaya has many things to offer to the tourists, one must-visit attraction is its root bridges.

Double decker root bridge — by Sonali Sengupta
Double decker root bridge — by Sonali Sengupta

How do these bridges grow?

Due to heavy rains the region receives, sustaining wooden bridges would be almost an impossible task here. It was the local tribes of War-Jaintias and War-Khasis who first noticed long ago how several secondary roots from Ficus elastica (rubber plant) grow higher up the tree’s trunk and can rest comfortably on their own amidst rivers or atop big boulders lining the riverbanks. This gave them the idea to grow their own bridges by directing the roots the right way (say, over a stream or river). Sometimes, they simply twist, pull and tie the roots by hand to help them blend with each other. Over time, these roots grow up into the needed architectural structure. At times, scaffolds created out of bamboo and wood are also used to direct the young roots across and above them. With time and due to bearing the brunt of intense rains, especially during the monsoons, the perishable elements rot and give way to the roots, which grow stronger. It takes almost 15 years for a new root bridge to become adequately strong for supporting the weight of people crossing over it. The good news is that such bridges continue to strengthen and grow with the passage of time. No wonder why they are called “living” root bridges, with the age of some believed to be hundred years or even more, though no one can put a confident claim on their exact age.

Which root bridges to visit?

Most tourists who visit Mawlynnong ensure to make a stop at the root bridge in the neighboring Riwai village. Running across a stream, this root bridge is nothing short of a bio-engineering spectacle. You will need to trek down about a kilometer or so of rocky steps to get awed by this wonderful sight. Unless you have serious knee problems, this trek shouldn’t be difficult. Just make sure to wear shoes with good grip and be attentive, especially during your descent, since the rain and mud may make the task a little bit treacherous if your attention wavers.

Another famous root bridge is Nongriat village’s double decker bridge. Sitting pretty over the Umshiang River, this bridge was constructed in two parts. As is the usual tradition in other places, the bridge’s first level was built much before the second level. One monsoon when Umshiang River’s water reached the first level, the locals felt the need of fortifying the bridge to the second level and thus this marvel came into existence.

You will have to trek for about 5-6 hours (depending on your physical fitness) from Tyrna village to reach this bridge. Since it’s a challenging trek, you should ensure you are physically up for it.

Some other root bridges of Meghalaya that you can visit are the Ummunoi Root Bridge, Ritymmen Root Bridge and Mawsaw Root Bridge, the last one being just about half an hour away from the double decker bridge.