The mystical land of India is host to some of the most marvellous entities famous to leave their audience spellbound. Among these many wonders, amidst the Northern sisters lies a place of fusion of nature and man like no other, working hand in hand towards sustaining life.
The wonders known as living root bridges are the key attraction in the places adjoining Cherrapunji. Quite easily accessible by various means of transport from Sikkim and Guwahati, this place dubbed as “the wettest place on earth” is home to quite a few wonders in itself. The climate conditions are shared by its neighbouring areas too, allowing the growth of dense vegetation of a widespread variety, even few exotic ones.
The local Khasi and Jaintia tribes had found their abode in the hearts of the bordering villages and forests and begun harvesting nature’s gifts to propel their clans forward for a couple hundred years. Indigenous to them, they have developed a special technique to warp the direction of growth of the local trees and morph them into fully functional and easily accessible bridges.
To get along with their livelihood, resources need to be collected and some travelling is involved. In many routes, they are forced to take paths being crossed by rapid waters and violent streams. .
Due to the harsh wet weather for the majority of the year, wooden bridges saw rot in no time and were extremely difficult to maintain. So to answer their woes, the elders of the War-Khasis devised a time-consuming but almost everlasting technique to assist their survival. This was the art of giving direction to pliable roots of the rubber plant with help of betel tree trunks. These aerial roots would soon grow and entwine with the roots on the other side of the gorge or stream. These would then grow into a hard entwined mass and being constantly nourished and growing, they grow stronger over time. The bridge is then further supported and enhanced using bamboo shoots, fig roots, stones, twigs and other naturally available building blocks. These structures have a life of well over 150 years and some are known to have lasted for even more than 500 years.
Many people begin their tour from The Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort which is located in Laitkynsew village, Meghalaya. The most accessible bridge from here is one of the oldest bridges hanging 17 meters long, the Ummunoi Root Bridge at the descent of 1400 feet. It’s near the Ummunoi River flowing close to the Siej Village which is also famous for an easily accessible bridge known as the Umkar Root Bridge.
However, the most popular bridges amongst the tourists are the Ritymmen and Umshiang bridges. A common starting point for these is the Tyrna village and a route is taken to the Double Decker Root Bridge of Umshiang River in Nongriat village. This is a 20-metre long concoction of art and nature with a very exhausting path leading to it with a couple thousand steep steps lined along the way. On the way to this, a stop can be made in Nongthymmai village to witness the glory of the longest living root bridge of Ritymmen which is claimed to be 30 meters long. If around half an hour more is committed after Umshiang, one can bask in the beauty of the natural springs and untouched nature of the Mawsaw Root Bridge.
Another popular and immensely famous area for these bridges is the ‘cleanest village in Asia’, the Mawlynnong village which is a three-hour journey from Shillong. Promoting itself as God’s Own Garden, a few kilometres away from it lies the Riwai village from where there is a fifteen-minute walk to the bridge.
The best season to visit it would be sometimes different from between April to October as its peak monsoon season then. Comfortable inns targeted mainly at basic facilities and giving the guests a refreshing, one-of-a-kind experience are easily available with tour guides for the bridges. It’s best to carry only essentials as the treks can be really strenuous and safety measures against the wetness from the rain should be a primary concern. The drives to the different villages are also readily available in the form of taxis charging reasonable fares. The food is also very common ground to all of India and everyone can be quite contented with meals there.
Also, a point to note would be that the locals are very particular about the cleanliness of the surrounding areas, and violating the regulations can have harsh consequences. As they are welcoming us onto their ancestral ground, one must pay their respects when approaching to admire it.
All said, it’s truly an endearing experience of a lifetime.