Humans have arguably been the most intelligent being ever to adapt to any situation, and make that situation favorable to them. Humans have always excelled at creating engineering marvels since time immemorial. There are those who have adapted so well that they existed side-by-side with nature, which too they used in favor of them. Let me give you a very perfect example of that.
Meghalaya, a hilly state of India, is situated in the northeastern corner of India. It rains a lot all year round. This state of India is home to the two towns, namely Cherrapunji and Mawsynram that have the highest annual rainfall in the world. Due to this extreme rainfall, rivers and streams from small to large are created here throughout the year.
These rivers and streams created a lot of hassles for the common people here, who had to travel from one place to another out of necessity. Bridges were needed to cross these strong currents. Bridges made out of cement would not last long, as it will rot and decay due to the continuous downpour. Also, in this remote hilly area, bridge-building materials were not easily available.
Therefore, the tribals of this area, namely the “Khasi” and “Jaintia” used their ingenuity to make bridges out of rubber trees. They came up with an innovative way to grow bridges from tree roots known as the Living Root Bridges on these rivers and streams.
In the forested slopes of southern Meghalaya, lots of rubber trees are found in this area. The roots of this rubber tree are very flexible. Observing these flexible roots, a great thought came to the minds of the indigenous people of these remote areas.
They have made this.
A bridge totally made of living roots.
How did they make it?
They took the help of hollow canes of Areca nut palm to make it. They entered the roots of rubber trees into the hollow canes. Then those roots were properly nurtured and cared for until they reached the opposite shore, fully intertwined with each other, and enabled themselves enough to carry heavy weights.
So, these bridges are handmade by threading and twisting the aerial roots of ancient rubber trees. It can take anywhere between 10 to 30 years for the tree’s roots to even resemble a bridge. The patience and future-oriented thinking shown by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes over here is exceptional.
Some of the interesting facts about these bridges are:
The Living Root Bridges are grown from the secondary roots of rubber trees known as Ficus elastica trees, which grow about the surface of the ground. This made it easy to carve bridges out of them.
Some of the root bridges are over 100 feet long and take 10 to 15 years to attain the perfect shape.
While some of the roots decay because of their continuous association with water, others grow and make up for the decayed, thus providing the required stability to the bridge.
Of all the Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya, the double-decker root bridge in Cherrapunji and the single-decker root bridge in Shillong are the most unique bridges in the world.
The Living Root Bridges were first constructed by the forefathers of the Khasi tribe as a permanent solution, as the bamboo bridges could not withstand heavy rainfall.
The tribes use various techniques such as pulling, twisting, temporary bamboo structures, etc. to guide young roots in the necessary direction to achieve the desired structure.
Once the skeletal structure of the bridge is formed, the locals put stones in between the roots to make a comfortable walking path.
Once fully grown, these Living Root Bridges can stand strong for as long as 500 years and can hold up to 50 people at a time.
There are roughly 100 known Living Root Bridges currently, in Meghalaya.
Being a manmade natural wonder, these Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Till date, the Khasi and the Jaintia tribes have kept alive this unique and centuries-old tradition to commute across some of the most rugged terrains in the world.
The human-made natural marvels make for prime attraction in the Northeast and thus attract a lot of tourists from all round the globe and why wouldn’t they? These root bridges are excellent examples of human bonding with Mother Nature.
Best Time to Visit Cherrapunji:
March to May or summertime is the best time to visit Cherrapunji when this region receives relatively less rainfall. And the weather will be pleasant and misty as you walk in the woods
How to Reach Cherrapunji:
- By Road: State-run buses ply from Shillong all through the day.
- By Rail: The nearest rail head to Cherrapunji is Guwahati, 181 kilometers away.
- By Air: The nearest airport is Shillong, 54 kilometers away.