Sunday, November 28, 2021

India’s Amazing Living Root Bridges

Did you know that for generations, India has been using a system of living root bridges created by weaving tree roots together? These living root bridges can be found at Cherrapunji, Laitkynsew, and Nongriat, in the present-day Meghalaya state of northeast India.

Meghalaya is one of the wettest places on Earth. The flow of the rivers holds such force that in the monsoon season, crossing them can be a life-threatening task.

“The Locals work with nature, instead of against it.”

Weaving the root bridges together

And with that, traditionally trees are knitted and shaped on either side of the river to create suspension bridges, all handmade from aerial roots of living banyan fig trees.

The process takes up to 15 years to complete, so in the process, you gain valuable lessons in patience. The bridges last for 500 to 600 years, and some span over 100 feet.

A living root bridge can hold up to 50 people, it’s sturdy, and it blends in with the forest. (Image: via © Amit Rane)

They are naturally self-renewing and self-strengthening as the component roots grow thicker. The bridges can hold up to 50 people at a time and unlike a steel bridge, which grows weaker with time, these natural bridges grow stronger with time. This is sustainable living architecture at its finest.

The Khasi people are the indigenous people of the area and can’t say how far back this tradition stems, but the first written recording was in 1844. The tradition is still strong and continues to be passed down to the next generation.

Meghalaya is different from many of the Indian states in that it has historically followed a matrilineal system, where lineage and inheritance are traced through the women. The youngest daughter looks after her parents along with inheriting all the wealth.

The Khasi society of Meghalaya is such a society, where authority, title, inheritance, residence after marriage, and succession are traced through the female line. (Image: via © samrat35)

Subtropical forests encompass the state with diverse wildlife and plants. It is the wettest region of India and gets around 472 inches (1200 cm) of rain a year.

Ancient forest and sacred groves

Small sections of the ancient forest are preserved in Meghalaya in what is known as “Sacred Groves.” For hundreds of years, these areas were looked after by the communities due to religious and cultural beliefs. These “Sacred Groves” are reserved for religious rituals and are mainly protected from any exploitation. There are also many rare animal and plant species in these pockets of forest, such as the insect-eating pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana. Also contained in these lush forests are pines, sals, bamboo, oak, birch, beech, and magnolia.

Nepenthes khasiana, a carnivorous endangered tropical pitcher plant native to this area of India. (Image: via © Venkatajalandar A S)

Diverse wildlife in the area includes red pandas, bears, elephants, wolves, anteaters, mongooses, wild buffalo, wild boar, deer, tigers, leopards, gaurs, the Hoolock Gibbon, butterflies, peacocks, jungle fowls, parrots, lizards, crocodiles, tortoises, Indian cobras, coral snakes, green tree racers, and a wide variety of bats. The rarest of the bats can be found in Siju Cave — a limestone cave in Meghalaya.

Double decker suspension bridges with manipulated roots shaped to hold the structure of the root bridge. (Image: via © Leslie Clary)

How to get there

As a tourist, to explore the area of Meghalaya’s unique root bridges, it’s worth a visit to Cherrapunji (also known as Sohra) — there are functional root bridges here. You can get to this area in around a two-and-a-half hour drive from Shillong.

By Air:

Shilling is about 80 miles to the nearest airport, which is located at Guwahati in Assam. Regular flights arrive at Guwahati via Kolkata, New Delhi, Baghdogra, and Bangkok. From the airport, Shilling can be accessed via taxi or via a helicopter service.

By Rail: 

The nearest railhead is at Guwahati, which is located 64 miles from Shillong.

By Road: 

Meghalaya Transport Corporation and Assam State Transport Corporation buses are available, which frequently travel the route from Guwahati to Shillong.

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Jessica Kneipp
Jessica writes about films, and occasionally gets to direct them. Music, photography, art, poetry, reading and travel are pretty good too. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel."

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