The bridges that breathe

The living root bridges of Shillong

If you ever want to feel like you’re not quite on the same blue dot as the rest of the human race- this is the place to be. The root bridges of Meghalaya are surreal. Seriously! Today I’m in the jungles of Cheerapunjee in Meghalaya on a magical root bridge. Brick and mortar move aside, these beautiful bridges are living works of art- crafted by Mother Nature with a little help from the smiling villagers of Shillong. The road to get to these magnificent creatures (And I say creatures knowingly) is also quite unique. Imagine fields of brooms- the indigenous Jhadoo used in Indian homes. Row upon row of these tall grasses greet you as the road winds slowly uphill into the humid, dense jungles of Cheerapunjee. In addition to being one of the wettest places on earth, it is also home to the root bridges of the North East.

Rocks anchoring the new living roots

The Khasis, a native tribe from Meghalaya realized that the secondary roots of a particular rubber tree that grows in these jungles had immense strength. With the help of the ramrod straight trunks of betel nut trees and a little ingenuity, they guided these roots across the many crisscrossing streams and rivers and grew their own bridges. Small rocks found on river-beds, which the roots could hold on to were added to give these bridges a solid base to walk on. And as the bridge reached the other side, it was allowed to take root in the soil.

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Villagers transport goods across the root bridge

These magical bridges are ancient- almost 500 years old according to the Khasis and since they’re alive, they get stronger with time. They can take the weight of almost 50 people at a time and some are over one hundred feet long.

Sunlight casts a magical glow on the jungle

Mangled roots hold this beautiful structure together

Mangled roots hold this beautiful structure together

15 km from Cheerapunjee is an even more awe-inspiring sight. The double decker root bridge of Umshiang. It takes a bit of effort to get here- there are about 2000 steps involved. But the trek is worth it. This magnificent structure is one of its kind. Here, two living bridges are stacked one on top of the other in a sight that could rival any science fiction film. After finding your way to these bridges and taking all the pictures your camera will allow you take before packing up, you will realize that you’re miles away from anything. You’re cut off from reality, serenaded with the songs of a million crickets and streams that have been gurgling for generations.

Reaching the bridges involves a steep decent on ancient jungle steps

The jungles here are ancient. As you walk about, you can sense that your existence is so transient in this land that has stood the tests of nature and time. I stand here on this piece of living, breathing ingenuity, and I’ve realised that this is one bridge that has the magical ability not just to connect… but to take me away to a place I couldn’t easily imagine.

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