This is one of the iconic images of Meghalaya. Many call them one of the natural wonders of the world, some marvel at the advanced scientific knowledge of the Khasis but whoever visits the living root bridges in Meghalaya unanimously praise them. In the last few years the living root bridges have become extremely popular. Many travel enthusiasts cover the distance only to see this wonder.
They are suspension bridges made from the secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Once the secondary roots, which grow aerially, come out they are ‘trained’ to spread out in a specified direction. The War-Khasis (a sub-tribe of the Khasis) use betel nut trunks to help the Ficus elastica tree follow the right direction. They slice the rubber tree down the middle, hollow it out and create a root guidance path. The thin and tender roots of Ficus elastica finding no other path fan out on the betel nut trunks. On reaching the other side (usually of a river), they are allowed to take root in the soil. It takes about 15 years to ‘build’ this natural bridge but once completed its lifespan is believed to be about 500 to 600 years. So unlike other bridges, these bridges are not really built but are grown!
If you want to see them, you should be ready for a few hours trekking. There are quite a few popular living bridges in the state. Let’s take a look at some-
- Ummunoi Root Bridge – One of the most popular and easily accessible living bridges, it is close to Cherrapunji. The starting point of this 1400 feet descent is Laitkynsew village. It takes about 4-5 hours to climb up and down the 2 kilometer stretch. The bridge is over the Ummunoi River near Siej village, Nongkroh. It is believed that the Ummunoi Bridge is one of the oldest living root bridges in the region.
- Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge – Considered the ‘holy grail’ of root bridges, the double decker bridge at Nongrait village is something you shouldn’t miss. Located over the Umshiang River in Tyrna village, you have to trek for about 5-6 hours to see and return. The trek is tough and extremely strenuous. Good physical health is imperative to experience this beauty. The double decker bridge is 20 meters in length.
- Ritymmen Root Bridge – The Ritymmen Root Bridge is located on the way to the double decker bridge. The reason why you should visit this bridge is because it is the longest known living root bridge measuring 30 meters. The total trekking time is about 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Umkar Root Bridge - The Umkar Bridge has one of the short treks in the Cherrapunji-Sohra area. You will travel just about half a kilometer to reach the bridge. This root is currently being rebuilt by the villagers after it was washed away by flash floods. The starting point of the bridge is Siej village.
- Riwai Living Root Bridge – This bridge is located in Riwai, a neighbouring village to Mawlynnong. Mawlynnong is famously termed as the cleanest village in Asia. This living root bridge has the easiest accessibility and it takes just about 15 minutes’ walk one way.