How Khasi Tribes in India Use Tree Roots to “Grow” Bridges

Cherrapunjee is the one of the wettest places in the world and the only region in India to receive rainfall throughout the year is popular for more than one reason. As we all know Cherrapunjee is home to some of the breath-taking waterfalls and some of the most adventurous treks in the country, but the place is also famous for a bridge which grows. Yes, the bridge is not built but rather grown in Cherrapunjee.

Meghalaya’s single and double-decker living root bridges are famous in the world, and people from various countries visit Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, to witness the mind-blowing sight of these living root bridges which helps the people to cross rivers which flow with the high current all throughout the year. The bridges are nothing but a tangle of roots which are robust enough to hold at least 30-50 people at once.

The ancestors of Khasi tribe found it very hard to cross the rivers as they used to overflow with water for the whole year. As they say, Necessity is the mother of invention; the tribe came up with an idea to grow roots of Ficus Elastica with a little tweak to make them grow as bridges which helped the tribe cross the bridge without facing any problem. The Khasi tribe then passed on this engineering skill to the next generation which has used this technique smartly to grow bridges that will help people pass the bridge and also witness one of the mind-blowing sights of living roots acting as bridges. The trained Khasi tribes grow these roots across the riverbanks to form a strong bridge, made purely from living roots. The root bridges are 50-100 meter long and are strong enough to carry 30-50 people at a time.

Umshiang double decker root bridge

While the man made bridges require cement and steel to stand strong, these root bridges require nothing of that sort. The estimated life of man-made bridges can be anywhere between 50-60 years, but the life of living root bridge is estimated to be at least 500 years. The living bridges take 15 years to grow strong and form the shape of a bridge after which there’s hardly any power in this world which can shake them for years to come. The best part about living root bridges are that they are eco-friendly whereas man-made bridges destroy the nature around it.

Meghalaya’s single and double-decker bridges can be found in Cherrapunjee and Mawlynnong. The single-decker and double-decker living root bridges found in Cherrapunjee might be very pleasant to the eyes of the observer but walking on the bridge is certainly not advisable for the weak hearted, as crossing the living root bridge requires an enormous amount of stamina and self-belief.

One of the cleanest villages of India Mawlynnong also boasts of single-decker living root bridges which are much easier to trek on than the ones found in Cherrapunjee. Mawlynnong which is located in the East Khasi Hills is also called as ‘God’s Own Garden.’ This village had also won the Cleanest Village in Asia in 2003. The tribe of the region has made collective efforts to keep the village clean and maintain the clean ambiance of the village. Both these villages boast of breathtaking living roots which have added beauty to the already beautiful villages.

The most famous Umshiang Double-Decker Bridge is situated in Nongriat Village, Cherrapunjee which is about 70 kilometers away from Meghalaya’s capital Shillong. This double-decker bridge is estimated to be 200 years old.

You might be wondering why people should wait for 15 years for a bridge to grow rather than building a wooden bridge. Given the fact that the place receives rainfall throughout the year, the wooden bridges rot and decay which it makes very dangerous for the passerby to trust the bridge to cross the river whereas the living root bridges are alive and always growing. Hence they gain strength with each passing year.

Localities have made all the efforts to grow root bridges rather than opting for steel ones which has made this place so much more beautiful. The best thing is that the localities have come together to grow another bridge at the double-decker site and it is estimated that the new bridge will be operational within a decade.


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