I was leafing through the the DK Press’s book about India. Suddenly the entry about the Living Bridges of Meghalaya caught my eye. I was awe struck by this wonderful technique practiced in remote villages in Meghalaya. There they don’t build bridges, they GROW bridges!!!
I wanted to know more and gathered further information.
But in all the photos that came up, even the photo in DK’s Book, these bridges are seen to be stretching across shallow streams. I thought, why cant people just hop over the rocks or just do a little wading across? Do they really need a bridge to cross these small streams?
Check the photo below and I am sure you will also tend to think the same. You know what, these mild looking streams swell into raging torrents during the monsoons. Then it is totally impossible to cross these streams without the help of a suitable bridge that can withstand their powerful currents.
How are the bridges made?
The local people train the roots of a type of banyan tree to form a bridge across streams and small rivers. This growth and shaping of the roots into a bridge takes many years. But the reward is a bridge that grows stronger as the years pass by and it will last upto a century or more.
We all know that the aerial roots of all banyan tree types hang vertically downwards. So how then do the villagers train it to grow horizontally? I could understand this clearest after viewing YouTube video . The trunk of betel nut tree( areca nut) are shaped into tubes and then placed across the streams. Then roots of banyan tree growing on the shore is passed through this tube. The root has no choice but grow horizontally through the tube and reach the other side of the stream. It is allowed to take root in the soil in the opposite bank, once it reaches there. Thus the bridge is anchored on the other side. Technically these bridges are simple suspension bridges .
The bridges when complete have good walkways sometimes laid with stone, hand rails and as you have seen already, some are even double decker!!! They are said to bear up to 50 people’s weight.
Benefits of a Living Bridge Vs Normal Bridge
The living bridge prevents soil erosion of the banks as the roots hold the soil in place. Besides it wont rot in the year round high humidity climate as it is made of living tree and not dead wood.
Where are they found ?
The area where these bridges are commonly found is in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya . The region and relevant tourist maps form Meghalaya Tourism department’s sites are given below for a clearer understanding. The famous names in the region like Cherrapunjee (Sohra) and Shillong are underlined in the map. Guwahati which is well connected to all other parts of India can also be seen in the map below.
Photo Courtesy: http://megtourism.gov.in/guidemap-meghalaya.html
Photo Courtesy: http://megtourism.gov.in/travelinfo.html
This centuries old idea and similar green ideas are definitely the need of the hour and I wanted to do my humble part in spreading the word. Hope you like it and want to visit the place someday. I am hoping so myself!
Please visit these sites where you can see excellent photos of the bridges.
Very good Videos
Given below are the very best professionally shot videos of the bridges. I selected these two after a lot of scanning of related Youtube videos. If you watch both of these, you will get a wholesome idea about the bridges. Both are short and sweet and up to the point, do check it out.
This one is a BBC video as far as I can understand.
A very beautiful and clear video from indiavideo.org.
Useful Links about the Region
If you are thinking of a trip to the region or just want to know some more about this region, here are two links to get you started. The Tourism Department’s link is very informative and covers all aspects of a visit to Meghalaya – even taxi fares, ticket bookings etc in great detail. A very useful site.
It would be a good idea to check out tripadvisor ratings too before zeroing in on a place of stay.
Department of Tourism, Government of Meghalaya
Tripadvisor link on the Double Decker Living Root Bridge, Nongriat Village, Cherrapunjee, India.
 INDIA by Abraham Eraly,Yasmin Khan,George Michell,Mitali Saran; DK Publishing; Pages 24,25.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2jPgfLAzXQ – Titled The magical village – Mawlynnong , Meghalaya India