Unraveling the mysterious Living Root Bridge, Meghalaya

posted in: Asia, India, Meghalaya, Nature | 65

Meghalaya – the Abode of Clouds, was a destination that had me mesmerized for quite some time. In fact, I had researched the place thoroughly for a visit almost two years ago. Sadly, I could not make it but had penned it all down in a single post here so that someone else could make it. 2 years since then – I finally made it to the magical Meghalaya. And what a journey it was. Pristine, natural and beautiful – Meghalaya has so much to offer. A personal visit with my family, we discovered not just what I had researched on but much much more.I shall be sharing the entire journey slowly. To start with, let me share with you one of the wonders of Meghalaya – the Living Root Bridge.

The Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong, Meghalaya
The Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

The Living Root Bridge is a unique attraction of Meghalaya – something that is associated only with this state of India. It had me riveted from the time I had researched on it and naturally, it was on top of my list of things to do in Meghalaya. The Living Root Bridges are found across Meghalaya and they all vary in their lengths and structure. The one that I particularly wanted to do was the double decker one in Cherrapunji. However, my friend Rajiv Verma – the veteran of North East India, strongly recommended that I keep that for a later time as there was quite an arduous trek to get to the bridge. Since we did not have the luxury of time and the fact that my daughter was accompanying me, he suggested an easier one – the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge. Done and Sealed!  For that is where we finally saw this amazing wonder!

The Living Root Bridge – Man Made or Natural?

What you can see are some roots that seem to be entangled to create this structure that hangs between two ends of a river. It’s like having a suspended bridge, isn’t it? Well, I would love to bust that myth. It is anything but a suspended bridge.

Sturdy and strong enough to hold an army of 50 soldiers, these bridges are made of LIVE roots of a rubber tree. These are quite stable bridges and do not even move around as you walk on them. Ficus Elastica is the botanical name for these plants. The art of building the Living Root Bridges has been passed from generation to generation of the Jhantia and Khasi tribes of Meghalaya. The earliest date is unknown but the first chronicle of it is said to be in the 1800s. If you talk to the locals, they keep saying that they have always done this – from the times of their great grandparents. It seems to be pretty much a tradition that has been kept alive.

Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya
Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya

I always, assumed that the purpose of building these bridges was possibly tribal wars or something. However, that is not the case.The bridges were simply built to cross the rivers. The locals say that they build it whenever they feel the need for it. Building this bridge is not random. It is by design. The roots of the rubber tree are directed along to enter tree trunks of Betel plants so that they grow in a particular direction – say from one end of a river to the other or in a particular width. Once the roots reach the other end, they are allowed to entrench themselves in the soil and create a natural hold of its own. Stone, pebbles and sticks are inserted in between to make the whole structure strong.

Roots of the Living Root Bridges diverted through the trunks of the Betel Nut trees, strengthened by stones and sticks
Roots of the Living Root Bridges diverted through the trunks of the Betel Nut trees, strengthened by stones and sticks

The entire process takes at least 15 years for the whole structure to be stable. And the best part – just like aged wine that tastes the best, the older the bridges are the more sturdy they are. Naturally, as they keep growing and add more support for themselves.  Some of the bridges, especially the ones in Cherrapunji are said to be over 500 years old. The one that I visited in Mawlynnong had the trees planted around 1840.

Roots being diverted through the trunk of a tree - Living Root Bridge
Roots being diverted through the trunk of a tree – Living Root Bridge

The Living Root Bridge fascinated me as they were nature’s artwork but guided by men. Simply put by one of the reports that I had read – they are not built but grown. And the fact that they are so unusual was enough for me to add this on top of my attractions in Meghalaya.

Our Journey to the Living Root Bridge

Enroute to the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong
Enroute to the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

The Living Root Bridge that we planned to visit was near the Mawlynnong village where we planned to stay for a night. The place where it is built is called the Nohwet village, at a distance of 2 kms from the main Mawlynnong village. We set out from Cherrapunji towards this village and were scheduled to arrive here in 2 hours. However, it was over 4 hours that it took to reach here – all thanks to the clouds floating around our route. The visibility was less than 200m and I totally am in awe of our driver who patiently and expertly drove through these clouds to reach us here. It was past noon when we set down for a small hike to the famed Living Root Bridge of Mawlynnong.

Hiking to the Living Root Bridge

To reach the Living Root Bridge, we had to climb down to the river along natural stairs that were made by the roots of trees. I use the word hike loosely as for me it was mere climbing down but for my daughter, it was an adventure to do so. The stairs were not too high but she found them quite unusual as they were all pebbled slabs and roots with varying widths. The villagers there had added bamboo banisters for support and here and there, they had small sheds where they sold water and cucumbers for the weary visitors.

Hiking down to the Living Root Bridge
Hiking down to the Living Root Bridge

I would rate the climb down as well as up quite easy – easy enough to do with kids. There are enough resting points along the way with thoughtful bamboo benches. The hike itself would not be more than a kilometer long.

On the Living Root Bridge

Nothing prepares you for the Living Root Bridge. I had seen so many pictures and read so much about it. I had this image of a shaking, narrow bridge that you would have to walk gingerly as it swayed side to side. However, what I saw was completely an antithesis of this.

As firm as a metal bridge, this was wide enough to hold at least 5 people side by side. 30m long, there was no need to hold any part of the bridge as we walked along. Jump, run or dance, you were on firm grounds and yet you were right above the flowing, crystal stream of Meghalaya.

The first glimpse of the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong
The first glimpse of the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

For all the description that I had given my daughter, she too, had an image of a rope bridge and she was expecting an adventure walking on it. I could see a mix of disappointment and wonder in her eyes as she set foot on the bridge. Disappointed that she could not boast of walking on a rocking bridge, wonderous because she had never ever seen something like this before.

Capturing the Living Root Bridge

The rustic charm of the Living Root Bridge
The rustic charm of the Living Root Bridge

There was something naturally artistic and beautiful about the Living Root Bridge. I would term it as “rustic charm” The free hanging root hair, the entangled tree trunks and the wide open gaps to see the lovely stream flowing below – they came together in an unusual manner to create this pretty picture. The photographer in me went berserk capturing it from various angles.

Me on the Living Root Bridge
Me on the Living Root Bridge
Peeping through the natural windows of the Living Room Bridge
Peeping through the natural windows of the Living Room Bridge

Walking along to the other side, I hopped across over the river rocks to capture it in its full glory. Stepping along the sides, it was fun getting my hubby and daughter within the natural frames of its roots. And then, there was the whole aspect of getting it while you were on the bridge. I definitely did not want to leave any possible angle of capturing this magnificent symbiotic collaboration of man and nature!

Other sights along the way

The Bamboo goodies on sale at the Nohwet Village
The Bamboo goodies on sale at the Nohwet Village

Once you are done with the living root bridge and you get back to the Nohwet Village, just spend some time walking around the village. It was refreshing to see the simple and natural way of life that the people here have. You can even indulge in some shopping for bamboo curios – most of which are made within the village itself. Take a short walk away from the village and  you can see the unique balancing rock

Balancing Rock at Mawlynnong
Balancing Rock at Mawlynnong

Take a short walk away from the village and you can see the unique balancing rock. Yes, you have a small entrance fee of INR 10 to see this but well, think of it. You are just adding to some sustain nice of this village. The Balancing Rock isn’t anything fascinating but if stories are to be believed, it has been around for years now.

After seeing the Living Root Bridge, my admiration for this has gone up by notches. A natural bridge that was grown with the help of Man’s knowledge! Today in the modern world, we are hunting for eco-friendly and sustainable development, here was something that has been in existence for years now. Goes to show that some things may be slow but they sure are sturdy and sustainable for life!

Don’t you agree- that the Living Root Bridge is a natural, man-made marvel?

The Living Root Bridge

Getting here

  • The Living Root Bridge of Mawlynnong is a good one-day outing from Shillong.
  • To reach Shillong, you will need to take a flight or train to Guwahati in Assam. From there, you can either hire a taxi or get on a bus to reach Shillong, a distance of 3 – 4 hours from the Guwahati Airport.
  • From Shillong, you can hire a day-long taxi that takes you to Mawlynnong and brings you back.

Travel Tips

  • The best time to visit Meghalaya is from March to September. Though it will be raining here, it still is the best season to discover the place.
  • Carry your rain gear with you at all times. Dress in layers to keep warm. Wear flat shoes for your excursion to the Living Root Bridge
  • There are a few small restaurants along the way as well as in Mawlynnong. You will be able to get basic food like Noodles and rice at these places.
  • Restroom facilities are available at these restaurants
  • I would highly recommend a night’s stay at Mawlynnong. It is worthwhile experiencing the life in the cleanest village of Asia. There are no big hotels here but plenty of home-stays.
  • I used the North East explorers to book my stay and my transport in Meghalaya. They are highly professional and know the local home-stays very well to get you a confirmed booking. I would highly recommend them.

 

Share the Thrill of Travel

65 Responses

  1. These Living Root bridges, take me back to the time when engineering was a concept, not a subject 🙂 I mean this is amazing, creating a suspension bridge from a rubber tree is commendable..these tribes have far more knowledge than we can ever imagine..Thanks for sharing this refreshing post 🙂

    • It sure is an engineering marvel. I am completely in awe of it. Glad you found the same too. Thanks Veidehii.

  2. What an amazing concept of building bridges by trees suspended on roots. I can totally imagine the delight on your daughter’s face, Ami! This is like coming face to face with art in motion and connecting our own roots with nature. Spectacular captures, I would so love to explore this someday.

    • Thank you Arti. I am just glad that I could get my daughter to see this wonder. Truly unique and right in our backyard.

  3. The other day I watched a documentary on these Living Root Bridges on TV. I think it was OMG on History Channel. The pictures you have taken are really wonderful.

    • Thank you so much. I loved the rustic charm of this place and am glad you too, find the same in my pics. Thanks for stopping by

  4. Fantastically written Ami, I am so glad that you guys had a fantastic time here. Look forward to having you here again, soon,

    And by the way, until now, I myself never knew the scientific names of all the things you have mentioned here 😉

    Cheers,
    Rajiv

  5. Absolutely well scripted piece you have here. Its gripping and I felt same thrill you experienced while being there.

  6. Tree roots really do have a life of their own! Sounds like a cool adventure.

    • It is, and a lovely one. You should definitely attempt seeing this one sometime in life.

  7. I remember being awestruck when I first saw images of these bridges some years ago.

    Whilst I’m still to see them in person, I’m so glad (and a little jealous) that you were able to experience them!

    • Thank you Chris. I hope that someday you can make it to these unexplored places of India. They truly are marvelous. And yes, I have the horns right now – so go ahead and envy me!;-)

  8. Very well written!! Reminded me of the visit to this place few years ago!! Nice photos!!

  9. Awesome post on Living Root Bridge. Hope soon visit Mawlynnong .
    Thanks for sharing all pics.

  10. Beautiful. If one goes to Meghalaya, then the journey will be incomplete without seeing the living root bridge. Isn’t it? I am planning to head there sometimes this year. I will be with my kid so I guess I will like to enjoy this easier living root bridge. Thanks for sharing Ami!

  11. The Living Root bridge is one of those phenomenon of nature that is something one must experience. Even I had the impression that the bridge would kind of a rope bridge that would shake when you walk on it. Surprising to note that it is steady as a rock. But still that does not detract from the uniqueness of the place. I am sure the trek to the bridge in itself was also an exhilarating experience.

    • It is amazing how stable it is. It is like walking on a regular stretch of land or road. Amazing indeed. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I thought the living root bridge just grew that way, never imagined it’s nature artwork which is well guided by men. I am in total awe now. Why don’t we see this excellent engineering getting replicated in the modern cities I wonder. My husband went to the village Mawlynnong and visited this bridge in the dry season, he got me a bamboo curio (exactly the ones you photographed) 🙂 .

    • How nice to get that Souvenir? I hope you get to go and choose one in person sometime soon. A visit here is highly recommended Tania.

  13. I never know that something like this is existing. I only see this in a fantasy movie and wow this time its for real. It’s really magical to see how our nature works. Your travel tips going here are very helpful too.

  14. Wow so mysterious. I love the details you put in this article.

  15. Living Root Bridge is a great sight! What amazes me most is that, as we know, these trees are centuries, if not, hundreds of years old!

    • Yes, some of the trees are over 100 years old and they are so sturdy. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Shane Prather

    I can’t believe I’ve yet to hear of Meghalaya and this impressive natural creation! It does look man made – the beauty of nature doing stunning things!

    • Meghalaya is one of our hidden destinations that not many opt for. But it is stunning nonetheless. This is just one of the marvels of this state. You should check out the rest of them Shane. Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Nature and it’s miracles are just spectacular. This is such a beautiful thing to learn about the root bridges’ history. I’m yet to visit Meghalaya, the only NE Indian state I haven’t set foot on 🙂

  18. swatisinha09

    Nice post Ami. The living root bridge is on my “Things to see” as well. Great to know the concept behind this and the ingenuity of the tribal in building this naturally.

  19. This Living Root Bridge reminds me a lot of Ta Prohm, or the Tomb Raider temple in Siem Reap. Like the trees which roots have burst into the crevices of the temple, this one has managed to grow in a way that it has become a structure itself. Fascinating what nature can do and I can certainly understand why you wanted to see it for yourself.

    I also find the balancing rock equally amazing. Heck I can’t even balance myself when I’m doing yoga but this huge rock is killing it!

    • Ha ha Marjorie. True, the balancing rock is quite an impressive feat. And the Living Root Bridge – that is truly something else. I hope you get to see it for yourself. Cheers

  20. We planned twice to head to NE states, but it flopped both times! The living root bridge is one of the major reasons why I want to venture to this region. I so envy you now!
    You’ve written a very detailed post! When my plan works out in future, I’ll ask you for suggestions!

  21. This is the first time I heard about the root bridge and I thought it was just a name… But uts a TRUE ROOT BRIDGE! This place is indeed a treasure, its beauty is beyond words… Its majestic!

  22. What a good and useful tradition. It’s like an engineering marvel really. Would love to see these too as im scared of hanging bridges. These are way better!

    • Oh yes, these are way better. They are not hanging bridges but sturdy man-made nature bridges.

  23. This place looks mystical! I love when I find posts about places I didn’t know existed and now have another place to add to my bucket list!

  24. 1840 is a very long time. I can imagine how strong the roots will be! What an adventure! I was in Shillong for a while during analog days and remember crossing some such small bridges, I have to get back there again.

    • I am pretty sure you will find a lot of changes from then. You must now plan this as your next destination. 🙂

  25. this place looks so magical and gives me jungle book vibes for sure! I love it!

  26. Man bridge looks natural for me, though the places looks very mysterious. It’s not to visit a certain place like this, it’s like going back and reminiscing the old times. Your travel tips are indeed useful, too! x

    • Thanks Cathy. The place is quite an unusual one and I would highly recommend it. Hope you manage a trip sometime to see this.

  27. Veronica

    I saw pictures of this bridge before but I never knew where exactly it was. Pinned it! I will visit it next time I go to India 🙂

  28. It is every Indian’s dream to experience this unique bridge. Though I had read a lot about these root bridges but I didn’t know anything about the balancing rock. Thanks for penning an informative blog.

  29. WOW! That living root bridge is amazing! I thought for sure there was some gimmick involved 😛 I love how unlike most other manmade structures, with the help of nature — these only become more strong with time. Such a sweet concept, too.

    • Indeed. I loved the concept – goes to show how we can coexist with nature. Thanks for stopping by Chantae

  30. I saw a documentary on Netflix few months ago about that living root bridge in Meghalaya! Glad to this this symbiotic relationship of man with nature!

    • Thanks Anamika. The place is unique and definitely an example of how we can work well with Nature without destroying it

  31. I’ve never heard of Meghalaya but it just became part of my places to visit list! This is absolutely incredible and so fascinating that these tribes were able to direct the roots in this fashion for functional purposes. Great post!

    • Thank you Colby. Meghalaya is a smaller state in our huge country, a lot of it still offbeat and unexplored. I am glad it is a part of your list now. You are bound to enjoy it.

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