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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 of 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.
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 from 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.
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
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.
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
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
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 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.
- 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.