Unraveling the mysterious Living Root Bridge, Meghalaya

posted in: Asia, India, Meghalaya, Nature | 85
First Published on June 17, 2017

Meghalaya – the Abode of Clouds, has been a destination that mesmerized me even before I visited it. In fact, I had researched the place so well that I was literally spouting out details of places to visit in Meghalaya with the authority of someone who had already been there. Of course, now that I have been to magical Meghalaya, I can say this with complete confidence – “Nothing comes close to what you imagine the place to be.” Pristine, natural and beautiful – Meghalaya offered much more than what I had researched. Let me start my journey with one of the wonders of Meghalaya – the Living Root Bridge.

Jingmaham Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong , Meghalaya

The Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya is a unique attraction that is largely associated only with this state of India. It had me riveted from the time I had heard of it. Naturally, it was on top of my list of things to do in Meghalaya. The Meghalaya Living Root Bridges are found across the state and they all vary in their lengths and structure. The one that I particularly wanted to do was the Nongriat double-decker bridge in Cherrapunji. However, I decided to keep that for another time as it involved quite an arduous hike. Since I had a long list of things to do in Meghalaya and time was of the essence, I went ahead with an easier one – the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge.

However, what I share in this guide to the living root bridges in Meghalaya goes much beyond my own journey to the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridges. It will introduce you to how these bridges in Meghalaya are made, which are the key Meghalaya living root bridges that you can visit and how to get there. I am sure given the uniqueness of the structure, you too will be adding this to your travel bucket list!

History of the Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya

Locally, the Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya are called Jing Kieng Jri. The exact date or year of their origin is not known but they have been around for over 180 years now. Meghalaya is known for the fact that it receives the highest rainfall in the World. In fact, Cherrapunji (Sohra) is recorded as the wettest place on earth.

The River near the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge that swells up during monsoons

The heavy rains of the region cause a lot of flash floods and this restricts the movements of the local Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya. The various bamboo bridges that were built over the various rivers were not sturdy enough to withstand the gushing rivers and were often, swept away. The ingenious tribes discovered a robust solution with the living root bridges.

The flowing river gets so filled that without a bridge one cannot cross it

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.

Are the Meghalaya Living Root Bridges – 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, 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 roots of the Rubber trees that make the Meghalaya Living Root Bridges

Building these bridges is not random. It is by design. The roots of the rubber tree are directed along to enter tree trunks of Betel plants or Areca nut palm trees 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

In some cases, seeds of the Rubber plant are sown on either side of the banks and the roots are then directed using bamboos towards each other

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. The old roots decay and fall away while the new ones take their place.

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

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.

Facts about the Meghalaya Living Root Bridges

Sturdy, long and really old - check out the facts about these Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya
  • The living root bridges are largely associated with Meghalaya but there are a few that you can find in the neighboring places like Myanmar and Nagaland. There are similar tree shaping versions in Indonesia too.
  • Some of the bridges, especially the ones in Cherrapunji are said to be over 500 years old. The one I visited – the living root bridge in Mawlynnong had the trees planted around 1840.
  • The Ummunoi Root Bridge is said to be the oldest living root bridge in Meghalaya
  • Not only are they strong enough to withstand the flood but can hold an army of 50 on it.
  • The longest known living root bridge is in Pynursla – a small Khasi village in Meghalaya. It stretches for around 50 m.
  • The Living Root Bridges have been awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Our Journey to the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge

Enroute to the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

Jingmaham Living Root Bridge is near the Mawlynnong village and this is where we planned to stay for a night. To reach the bridge, we were to do a short hike from 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 get us here. It was past noon when we set down for a small hike to the famed Living Root Bridge of Mawlynnong.

A Hike to the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

The hike to the Jingmaham Root Bridge took us 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 merely 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.

Hiking down to the Mawlynnong 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 to the living root bridge itself would not be more than a kilometer long.

Walking on the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge

The first glimpse of the Mawlynnong 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.

The Sturdy Living Root Bridge can hold an army of 50 people

For all the descriptions 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 Jingmaham Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

The rustic charm of the Jingmaham Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong

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. In some ways, this felt like a set of The Hobbit. The photographer in me went berserk capturing it from various angles.

Me on the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya
Peeping through the natural windows of the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge

Walking along to the other side, I hopped across 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

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.

Mawlynnong Balancing Rock

The Mawlynnong 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 sustenance for 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?

How to reach the Living Root Bridge in Mawlynnong?

Mawlynnong is around two and half hours from the state capital Shillong. There are plenty of cab operators who offer day-trips to this village which is at a distance of 75 km from Shillong. You also, have the option of opting for shared cabs from the central Police Bazaar.

Shillong does not have an airport. The nearest one is in Guwahati. You hire a taxi or get on a bus to reach Shillong, a distance of 3 – 4 hours from the Guwahati Airport.

Where can you find the other Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya?

Though there are tons of Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya, not all of them are easy to visit. Some of them have not been used and hence, are not very safe to walk on. Here is a list of the recommended Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya.

1) Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge

This is the one that I visited. It is easy to hike to it and is quite scenic too. What makes it attractive to visit are the other places that you can club along with it. The cleanest village of Mawlynnong, also called the “God’s own Garden” is a huge draw as well as the cleanest river Dawki with its fairytale landscape.

2) Nongriat Double Decker Living Root Bridge

Jingkieng Nongriat Living Root Bridge

Also called Jingkieng Nongriat or the Umshiang Double Decker Bridge, this one is the most popular among all the Meghalaya Root Bridges. It is 30 m long and 2400 m high. You need to be prepared for an arduous hike to the living root bridge of Nongriat.

To see the Double Decker living root bridge, you need to head to the village of Tyrna from Cherrapunji. This is where you start your 3000 steps hike to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge near Umshiang River. The steps are not even and at some places, quite steep. What makes the hike to the living root bridge interesting are the flora and fauna of the place. Be prepared to spot some interesting birds and some scary insects too.

Hiking to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge will take you past smaller bridges

The hiking trail will take you through smaller suspension bridges. There are numerous swimming pools around the place which can serve as a good break on this intensive hike.

The Double Decker Bridge is a sight to behold and you can walk on either one of the levels. The two levels were by design as during one particular season, the lower one got submerged in the Umshiang river. Hence, a higher one was required. If rumors are to be believed, then there is a third level being constructed. So keep an eye out for that.

If you still have the energy, continue a little further from the double decker bridge to Rainbow falls with its pretty colors.

Rainbow falls - a little ahead of the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge

3) Ritymmen Root Bridge

This can be visited when you are hiking to the Nongriat Double Decker Root Bridge. In fact, if you want to cut short your hike to the Double Decker bridge, then you can just visit the Ritymmen Living Root Bridge. The bridge is in fact, quite impressive owing to its length (30 m). It is considered as one of the longest bridges of Meghalaya

4) Mawsaw Living Root Bridge

The Mawsaw Living Root bridge is a little ahead of the Double decker bridge in Meghalaya. What makes the visit worthwhile are the natural pools around the bridge. You can actually swim around there.

5) Ummunoi Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya

To get to this oldest living root bridge of Meghalaya, you need to get to Laitkynsew village. From here, the bridge is a 2 km hike. The Ummunoi Bridge is around 74 m long.

When is the best time to visit the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya?

The only time that I recommend you avoid visiting Meghalaya is during monsoons. This would be between the months of June to September. The rest of the year is perfect for enjoying Meghalaya and its living root bridges. Personally, I recommend pre-monsoon months – March and April, to get the best of the place.

Where to stay in Meghalaya for the Living Root Bridges?

Most of the Living Root Brides are located in remote villages. Most of these are accessible from either Shillong or Cherrapunji. When it comes to Shillong, there are plenty of stay options that can suit your budget. However, Sohra or Cherrapunjee has limited accommodation choices. It might even be a challenge to find them through the internet.

It is better to book a home-stay through a reputed travel operator who specializes in North-East India. I highly recommend using North-East Explorers who helped me get some really comfortable homestays in Sohra and Mawlynnong.

Pin this up as your guide to the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya so that you have all your information ready when you decide to get there.

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Travel Tips

  • 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. Also, choose your shoes carefully as the path to the bridges can be really wet and slippery.
  • 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 life in the cleanest village of Asia. There are no big hotels here but plenty of home-stays.

Booking Resources

  • 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.
  • Booking.com has some stay options for Shillong. Use this link to look up the various options
  • If you are looking for affordable and good quality rain gear or travel bags, consider using this link to Amazon.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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