Meghalaya (meaning “the abode of clouds”) is a very small hilly state, most of which is under dense forest cover. It is bounded to the north by Assam and by Bangladesh to the south. The state capital is Shillong, a popular hill station.
Undulating rivers, beautiful waterfalls, sparkling mountain streams, emerald-green lakes, precipitous gorges and panoramic views from hilltops are the main highlights of Meghalaya. Its subtropical forests support a vast variety of flora and fauna.
Meghalaya’s double-decker root bridges are found in Cherrapunjee. Located around 56 kms from Shillong. Cherrapunjee is a must visit destination known for its numerous waterfalls and a trek to the Single and Double Decker Root Bridges.
These bridges are not built, they are grown. And it takes almost a decade or more to become strong and sturdy.
Meghalaya is home to “Living Root Bridges” which are not being found anywhere else in the world.
In most places around the world, bridges are constructed using concrete and steel as the main building materials. Even in the epic Ramayana when Rama had to cross over to Lanka to save Sita, he built a bridge with mud and stone.
But in Meghalaya, one of the seven sisters of the North Eastern states of India, bridges are grown or made to grow. The original architects of this natural bridge building technology are the forefathers of the Khasi tribe, one of the three major tribes in this hill state. The other two tribes are the Garos and Jayantias. Though this ancient technology appears to be theoretically simple, practically it is very difficult as it takes a long time to grow a root bridge.
Roots of the rubber tree — Ficus Elastica are the pavements for these natural bridges in the thick forests of Khasi Hills district. Strong secondary roots of this rubber tree are manipulated to grow horizontally through the tunnels of hollowed betel nut trunks across the fast flowing rivers. This tree can comfortably perch itself on huge boulders along side the river banks or in the middle of rivers and send its roots down to the riverbed. Thus, they have adapted themselves very well to high soil erosion caused by caused by fast flowing rivers and streams that come down about 3000 feet along precipitous slopes. These trees shoot out many secondary roots from their trunks.
While the construction of modern concrete bridges may take three or four years, these types of bridges take very long to develop into a firm bridge. Normally it takes around 10 to15 years, which is the normal construction period. These bridges grow to approximately 50 to100 feet long and have strong and deep roots providing a stable foothold. They can carry up to 50 people at a time. The life of these bioengineering wonders is estimated at 500 years, more than the life span of most of manmade modern bridges.
The most famous Umshiang Double Decker root bridge in Nongriat village is estimated to be two centuries old. The roots used in one of these bridges are about 18 inches broad and about 6 inches thick.
This place receives a lot of rain, so wooden bridges rot and decay. But Root bridges are alive and growing and so gain strength over time. These bioengineering wonders are eloquent testimonies of man living in harmony with nature.