Can you make sense if said that a living root bridge is actually alive and that it constantly grows? Or have you ever wondered how bridges can be grown with tree roots instead of being constructed with cement and concrete? Today, March 21, 2017, on World Forest Day it is worthwhile to revisit our centuries-old technique of unique bio-engineered bridges of Cherrapunjee.
The Khasi hill’s unique Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system is used to build these bridges, popularly known as ‘living root bridge’. Meghalaya’s single decker and double decker bridges are located in Cherrapunjee’s villages Sohra and Mawlynnong. The latter is located around 92 km from Shillong; also famous for its cleanest-village-in-India tag. The villagers here living amidst the lush flora and fauna take pride in exhibiting their ancestor’s effort to manifest nature in its purest form.
Apparently, centuries back the Khasi and Jaintia tribes experimented with the tree roots to grow bridges to solve their problem of crossing rivers, streams and waterfalls in the region. Ficus elastia or the Indian rubber bush is used for this purpose by interweaving its living prop root.
How it is done? People use the betel nut trunks, placed across rivers and streams to guide the ficus roots until they attach themselves to the other side. These bridges take more than ten years to become efficiently functional and can manage the weight of more than fifty people. Interestingly the rubber bush is not only used for bridges but also helps in avoiding landslides as these roots are so sturdy that it holds boulders together. The life span of a living root bridges is believed to be between 500 – 600 years.
And why it is called a ‘living’ root bridge? Because these root bridges are still growing and spawning new roots making the bridge firmer, durable, robust and sturdy. In fact, the ones in Sohar and Mawlynnong are said to be more than five hundred years old. One of the unique alternative of this is the double-decker bridge which is two bridges stacked over one another.
Visiting this enthralling beauty of Khasi and Jaintia hill’s exceptional bridges is an exciting escape from cities concrete jungle grounded on cement, iron rods, sands, woods and stone chips. Cherrapunjee’s living root bridge is a living marvel of human being’s willingness to work with nature.