The wonders of nature and what it is capable of, never cease to amaze us. And the Living Root Bridge of Meghalaya are the latest addition to those wonders. They are definitely a unique natural formation, handmade by the locals. And to me they felt like a wonderful creation out of the natural resources which must be carefully preserved.
How are the living root bridges formed
The living root bridge are handmade from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees. Initially the roots of these trees are guided across a river or stream. And then they are left to grow over a period of time. As they grow, they entangle, and bind strongly, firmly holding on to the soil at the roots. And then one day the Living Root Bridge becomes strong enough to hold the human weight. And then this natural creation is used by the locals to commute across the streams or rivers. How wonderful! The best part is that since these bridges are made of living trees, they self repair and self heal, keep themselves healthy and don’t require any maintenance as long as the trees that the roots belong to are healthy enough.
Where do the living root bridge exist
The living root bridge are known to exist in the north eastern Indian state of Meghalaya and Nagaland. Some of them have also been located in Sumatra and Java province of Indonesia. They are very less in number. And they must be preserved well for they are true wonders. In Meghalaya, there is a double decker Living Root Bridge in Cherrapunji. And then there is a smaller living root bridge near the village of Mawlynnong. There might be others as well in the hills which are less accessible to tourists. But the above two are the most famous.
The double decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunji
This is definitely the most famous Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya. However. one needs to have ample time to visit this one. As, it takes around 3 hours for the decent down to the bridge and the ascent back to the top. And add to that the time you will like to spend at this natural wonder. So, overall, it takes half a day to trek up and down the double decker Living Root Bridge and spend some time around the bridge itself. Add to it the time required to reach the village from where the trekking starts and return back. Overall, it will be like a days affair.
But the site of the bridge and the experience are totally worth the time spent. We would recommend you stay in Cherrapunji for a night if you want to visit this Living Root Bridge. Dedicate one day exploring other sites at Cherrapunji and another day to visit this double decker Living Root Bridge. However, if you are time poor like us and doing a 4 day trip to Meghalaya or shorter weekend trip, then you might have to skip the Double Decker Living Root Bridge of Cherrapunji. But that doesn’t mean you are going to miss the experience of visiting the Living Root Bridge of Meghalaya altogether. Since you can visit the next one we describe below.
The Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong
Although smaller than the double decker living Root Bridge of Cherrapunji, the Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong make for a perfect experience for time poor travelers like us. It is also more easily accessible with a much smaller trek. So, if visiting with parents or kids, it can be conveniently visited. We visited here from Shillong. We stopped 2 km before the village of Mawlynnong. There is a parking lot here which is dotted with small shops selling refreshments like water, juice, cut fruits etc. and some local handicrafts. After crossing the parking lot we crossed through narrow village lanes to reach the starting point of the stone stairs that lead to the Living Root Bridge. However, the whole village and the pathway were completely clean and dotted with natural greenery. You will see small neat and clean houses with plantation in their backyard and farm animals and birds roaming around freely.
Down to the Living Root Bridge
Once at the stairs, you need to be a little more careful as they are uneven. And sometimes damp also pertaining to the continuous rainfall that Meghalaya receives. We went down the stairs to reach the Living Root Bridge. To be honest, the bridge was very different from what I had imagined. For, I had always imagined it as a mess of tangled roots with gaps between them. Something shaking and difficult to traverse, like the rope bridges. But to the contrary, the bridge is as good as any solid concrete one. The roots are only visible on the sides, forming a boundary to the bridge. Although they must be running all the way underneath the bridge, tightly entangled with each other. Then there is a thick layer of soil deposited between the roots, firmly held by them, which makes for a very smooth and even surface to walk on.When I set foot on the bridge, I was surprised by its firmness.
On to the Living Root Bridge
Setting foot on the Living Root Bridge is definitely an experience of a lifetime. You can cross the bridge to reach the other side. There is a crystal clear stream of water flowing underneath. One can go all the way down to the water, hop over the rocks or enjoy the currents. Just be careful as the stones are pretty smooth and can be slippery. I could spot some locals far on the stones fishing and enjoying the beautiful day!
Note: It is not allowed to stand on the bridge as a part of avoiding excess load on it which will reduce its life. Sadly, I could still see a lot of enthusiastic tourists stopping midway, taking selfies and not making any attempt to move. The poor guard appointed there had to meticulously keep asking people to move on. When you visit the Living Root Bridge, please do adhere to the request of not standing on the bridge, but keep moving. We all can do this little bit to preserve this wonder of nature that we proudly like to visit and talk about.
On the other side of the Living Root Bridge
Once you cross the bridge, apart from going all the way to the water, you also have an option to trek up on the other side. It is around an hour’s trek up and down the uneven stone stairs cut out of the mountain. With a few beautiful viewpoints in between, finally it will take you across a beautiful village to a view point. This is a beautiful bamboo canopy walk, at the end of which you will have a clear view of the vast stretch of planes beneath. And these are actually the planes of Bangladesh!
The trek to this point, back to the Living Root Bridge and then all the way back to the parking area can be tiring if done in a single stretch. So, stop over near the bridge when you reach here, and start the climb to the Bangladesh Viewpoint after some time. Then when you come back down to the Living Root Bridge, take some rest once again before starting for the way up, back to the parking lot. While returning back, we bought some refreshments like juices, soft drink and water. And I also got a beautiful piece of souvenir from one of the shops on the way:
Onwards Journey from the Living Root Bridge
After visiting the Living Root Bridge, we next visited the Mawlynnong village, a village which is awarded the certificate of the cleanest village in Asia. It is a small fairytale village indeed. We walked through it’s random clean streets that are dotted with simple yet beautiful houses and blooming flowers. There is greenery all around. And we spotted a lot of butterflies in the villages, flocking over the plants and trees. There are several viewpoints here as well to look at the surrounding mountains and valleys. Overall a beautiful place that we will soon write about in details.
Some tips on visiting the Living Root Bridge
- Wear Comfortable walking shoes or sandals to trek easily.
- It might be cool in the morning and evening, but during the day when we visited it was a little hot and humid. So wear light cotton cloths and top them with a light jacket which you can take off as the day progresses. A rain jacket or waterproof jacket is even better.
- As requested, please don’t stand on the bridge, keep moving.
- Keep yourself hydrated with drinking water and fruit juices while you trek up and down your way to the Living Root Bridge. You can buy them from the stalls on the way.
- There are no restrooms in the vicinity of the Living Root Bridge. So, prepare yourself accordingly.
- You can easily combine your visit to the Living Root Bridge with a walk to the beautiful village of Mawlynnong which is just 2 km apart. You can visit the Living Root Bridges in the first half of the day and then Mawlynnong during lunch time so that you can have lunch here as well. Later you can proceed to the Umngot River in Dawki.
- If you are staying in Shillong, then start as early in the morning as possible. We had started by 7:45am and reached here by 10:00am. However, we spent a good 2 hours here at the Living Root Bridge and then started back by 12:00pm.