Meghalaya’s Living Root Bridges

Published in The Shillong Times, 11th April 2012 – Front Page

Meghalaya’s Living Root Bridges – Nature’s Masterpiece

The Double Decker Root Bridge at Nongriat is one of many root bridges that are exclusive to Meghalaya. The bridges are formed by plaiting the stem-roots of the rubber tree (Ficus Elastica) for a period of 20-25 years, an activity which the people of Ri War in the southern slopes of Meghalaya are adept at. These root bridges span across rivers connecting one village to another. Some are as long as a 100 ft.

“In the beginning there were no tour guides, so I had to take tourists myself down those 2500 steps down and an equal number on the return journey. It was very exhausting but worth every visit,” Rayen says.

Initially there were no regular cemented steps and it was difficult trek. Now with several Government schemes such as the MNREGA etc. The steps have been cemented although they are of different dimensions and at times so narrow that one has to walk sideways.

Going down the steps is a test in endurance as the knees start shaking. It requires grit and determination to go right down to the end of the steep ridge before reaching the Double Decker.

But equally amazing are the iron bridges made of thick iron twines, apparently constructed by the British. (Small correction – Constructed by the State Government not by the British.) Though the bridges sway they are quite safe and can take up to 50 people at a time, according to the local guide. The two iron bridges are an engineering marvel.

A ten minute walk away from the Double Decker brings the tourist to another fabulous root bridge with a breath taking pool beneath. Foreign tourists seem to know these places better than local and Indian tourists. A Rastafarin couple from Denmark for instance were lodged at a small four-roomed guest house just a few minutes away from the Double Decker bridge at Rs 500/- a room per night.

The whole trek takes a good 7-8 hours. On the return journey one could also take a look at the Long Root Bridge, a fairly lengthy bridge but not much used although it is mature and sturdy.

On the way down the steps towards the Double Decker some railings have been constructed by the LIFCOM project under the Meghalaya Rural Development Society (MRDS). Otherwise there are no railings down the steep slopes and unless one is sure-footed there is a likelihood of tumbling down the slopes.

What is incongruous to the natural surroundings are the cemented dustbins also by MRDS. Tourists have dumped their garbage there but obviously there is no one to pick them up so they are lying open to the elements.

What many responsible tourists feel is that places like these should be considered sacred and tourists should not be allowed to bring plastic bottles and food packets for trashing at the place.

The local people should set the rules and ask tourists to deposit money for every bottle or plastic bag they carry with them. They can reclaim their money when they bring back what they have taken. Nothing is allowed to be discarded at these pristine spots.

The danger about such spaces is that they tend to get over-exposed. Dennis Rayen’s resort is getting more tourists than he can cope with. Over the Easter weekend, the resort was bustling with visitors. This is where a tourism policy is urgently required.

Article by The Shillong Times Special Correspondent – Name not given.