on Living Bridges

Note:  One of my good friends Mr. Herbert Daniel Gebauer, from Germany ([email protected]) an enthusiastic caver associated with the exploration of caves in Meghalaya for many years had come with another German Mr. Michael Laumanns, Berlin in March 2002 and I took them to the Living Root Bridge that was being promoted by us. The next year he came along with a photocopy of this article of Lt. Henry Yule, written in 1844, highlighting the mention of living bridge come across by Lt. Yule in Mawsmai valley. We wondered at the similarity in thinking when I had named another of the bridge as Living Root Bridge unaware of the existence of this article written by Lt. Henry Yule in 1844, and both separated in time by 155 years.

Denis P.Rayen ,Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort , Village Laitkynsew, Cherrapunjee.

Notes on the Kasia Hills and People by Lieut. Henry Yule, Bengal Engineers , Published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1844. Vol. XIV, Part – II – July to December 1844 , Nos. 151 to 156. New Series . Printed at Calcutta, Bishop’s College Press 1844.

A traveller approaching the Kasia Hills from the south, must in spite of the tameness of their general profile, be struck by the singular feature of a high sandstone precipice, which runs like an artificial scarp for miles along their face, with its upper crest straight, sharp and almost perfectly horizontal. Even when the precipice is interrupted for a space by jungly acclivity, this sharp crest continues equally defined by the cessation of the forest at its level.

As we enter the first low range of limestone hills, if instead of following the beaten road to Cherra Poonjee, which mounts by bold staircases and zigzags to the table land, we turn aside to track the wa-lingtia one of the clear hill streams which so soon are to degenerate into dull Bengallee nullas, we shall be better able to judge of Kasia scenery than those, who keeping the highway are so apt to speak disparagingly of the beauty of these hills. For two or three miles the path lies in a narrow gorge. Rocks or woody steeps rise so directly from the water as to leave a narrow footing. You see by the constantly recurring rapids, how quickly you are ascending. Sometimes, however, you will find a broad reach of deep, still water, swarming with the black backs of large fish. In an angle of the rock is perhaps a Kasia fish-trap. An enclosure of bamboos and matting has its narrow entrance fitted with a trap door; the fisher scatters his bait within, and sits concealed in a little hut, watching still the fish swarm below. He then slips his cord till the door runs down, and he proceeds to land his victims at leisure. Issuing from the defile the river branches on the left, from which flows the smaller stream, the Wa-Lingdeki, opens the magnificent valley of Mausmai. It is of a horseshoe form; two-thirds up its steep sides still runs the clear precipice of some eight hundred feet in height, with its even crest, seeming to bar all access to the upper regions. Over it, side by side, with an unbroken fall leap five or six cascades. Through the great height, the white waters seem to descend with a slow, wavering motion. The path through the valley is shaded groves of the orange and citron, the jack and betel-palm, mixed with stately forest trees, many of them entwined with pawn, and here or there a huge rubber tree or banyan. In their shade the pineapple grows in profusion; all seem like the uncultivated gifts of the Creator; but here and there water pipes of hollowed betel trunks, carrying a stream of several hundred yards along the hillside, shew that they are not altogether untended. After many ups and downs, we arrive again at the river, which divides the valley. The bridge by which we cross is worthy of description, as I believe no account of any thing similar has yet been published.

On the top of a huge boulder by the riverside, grows a large India rubber tree, clasping the stone in its multitude of roots. Two or three of the long fibres, whilst still easily pliable, have been stretched across the stream, and their free ends fastened on the other bank. There they have struck firmly into the earth, and now form a living bridge of great, and yearly increasing strength. Two great roots run directly one over the other, and the secondary shoots from the upper have been bound round, and grown into the lower, so that the former affords at once a hand-rail and suspending chain, the latter a footway. Other roots have been laced and twisted into a sort of ladder as an ascent from the bank to the bridge. The greatest thickness of the upper root is a foot, from which it tapers to six or eight inches. The length of the bridge is above eighty feet, and its height about twenty above the water level in the dry season.

The bridge was constructed by the people of the village Ringhot, and forms their communication with Cherra during the rains; the present generation say, it was made by their grandfathers. This was the first and most remarkable bridge of the kind that I saw in the Kasia Hills, and I supposed it to be unique, perhaps half accidental. But, afterwards found it to be an instance of a regular practice, and saw such bridges in every stage, from that of two slender fibres hung across the stream, to such as I have tried to describe above, and there are not less than half a dozen within as many miles of Cherra. One I measured ninety feet in clear span. They were generally composed of the roots of two opposite trees, (apparently planted for the purpose), bound together in the middle.

On the Wa-lingtia, or larger branch of the river, whose course we have traced, are several other remarkable bridges. One on the suspension principle, across a precipitous gorge on the road between Cherra and Tringhai, is composed of long rattan stretched between two trees, at a height of forty feet above the river in dry season. Yet this bridge when I visited it was impassable from damage done by the last year’s floods. The footway was a bundle of small canes lashed together, connected with two larger rattans forming hand-rails, but these so low and so far apart, that it must be difficult to grasp both together. I could not estimate the length of this bridge much under two hundred feet between the points of suspension. The Hill Kasias are afraid to trust themselves on it, but the Wars or men of the vallies, cross it drunk, sober, light or laden, with indifference and security. Still further up the river, and near the little village of Nongpriang, immediately under Cherra, is another specimen of Kasia engineering and ingenuity, – a bridge of about eighty feet span, composed entirely of strong bamboos bent into a semicircular arch, affording a sound footing, and firm rails for the hand.