‘Living Bridges’ – Do They Really Connect Earth To The Heaven? – A Marvel Hidden In The Jungles Of Meghalaya

Indian Culture By Ritika Bidawat | 3 min read

The natural marvels of India are simply astounding and phenomenal in their own ways. Whether it’s the Floating Island on Loktak Lake or the Magnetic Hill of Himalaya, every natural wonder in India has a fascinating story to tell. Talking about the natural marvels of India, how can we miss this truly fascinating phenomenon that exists in India’s mountainous state of Meghalaya: the living bridges.

Source – Wikimedia

While the world strives to build more environmentally friendly structures, the Khasi and Jaintia peoples have been cultivating these simple footbridges for many years.

A living bridge is a kind of simple pedestrian bridge formed by the roots of huge trees. They can commonly be found in the Indian state of Meghalaya‘s southern region.

A living bridge of Meghalaya is created by guiding the rubber fig tree’s pliable roots across rivers or streams and then letting the roots spread and grow over time until they can bear to take the human weight.

Source – Wikimedia

When mature, some bridges can carry more than 50 people and can survive for hundreds of years. But Without regular maintenance, many living bridges had also decayed or become overgrown, rendering them unusable.

Origin of This Marvel

Source – Wikimedia

The Khasi people have no idea how or when the heritage of living bridges began. According to the Khasi mythology- Jingkieng Ksiar, their ancestors descended from heaven to earth by a living bridge. It is believed to be a living roots ladder that hooked up earth & heaven.

Henry Yule’s writing is one of the earliest records of these living bridges made up of the roots of trees. He expressed surprise about them in the Asiatic Society of Bengal Journal in 1844.

Until the 2010s, there were not many records or departments for the care of these living bridges, but in 2017, researchers geolocated 75 living root bridges and the government along with the locals started managing them.

But reasoning logically about the origin of these bridges, necessity must have been the mother of this invention. It is not possible to build roads in these areas. The terrain of the area is mountainous, with thick jungle and waterfalls, making the construction of permanent road structures extremely difficult. This is where building living bridges out of local resources becomes the most feasible alternative.

Techniques of Making The Living Bridge

Source – Wikimedia

The people of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of the Shillong Plateau’s mountains work skillfully on the making of these living bridges from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees.

50 to 1,150 m above sea level, most bridges grow on the steep subtropical moist broadleaf forest slopes.

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Young roots are knotted or twisted together and are frequently stirred up to combine during the inoculation process. Because the rubber fig tree is pretty well adapted to pinning itself to steep slopes & rocky surfaces, encouraging its roots to take hold on opposing river banks is simple.

The roots in the bridge grow thick and strong naturally as long as the tree from which it was formed remains green and healthy. The bridge is strengthened by the new roots that grow through the tree’s life.

The crossings are made from tree roots that have been twisted & moulded into shape. More than 100 bridges have been built in 70 villages in this mountainous northeastern region. The bridges cross rivers and many other regions and are vital to the locals.

They enable people who live in these remote areas to travel. Access to essential services such as doctors & schools would’ve been extremely difficult without the bridges. Villagers can also utilize the bridges to make the journey to other areas to purchase and sell goods.

The bridges are made of bamboo, with the roots of a tree – typically the rubber tree – stretched from across the structure.

The Unique Bridges of India

Unlike traditional bridges, Indian living bridges strengthen over time. When they were first built, these bridges could only accommodate 15 to 20 people per day. After many decades, the roots have grown stronger and can now support up to 50 people in a single day.

The Rangthylliang bridge, which is really over 50 meters long, is a living example of the longest living bridge made of roots. There are also double-decker bridges, which have two parallel pathways. Nongriat, the most renowned of these bridges, is believed to be over 200 years old.

The living crossings have now been added to a list of potential World Heritage sites. If the living bridges receive this honour, they will be legally protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Source – Wikimedia

Unfortunately, we are unaware of the natural wonders that have been awarded, and thus we choose to ignore the extinction of these natural wonders. It is our responsibility to understand and care about these splendid marvels of India, and we at mad4india will continue to ring an info bell; keep listening to the bells.

If you liked this story, please read the motivational story of Prasiddhi Singh, who is planting saplings and making the world greener.

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