A living wonder – Living Root Bridges of India!

The Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat in Cherrapunjee - Meghalaya, India.
The Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat in Cherrapunjee – Meghalaya, India.

Nestled in the North Eastern state of Meghalaya, is the humble little treasure of waterfalls called Cherrapunjee. A quick google image search of the city is enough to win you over with its incredible waterfalls and mind-blowing natural beauty.

But while the waterbodies of Cherrapunjee are the obvious attraction for tourists, I visited the city after monsoons when most of these water bodies were dry, and I still bought back memories for life! Why? Because hidden deep in the heart of Cherrapunjee, in a tiny little village of Nongriat, is a UNESCO heritage site, the single and double decker living root bridges!

Now a disclaimer before you read any further, visiting these bridges is not for the lazy/ casual tourists. It’s not a very difficult trek in the technical way, but it does need you to climb a lot of steps which will put your will-power and stamina to test, and I would not advise it for people with weak knees. But what I will promise, is once you make the resolve and go for it, all the effort will be totally worth it! Not just for the novelty of the destination, but also for the lovely sights and surprises the entire trek beholds. And the experience of walking on live root bridges that are grown – not built, is a memory that will always stay fresh in my mind, just like these bridges that grow stronger with age!

So, it was a fine Sunday morning when we started our trek from Tyrna village entrance, which was a 30-40 mins drive from our guesthouse (highly recommend this guesthouse too, warm hospitality and calm surroundings). I wish someone had warned us, but no one did, and we didn’t carry any food with us hoping to buy something on the way. But Cherrapunjee is completely cut-off on Sundays and we couldn’t find a single shop. Excited as we were, we still went ahead with the daunting trek.

Our lovely cottage at Sai Mika Resort, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya
Our lovely cottage at Sai Mika Resort, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya

Now I can possibly divide this trek into three parts: Reaching the first bridge, finding the others, crawling our way back home. Reaching the first living root bridge was comparatively the easiest, as we were going down the steps and we were all so eager to see this natural wonder that we really didn’t care about anything else. Throughout the trek, walking steeper and deeper inside the forests of Nongriat, trying to spot the elusive bridges at every turn we made, we were accompanied by interesting spotting of exotic birds and butterflies, giant spiders even, and water bodies that just take your breath away!

Giant Aragog-ish spiders enroute the living route bridges.
Giant Aragog-ish spiders enroute the living route bridges.
One of the many beautiful sights you encounter on the trek to the double-decker living root bridge.
One of the many beautiful sights you encounter on the trek to the double-decker living root bridge.

After walking for about 45 mins, we finally saw it! The longest root bridge, Ritymmen – beautiful as it was, it was also intimidating. The sheer length of the bridge and how strong it looked, with those roots all tangled up with each other to form the most trippy bridge you can expect, this is definitely a sight to behold.

The longest living root bridge - Ritymmen Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
The longest living root bridge – Ritymmen Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

We chose to relax by the rocks near the lake here for some time, for a much needed break for photography and other important things, like giving our calf muscles some rest. After we thought we had soaked enough of the beauty in our minds, we made our way back through the same route to go find the famous double-decker bridge!

Now, if given a choice to do things differently, I would surely choose to not do this trek on a Sunday as we felt more and more demoralized each time we crossed a tea/food stall that was on a Sunday break, and we literally had to pull off the whole trek on an empty stomach, surviving only on Electral water. Enroute the double-decker bridge, we crossed a few smaller root bridges, but this time we didn’t stop for photographs, having already seen Ritymmen. But what is worth mentioning about this part of the trek, is the few steel suspension bridges over gorgeous waterbodies, which can sweep you off your feet and make you forget about the double-decker bridge and just set camp right here! Watching the pristine blue water of the lake flowing below your feet at a lightning speed, while you try walking on the bridge so many feet above, I must admit the experience can be a little nauseating and scary, but very overwhelming and adventurous at the same time.

Even though I'm not afraid of heights, walking on this bridge did make my head spin!
Even though I’m not afraid of heights, walking on this bridge did make my head spin!

After walking for what felt like 4 hours, but actually was only two, we finally finally found a food stall that was open (yayy!) Stopping for a quick maggi, we stocked up on biscuits and chips for our return trek, and just 5 mins from there was the gorgeous double-decker bridge – one of its kind the world over! We walked across both the levels of the bridge, and then took refuge by the side of the lake below, just sitting and admiring how gorgeous this place was. Unfortunately a few drunks around us were totally spoiling my moment of tranquility, so we chose to leave sooner than I would’ve liked.

Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the second level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the second level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the lower level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the lower level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

Now it was time to go back and this has to be the worst part, and not because I wanted to stay and camp. Trekking onward to your destination is always easier as you’re excited about the adventure and experience, but the return trek is what kills you. This has to be the toughest trek I have ever done, trekking down a 2500 odd descent and back up, with around 7000 steps to cover back and forth, is no easy task. But once you complete it – there’s no happier feeling in the whole wide world!

The steps that kept magically increasing after every turn. Enroute the trek back from the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
The steps that kept magically increasing after every turn. Enroute the trek back from the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

A little intel on the living-root bridges: These natural root bridges were such guided by the early-war Khasis to serve them for crossing massive streams. They are made from the roots of an ancient rubber tree – Ficus Elastica – that is native to the rivers and streams of North East India. They take 10-15 yrs to develop, and are so strong that some of them can carry 50+ people at one time. They are said to have a life span of around 500-600 years, and in fact, become stronger over time as they are live bridges.

 

Notes:

  • One can choose to visit the living root bridge in the village of Mawlynnong too. Now I couldn’t go there, but that place is also famous as the cleanest village in Asia. So it’s surely worth a trip! Also, for people who choose not to take the deathly trek, this one is your best bet as it’s easily accessible from the village. However, you won’t find a double-decker bridge here, that one’s only in Cherra!
  • If you’re staying at SaiMika Resort too, don’t forget to ask the manager Ataanu, to show you the secret waterfall at the back of the resort. It’s quite small, but it’s really beautiful and calming.
  • We hired a cab from Guwahati to Cherrapunjee, for Rs. 3000 per day. I wouldn’t recommend our driver, but what you can do is visit the Guwahati market in the morning from where you easily get shared cabs for Shillong. You can  then hire a car from Shillong to Cherrapunjee, as Shillong drivers are better acquainted with the place.

The entire North Eastern stretch of India is known for how well its people stay in harmony with nature, and they strive to preserve its cleanliness. If you’re traveling here, please make sure you respect their efforts, do not litter, and motivate your friends to do the same.

4 thoughts on “A living wonder – Living Root Bridges of India!

  1. Lovely write up Nidhi. Now I have included it in my wishlist. Very soon from now I will be travelling that part of India. Would love to follow your blog.

  2. Hi Nidhi,

    Could you please advise the total time to complete the trek and where i can get the local guide for this.

    Regards,
    Saurabh

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