Living Root Bridges

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 28, 2022, 13:13

Living Root Bridges are found in the dense tropical forests of the northeastern state of Meghalaya. These natural bridges are made from the roots of giant rubber trees that follow a certain course over the water source through human intervention.

What are Living Root Bridges?

The Jaintia and Khasi tribesmen direct the course of the roots of old rubber trees deftly to cross over the numerous streams that flow through the jungles. The roots are thick and inextricably entangled with each other. The robust Living Root Bridges can handle the weight of 50+ people moving over them in quick succession. In Meghalaya, although it rains almost the entire year, the bridges don't get decayed as they are not deadwood but the roots of living trees.

Living Root Bridges - History and Significance

The idea of making bridges came to the Khasi tribesmen some 180 years ago. The Areca nut palm's cane was hollowed out and put across the opposite banks of the stream. The roots of rubber trees growing along the banks on either side were then directed through the cane such that they met midway across the water body. Proper care was taken to nurture the roots to grow sufficiently enough to reach out to the opposite banks. In the process, these get roots entangled with each other. This technique is used to date to create strong Living Root Bridges that can endure a heavy load.

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Interesting Facts About Living Root Bridges

Some fascinating facts about Living Root Bridges have been shared below.

  • The entwining roots are of a rubber tree called the Ficus elastica tree.
  • The root bridges can be as long as 100 feet in some places.
  • The roots take almost 10-15 years to set into the shape of a bridge.
  • The average age of grown-up living roots is 500 years.
  • The roots grow in bunches; hence, even if decay sets in those roots that are continuously exposed to water, other roots take up the position of the decaying ones.
  • Due to the living nature of roots, the bridges always remain stable.
  • Cherrapunji's ‘double-decker root bridge' and Shillong's ‘single-decker root bridge' are the most popular tourist attractions.
  • UNESCO has accorded the status of ‘World Heritage Site' to Meghalaya's Living Root Bridges.
  • The bridges are commonly found in the West Jaintia Hills and East Khasi Hills districts, Shillong, and Cherrapunji.
  • The longest bridge is the 180 years old double-decker root bridge at Umshiang, which is 30 meters in length and located at 2400 feet.
  • To reach a double-decker bridge, one has to walk 3 km from village Tyrna located 20 km away from Cherrapunji.
  • The single-decker bridge is near Mawlynnong village that was conferred the honour of ‘Asia's Cleanest Village' in 2003 by Discover India magazine.

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Living Root Bridges - Must-Visit for Nature Lovers

Across Meghalaya, there are 11 major Living Root Bridges and many smaller ones. The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal had documented the bridges way back in 1844. A Tamil banker who had settled in Laitkynsew village and built a holiday resort there had rendered the bridges popular tourist spots. He had written extensively about the trekking routes and locations of bridges he had explored with his wife from the local Khasi tribe.

One can visit the Living Root Bridges from Shillong or Cherrapunji, both of which can be reached from Guwahati. Since Meghalaya has an equable climate, the bridges can be visited at any time during the year. However, it is advisable to avoid the monsoon months spanning June to August as Meghalaya experiences heavy rainfall.

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FAQs on Living Root Bridges

Q.1. In which state are the Living Root Bridges found?

The Living Root Bridges are in the Northeastern state of Meghalaya.

Q.2. The Living Root Bridges are created from the roots of which tree?

The Living Root Bridges are made from the Rubber tree known as the Ficus elastica tree.

Q.3. How are the Living Root Bridges made?

The roots of young rubber trees are put in Areca nut palm's hollow trunks across the raised banks of streams. The roots of trees on either side of the stream wrap around themselves, reach the opposite bank, and firmly entrench themselves. This is how the Living Root Bridges are constructed.

Q.4. Who has the expertise in making the Living Root Bridges?

The members of the Jaintia and Khasi tribes of Meghalaya have the expertise in making the Living Root Bridges.

Q.5. Which among the Living Root Bridges is the longest one?

The longest Living Root Bridges is the double-decker root bridge at Umshiang - 30 meters long and located at 2400 feet.