India's Living Root Bridges (with Map & Photos)

A living root bridge is a type of simple suspension bridge formed from the roots of living plants by forming a tree. They are common in the southern part of the North East Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from aerial roots of rubber fig trees (Ficus elastica) by the Khasi and Jaintiya peoples living in the highlands along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau. Most of the bridges grow on the steep slopes of subtropical moist broad-leaved forests at an altitude of 50 to 1150 meters above sea level. As long as the tree from which it is formed remains healthy, the roots of the bridge can naturally grow and strengthen. New roots can grow throughout the life of the tree and need to be trimmed or worked to strengthen the bridge. Without active maintenance, many bridges have fallen into disrepair or become stupefied, becoming unusable. Root bridges have also been observed in the Indian state of Nagaland.

Living Root Bridge
Living Root Bridge

Living root bridges have also been created in Indonesia at Jembatan akar on the island of Sumatra, and in Banten of Java Province by the Badui people.

Deep in the dense tropical forest of Meghalaya, and shrouded in clouds and rain for much of the year, are some amazing man-made natural wonders. Known as living root bridges, they have been trained by resourceful members of the Khasi tribe to grow from the roots of ancient rubber trees, native to the Northeast region. Root bridges provide a stable alternative to wooden bridges, which break down and are destroyed during the long monsoon seasons.

Living Root Bridge
Living Root Bridge

Overview of living root bridges

It takes about 15 years for a new root bridge to become strong enough to support the weight of people crossing it. however, it will continue to grow and become even stronger over time. Some of the bridges are believed to be hundreds of years old, although no one knows their exact age. Their tangled webs of roots are almost mysterious in nature and would not look out of place in a fantasy world.

Cherrapunji living root bridges

Meghalaya's most famous root bridge, the "double-decker" root bridge, can be found in the vicinity of one of the wettest places on earth: cherrapunji (also known as sohra). There are 11 functional root bridges in this area, located about two and a half hours' drive from Shillong.

The bridges have been documented as far back as 1844, in the journal of the asiatic society of bengal. however, it is the owner of the cherrapunjee resort (a retired tamil banker who is married to a local khasi woman) in laitkynsew village who put them on the tourist map. He spent a lot of time exploring the surroundings and detailing interesting hikes when setting up the resort. (Cherrapunjee Resort is a lovely, homey place to spend time in nature, and guides are provided for hiking. Don't expect resort-style facilities, though.)

The walks to the root bridges vary in length and level of difficulty. The best known, all near the complex, are:

  • Ummunoi Root Bridge. starting point: laitkynsew village. location: ummunoi river near siej village, nongkroh, through sohsarat village. Duration: two kilometers one way. Three to four hours back. Descent: 1,400 feet. This 54-foot (17-meter) root bridge is one of the oldest known root bridges in the region, and is perhaps the most popular with tourists due to its combination of accessibility and impressiveness.
  • Umkar root bridge. Starting point and location: Siej village. Duration: half a kilometer one way. 30 minutes back. The best option for those lacking physical fitness or mobility, this root bridge was partly washed away by flash floods. the villagers in the process of growing back, which is interesting to watch. There is a waterfall next to the bridge during the monsoon season.
  • Ritymmen root bridge (can be visited on the way to the double-decker root bridge). starting point: town of tyrna. location: nongthymmai village. duration: an hour and a half or two hours back. This 100-foot (30-meter) root bridge is the oldest known living root bridge.
  • Two-story umshiang root bridge. starting point: town of tyrna. location: umshiang river in nongriat village. Duration: three kilometers one way. Four to five hours back. Descent: 2,400 feet. The "holy grail" of root bridges, the world's only 65-foot (20-meter) double-deck root bridge takes determination to reach, but it's worth it. However, not everyone can go there. It is imperative that physical condition is taken into account.
  • Sierra root bridge. If you're not too exhausted and have time, continue walking around 20-30 minutes past the double-decker root bridge. The natural pools near this root bridge are the highlight (however, they are not safe during monsoon season).

Mawlynnong living root bridge

An alternative to the root bridges around Cherrapunji, there is also a substantial root bridge near the town of Mawlynnong, and it is easily accessible. Recognized for being declared the cleanest village in Asia by a travel magazine, picturesque Mawlynnong is also touted as 'God's Garden' The village is located near the Bangladeshi border, about three hours from Shillong. To get to the root bridge, drive to the village of Riwai, a few kilometers before Mawlynnong. from there, it's about a 15-minute walk one way.

How to visit the double-decker bridge

The legendary double-decker root bridge in the village of Nongriat, near Cherrapunji, in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, beckons outdoor enthusiasts with the chance to see a man-made natural wonder of more than 150 years that is not only unique but amazing. While there are many unique root bridges in the area, this is the only one with two levels. Local Khasi tribesmen apparently raised the second level after an unprecedented wet monsoon season caused the water to reach the first level. a third level is planned, but only to capitalize on the tourism potential of the bridge.

The beauty and cleanliness of the town is also exceptional. It is obvious that the residents have a high regard for the environment. While the root bridge is undoubtedly remarkable, its surroundings feel like a place where magic happens. There are waterfalls and natural pools, groups of huge brightly colored butterflies, mysterious sounds of the forest, and so much ancient wisdom.

visiting the double-decker root bridge is not easy. The walk is long and exhausting. It's worth it though, for an out-of-this-world experience that's guaranteed to be a highlight of your travels.

How fit do you have to be?

read any article about the double-decker root bridge and chances are you'll find a warning about the arduous nature of the hike. but how hard? You may be worried about whether you can do it and how hard it will be. The reality is that you don't have to be super fit. however, if you have any joint or mobility problems, or are not in decent physical condition, definitely don't do it (there are other, easier options to see live root bridges). the hike is very steep in parts, and will put a lot of stress on your knees and calf muscles.

I don't consider myself fit. I'm skinny but I exercise irregularly. The hike took me two hours each way. This was walking at a leisurely pace there and a steady pace on the way back. I spent an hour relaxing on the double deck root bridge. so in total I completed the hike in five hours. my muscles are very sore for a few days afterwards.

About the walk

The road to the double-decker root bridge is three kilometers (nearly two miles) long. It has approximately 3,500 steps and descends 2,400 feet. Those are some daunting numbers, but don't let that put you off!

There are three parts to the walk. The steepest and most challenging part is the first part, going down the hill to nongthymmai village (where the longest root bridge, ritymmen, is located). It takes about 45 minutes, along a seemingly endless trail of steps that plunges deeper and deeper into the forest. It looks like a paradise, with Jack fruits and pineapples growing wildly amidst the jungle of greenery.

Nongthymmai is a surprisingly attractive beekeeping village with manicured cement walkways, manicured flower gardens and a blue and white painted church. from there, it takes at least another hour to reach the double-decker root bridge.

The remaining two parts of the hike, which involve crossing narrow steel suspension bridges over raging rivers, are much flatter and less demanding. However, this, as well as the steep descent, can make the hike challenging for anyone with a fear of heights or vertigo.

Just as you begin to doubt if you'll ever get there, after tackling another ascending staircase you'll be greeted with a sign announcing the town of No Gonriat. crawl down the last flight of stairs, look down, and there it will be like something from a fairy tale: the two-story root bridge with its thick, thick roots covered in moss.

How to get there

The trek to the double-decker root bridge begins in the town of Tyrna, about 30 minutes after Cherapunji (and not far from the Cherapunji Resort in Laitkynsew town). It can be done comfortably in a day trip from Shillong. From Shillong, it takes about two and a half hours to Tyrna, and costs around Rs 3,000. A reliable taxi driver, based in Shillong and who knows the area, is Mr. Mumtiaz. phone: 9206128935.

Cherrapunji climate: when to go

Cherrapunji is known as one of the wettest places on earth. The rainy season begins in April and continues until October. Most of the rain is received during June and July. it rains intermittently during the rest of the monsoon months. rain usually occurs during the morning. (when I did the hike in mid-May, the morning was wet but the afternoon was sunny). You'll find a useful rainfall table here.

In January (the dry winter season), the average high temperature is 16 degrees Celsius / 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This drops to around 5 degrees Celsius / 41 degrees Fahrenheit at night. In July (the wet monsoon summer season), the average temperature rises to a maximum of 22 degrees Celsius / 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, it drops to an average of 18 degrees Celsius / 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to wear

You may be tempted to wear a raincoat or other wet weather/winter clothing. However, it is actually preferable to use as little as possible. Due to the strenuous nature of the hike, you will get hot very quickly. your clothes will be saturated with sweat and it's much more comfortable to let your skin breathe. As for footwear, choose comfortable shoes that have good grip. (sandals are fine, especially if they're proper walking sandals, like birkenstocks, which is what I wore.)

What to bring

If you're worried about rain, it's a good idea to bring an umbrella. Pack some food and water, as you'll only find a couple of shacks selling bottled water and snacks on the way from Tyrna to No Griat village. You will be able to get basic Indian vegetarian meals at nongriat. It is recommended to wear a hat and sunscreen if you have fair skin. mosquitoes are present at night, so you may want to consider mosquito repellent as well. It's possible to go swimming in the natural pools on the double-decker bridge, so bring appropriate bathing suits if you want to do this (it's really refreshing and changing rooms are provided).keep in mind that everything you take adds weight, and you will really feel it when you go up the hill.

Stay there

There are some guest houses and homestays in Nongriat Village that offer very basic accommodation. If you have time and are not bothered by a few hassles (minimal facilities are provided), it is well worth staying for a night or two as the surrounding scenery is spectacular. You can walk to waterfalls, natural pools and other root bridges from the town. again, pack as light as possible, as you will have a hard time carrying a heavy backpack.

Other things to consider

entrance and camera fees are paid at the double-decker root bridge. the cost is 10 rupees for adults, 5 rupees for children and 20 rupees for a camera. The local Khasi are very aware of their surroundings and maintaining their cleanliness. Indian-style (squat) toilets are available on the double-deck bridge, and there's a Rs500 fine for anyone caught relieving themselves in the woods or littering. Try to get back to Tyrna no later than 5pm as it starts to get dark early there. It is not necessary to take a guide, although many people do, since the path is signposted.

Living Root Bridge Map