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Magical Meghalaya: The living root bridge

A Himalayan wonder


It was a relatively easy day at the office. I had some spare time and was just Googling around randomly about “Himalayan wonders” when I literally 'stumbled upon' a blog post by Human Planet's Timothy Allen, about the living root bridges of Meghalaya. 

The living root bridge
The post began with a decidedly intriguing photograph. It was a massive, gigantic root of a banyan tree across a river. But it was not just a plain, natural root. A dense network of  branches arched over an intricately curved network of roots and creepers that ran right across the breadth of a mountain stream.


Sure enough I was soon headed backpacking to the eastern most corner of the East Khasi Hills near the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Mawlynnong


My home during this short stay was atop a tree house in Mawlynnong. Hanging right above a rapid, Mawlynnong has a unique distinction, it is known as Asias Cleanest Village. This is the only place to stay near the living root bridge. Immaculately clean and exotically beautiful, the village of Mawlynnong is also home to the most welcoming and smiling community I have ever met. I reached there at night, stayed atop a beautiful Machan right  over a rambling rapid and the next morning I was on my way way to the living root bridge. 


A morning trek, by the “King’s Way”

About one and a half kilometer from Mawlynnong a yellowed with time-and-weather notice board read, Riwai Village. Living Root Bridge.Jingkieng Jri: 400 M. The trek downwards began through a flight of moss-laden, spongy, dewy-wet stairs that led the way towards the distant sound of a rapid rambling through a stone bed somewhere below. The track went through the beautiful, clean, peaceful, and unusually silent Riwai village. 


"King's Way"
At one point the steps bi-furcated as another spongy, stony track went towards left, leading into the forest. This was the Kings Way. Used for carrying betel nut leaves, it has connected all the villages in Meghalaya with Shillong for centuries through an intricate network. The track meandered away into the green silence for a while before disappearing through the next bend. Suddenly, you would be inside a forest of enchanting green magic. A single branch of leaf may bend on to the truly royal way, a wild boar may be observing your steps silently from behind a tree, a wild black cat with shining eyes may stalk you with its quick, silent steps


On the main track a rare mountain flower bloomed. Its vibrant colors somehow found their way inside the incredible greenness all around.  Sunrays from a cloud free, early morning Himalayan sky peeped through the green cover above, creating a shadowy chiaroscuro of soft, golden white and deep, throbbing greenery.


The earlier sound of the distant rapid now became more prominent, the sound of a river leaping across the stone bed in full mirth.



An art in organic engineering


The nearly half a kilometer stretch of stairs suddenly opened up in front of the arched gateway to the living root bridge - a massive and magnificent banyan tree. The slightly triangular, pyramid-shaped trunk was one of the tallest among the surrounding forest. Its roots spread across the breadth of the rapid to meet with the roots of another banyan tree planted on the other bank.  It was a fantastic sight, something that had an air of something unreal. 


Below the living root bridge
Created about 150 years ago, the bridge was an art in organic engineering. It was created by planting two bamboo trees on each bank of the rapid. A bamboo was initially planked across it to secure the roots from both the trees. With time the roots superseded the original bamboo plank and then over the centuries weaved themselves around it in intricate networks across. So much so that it became strong enough to lay stone pavements on it as well as to implant handrails, which are off course extensions of the roots themselves.


The bridge was created to endure the frequent and often ferocious flash-floods in the area. These floods would blow away any normal bridge, but for the root bridges it’s different as nature finds a way here. Due to its make, there are numerous pores in the bridge. During the flash-floods, the water from the rapid channels through these pores as well as other natural outlets, leaving the main structure intact.


Till date, every single day, the bridge is maintained by the community who lives in the village about half a kilometer above.

  
On a fairytale morning, in a fantasy world


Back to the roots
Somewhere down the rapid, near the bridge, the centuries-old majestic banyan tree reflected off the flowing water of Wahthyllong rapid. Its root-lets kept hanging over the rapid‘s crystal clear water. Soft, early morning sunlight was streaming on to the water, weaving a fantasy world of light and shadows beneath the bridge.


There was a massive, brownish rock under the water with evenly curved holes in it. Those were the fish nests. Strange green mosses clung themselves around these nests. Green and a vermilion tinged yellow formed a strangely beautiful triangle over the rest of the sun-bathed water


Somewhere around a reddish dead leaf had nestled itself around a green, moss laden, beautifully crafted stone-hole.


And amidst all that flowing life, there was a small, almost circular stone-hole near the rapid-bed. Rain water had filled it to the brim earlier and the miniature natural mirror now reflected the branches of the mighty tree beside in its tiny crater. 





Post-script

I found Timothy Allen's guest book entry in Mawlynnong. It was the the second ever entry in the guest book. For his extraordinary blog post about Mawlynnong and the living root bridge, check here



Comments

  1. Beautiful place! A lovely post with nice photos. The 3rd one is the best. Where's the tree house photo you put up though?

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  2. @Ayan: Thanks. Here. http://spacingplaces.blogspot.com/2011/11/mawlynnong-nurturing-nature.html

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  3. Great bridges, thanks for the story

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sean. Planning to visit the place?

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    2. I enjoyed the blog and only wish I could get on a plane and check it out. Great blog. Keep up the good work.

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    3. Thanks a lot for your very kind words! If you are really planning to visit, I would suggest that avoid the rainy season. Best time is probably between autumn and winter.

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  4. plz make this beautiful pics more big and add more details with your article.I want link your article with my blog.

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  5. Hi Seb, thanks for your really kind words. Just a couple of thigs:

    1. If I increase the image size, it will kind of mess up the blog lay-out. (I keep the higher-res versions of these images elsewhere)

    2. May I have a look at your blog before you do the linking?

    Thanks

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  6. আর আমরা কিনা নিজেদের বলি সভ্য, civilized !!! আর কখনো বন্যা কখনো ভূমিকম্পে ধ্বংস হয়ে যাই৷

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. According to some report, we, the "civilized" lot, will be in some serious trouble by 2100.

    ReplyDelete

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