More than often we love to talk about our travel experiences of faraway land with great pride but tend not to take notice of the magnificent places that are closer home. This post is dedicated to the Living Root Bridges in the Khasi Hills, Cherapunji in Meghalaya, India!
I had heard about the Living Root Bridges in Cherapunji before, but I didn’t get a chance to see them until recently. It was the month of February and we were going home for our annual holidays and it’s then that we planned a short getaway to Cherapunji.
For those unfamiliar with India’s geography, Cherapunji is a hill station in India’s northeastern state – Meghalaya. Cherapunji was until recently known as the wettest place on earth. Although nearby Mawsynrum has replaced Cherapunji for recording the highest rainfall in the world, and pushing Cherapunji to the number 2 slot, the hill station is still a popular tourist haunt among locals and people from neighboring areas.
We drove from Guwahati in Assam to Cherapunji, via Shilong – the drive was a good 3.5 hours.
A downhill task
Upon reaching our hotel, we were raring to go for the trek to see the living root bridges. Most of the treks that I had undertaken until then were typically a hike to a summit and then a descent. But to see the living root bridges we had to walk downhill. We engaged a local Khasi boy to take us down to the root bridge.
It was late afternoon about 3 pm when we embarked on the trek. Although it’s not the ideal time for a trek, we went ahead due to shortage of time.
It was cold and we had layered ourselves in our warm clothes. The guide provided us with a stick (which is actually a branch of a tree) for support. He could barely speak much English/ Hindi, just the bare minimum to communicate. We followed him as we crossed the backyards of a Khasi village. After about 10 minutes of walk we reached the point from where it was a steep descent. There are stone carved stairs that paved the way downhill. As it is a very wet place and rains quite often, the stairs were coated with algae making the descent rather slippery, thus slow.
The villagers use this route to go to the root bridge and cross the stream/ river downhill and go to the next village/ area/ hill etc.
As we proceeded the jungle got denser and I kept remembering this is only the decent and we have to go uphill soon. Nevertheless, we went ahead. Our guide was in his slippers and went down the path so quickly that we had a tough time keeping pace with him. Occasionally we would find him sitting on the rocks when we caught up with him. He must be taking people every day on this trek, I assumed. Since we were quite late to start we saw a few trekkers making their way back. I was afraid that we might not make it on time and it might get dark.
The magnificent Living root bridges
The entire trek took us 1.5 hours downhill. At the end of the trek is the magnificent root bridge that has grown to form a bridge over the river. The locals have helped braid the roots of the tree to form a bridge over the river below. We were told that it takes hundreds of years for a root to grow and form a bridge and not just any ordinary roots of a tree can form a bridge. The tree that is native to this place is called Ficus elastica tree – found in North East India, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The roots of this tree are woven by the Khasi villagers to form bridges that help them move from one place to other with much ease. Some of the root bridges, we were told, are as old as 500 years!
I was little apprehensive of stepping on the bridge, but soon realized it is really sturdy. I carefully treaded on it and understood that it was so strong that even if I jump on it, it wouldn’t move a bit! What a wonderful way of weaving nature – so strong, so robust and so useful!
With vast dense forest on both side and the root bridge standing there in all might, it was rather a creepy experience as well! Nevertheless, I was glad I had the opportunity to witness this living art!
As it was soon going to be dark, we quickly made our way uphill and reached the hotel by 6 pm.
How to reach:
You can go to Cherapunji from either Shillong or Guwahati. You can drive from both these places. Both Shillong and Guwahati have airports. There are direct flights from Kolkata to Shillong, while New Delhi also has flights with 1 or 2 stops to Shillong. Hire a cab to see other interesting places nearby.
There are many other places to visit in the vicinity:
- Asia’s cleanest village – Mawlynnong
- Shillong Peak – beautiful view of Shillong city
- 7 Sisters Falls – best visited during Monsoons when the falls are in full glory
- The limestone caves – Mawsmai Caves
Note: North East India sprung to national attention with the immensely popular Incredible India campaign that popularized the region’s vast wilderness into one line – Paradise unexplored. It’s nothing far from truth as this is one of the places in India which is yet to get its share of ‘good tourism’. I would encourage people to visit North East India and get a different taste of India’s diversity.