Kishlay SinghTravel India Blog
It shakes, not just from the force of your feet striding along the pathway, but also from the winds that blow across the boisterous stream. You’re tempted to look down, but then a sense of fear grips your heart. Bridges do collapse, even the ones that are made more resourcefully using modern machineries; so trusting in the footsteps of my local guide for Nongriat trek over this perilous bridge was either lunacy or an act of self-liberation.
Nongriat trek – The root bridges
These bridges are the basic skeletal structures that would one day (after a couple hundred years) transform into sturdy living root bridges. One may ask, how? Well, the Khasi people of this village are endowed with a special engineering skill—by carefully snaking the climbing roots of tress around these basic structures, they allow the roots to grow. The roots grow along these structures for decades and eventually reach the other side of the stream, firmly attaching themselves to the ground. Later, the bridges are fortified with additional boulders, and the resulting structure is a living root bridge !
The bridge may look like it is straight out of a Disney movie, but it’s very real. They are usually made from living plant roots of Ficus Elastica, and some take centuries to form ! These living root bridges are a common sight in the mystical villages of Meghalaya and I had the opportunity to see the king of all living root bridges- a double decker living root bridge while trekking in Sohra !
Interesting Fact about Nongriat trek
Double decker living root bridge were built by the tribal people because heavy rains made it difficult to cross the stream, and the water would sometimes be so high that the single lower arm would be completely submerged. By the way, the local are now planning a third bridge on top of it just for fun (and tourism). 🙂
While the villages in Sohra, Meghalaya are popular for living root bridges, they can also be seen in other villages of Khasi and Jantia hill districts of Meghalaya. Shnongpdeng, Nongbareh, Khonglah, Padu, Kudeng Thymmai and Kudeng Rim are some good places to find living root bridges. The one that I visited in Sohra was called the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge.
Some other popular living root bridges in Sohra, Meghalaya
- Ummunoi Root Bridges
- Ritymmen Root Bridge
- Umkar Root Bridge
- Mawsaw Root Bridge
How are living root bridge in Nongriat formed ?
Making a root bridge is an art. By carefully and patiently guiding the flexible roots of the Ficus elastica tree across a stream or river over a bridge like frame, they are left to grow and strengthen over time. These roots are combined using a process called inosculation (a natural phenomenon in which trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together). Additional effort might be needed in twisting the roots together manually. When fully developed, these bridges can hold the weight of human beings! The living bridge that I saw was more than a hundred years old and finds mention in some record as old as the 18th century.
Best time to visit living root bridge in Nongriat
Nongriat village is beautiful all year round, but let me be honest with you —travelling during monsoon comes with challenges. I visited the world’s wettest place in the wettest time of the wear; it was pretty intense. The thrills are beyond words! However, like I said, travelling to Sohra in monsoon can be little challenging, and trekking in the interior forests comes with some risk. If you want a pleasant experience, consider going anywhere between April to June. The weather at this time of the year is moderate and while there can be rainfalls, it’s lesser and manageable. November to March is a good hiking time because it is usually dry during these months and offers a pleasant trekking experience.
Tip – Be careful of leeches when trekking through he forest of Nongriat during monsoon.
How to reach
The best way to reach Nongriat is to use Guwahati as the transit hub. Guwahati is a city in Assam and it has an international airport that is well connected with major cities of India. There are also international flights to and from Guwahati. One you are in Guwahati, you can reach Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya, through plenty of options. The road is well paved, and you can easily get private and shared taxis. There are buses heading to Shillong from Interstate Bus Terminal (ISBT) as well, but I find the shared taxis more comfortable and it was not difficult finding one. You will hear the cab drivers shouting the name of destination just outside the airport. Before boarding it’s a good idea to bargain the right price. When I visited Shillong, I paid around one hundred Indian rupees, but that was two years ago.
It takes around 3 hours to reach Shillong from Guwahati, and the driver usually stops for refreshments halfway.
Once you reach Shillong, you can take a bus or shared taxis from the police bazar area. Shared taxis are no doubt more convenient and you can board one in the Anjali Jowai parking lot. While there are sign boards for Sohra there, it is a good idea to enquire some drivers. There is no fixed time for departure of these taxis. Normally they depart once they have enough passengers. You won’t have to wait for long because the passengers on this route are plenty. I paid 100 rupees for one way to Sohra, and it was a very beautiful experience. It was in Sohra that I met David, who agreed to take me to the village of Nongriat, and I am glad that I met him. It is a good idea to hire local guide for the living root bridge and rainbow falls trek.
I travelled in David’s car next day to Tyrna village. Then started the exciting trek to the double decker living root bridge of Nongriat!
The villages on the way to the trek looks quite marvelous, and while there are many living root bridges on the trekking route, the iconic double decker root bridge clearly stands out. The place is magical with stunning waterfalls, and it’s an amazing experience to take a dip in the natural swimming pool while the mystical music of the forest plays in the background, adding to the surrealism of the experience.
What to carry
Before you hit the trail, ensure that you have some trekking essentials in your backpack. The following items should be part of your checklist
Hiking boots or shoes (or at least a decent one)
Rain Cover for bags
Weather-appropriate clothing (good to have spare cloths)
Emergency supplies (including hygiene)
A word of Caution
Trek to the double-decker living root bridge in Meghalaya is not an easy one. While I enjoyed my journey with David, I clearly wasn’t as quick as him. I started to feel a lot of strain on my knees and calves, and at one point of time I couldn’t gather enough stamina to proceed. I had to take multiple stops in between. David was an excellent guide, and he motivated me to continue. The prize at the end of the trek was priceless, but I still remember how long and tiring journey it was. It’s a good idea to prepare for the trek in advance before attempting it. Perhaps you can start jogging intensely few weeks in advance before doing the trek, so that your legs get accustomed to the stress.
Fish Spa at the waterfall
The natural swimming pool near the living root bridge is crystal clear. David told me that the tribal people here drink water from the natural streams without filtering, and it’s completely safe. I wouldn’t lie, I drank it too, and I was perfectly fine. Drinking water from a natural waterfall in the villages of Meghalaya is much safer than drinking water from a roadside eatery in a polluted city of India. Want some natural fish spa after the tiring trek? Just sit back and dip your feet in the water and let the fishes nip at your feet and suck the stress out of you !
Is it okay to drink from the forest brook ?
It is a matter of myriad understandings and beliefs (scientific and holistic) when it comes to forming a concord on weather drinking water from a forest brook is it safe, or not. Should we be concerned about some deadly, unidentified pathogens making their way into our systems, pathogens we might have no acquired immunity against, if we do so?
When a severe case of dehydration, intensified by the lack of bottled water and profound sweating, ceased my pace to a standstill while trekking though the forests of Meghalaya, David explained to me that the stream is a source of potable water for the tribe living there, and drinking from it would do no harm to the human body. And then he quenched his thirst from the stream, leaving me envious.
Brought up in a plastic society, impoverished of natural contact, my mind was too rigid to let go of my inhibition. And while I stood there pondering over how ill-adapted the city dwellers are to the ways of nature, David kept on pushing me to overcome my predisposition and embrace the gift of nature.
When I could no longer bear my condition, I decided to let go of my fears, and for the first time in my life I drank from a water fall! It was an addictive experience.
What else is there to see ?
After seeing the living root bridges, you can further trek to see the rainbow fall. The rainbow fall has the hue of rainbow and looks straight out a fairy tale. The trek to Rainbow fall usually takes an hour more from the double decker root bridge, and this can be an interesting addon to your trek itinerary. You may even spot one more living route bridge on the way !
Reaching Rainbow falls is not easy, and having a guide is very important. The spectacular fall is further down the trekking route and because it is quite far away, you can only cover it on the same day if you started early in the morning. You need to keep ample time in hand to get back before it is dark. One option is to stay in the Nongriat village itself, and start the trek to the Rainbow falls the next day. Staying in the Nongriat Village is quite and adventure as per David !
Here is a beautiful video about living root bridge in Meghalaya that I found on YouTube. Would you like to visit this place ?
Additional Information about living root bridge in Meghalaya
Official Government Website – https://www.meghalayatourism.in/destinations/nongriat-root-bridges/