A bridge from the past

Asia | | August 21, 2010 at 12:07 am


In the western world, India is considered the land of the esoteric and the exotic, sometimes wildly so. That conception will only be further reinforced when this story starts to spread far and wide. The general idea is that bridges are created and then used by people for crossing a divide great or small. In a small part of India though, bridges have been known to grow themselves and stay as they are (perhaps even growing stronger) for several centuries. Meet the ‘Living Bridges of Cherrapunji”, or as alive as any bridge you’ll ever see anyway. Meghalaya, where Cherrpunji is located, is famed not just for the incredible amount of rainfall it receives annually but also the flora and fauna that is to be found here. Some of these are unique to the region, and the manner in which they have been used is even more astounding.

Cherrapunji bridges

A tribal village in Meghalaya that is home to people called the War-Khasis noticed that one tree in particular, later given the highly romantic name of ‘Ficus Elastica’, grew a second set of roots that nestled upon boulders or found its way into river beds all of its own volition. Several centuries ago, someone from the tribe with a lot of time on his hands figured out that these tertiary roots can be put to good use by channeling it outwards in a single direction so as to form a bridge. To this person’s genius we bow down, because these bridges are a byproduct of an idea of rare and insane brilliance. Since generations, the techniques of growing these bridges has been passed down and local tribesmen now allow the rubbery tree’s roots to take flight as they want to. This is achieved by using betel nut tree trunks that have been chopped down and hollowed out as a guidance system. This is human ingenuity at its best, for steel and wooden bridges would never pass the test of time in Cherrapunji which is the wettest place on the planet.

Living Root Bridges

The roots are then allowed to, for want of a less vivid description, take root and over time it fortifies itself and forms a bridge strong enough for human passage. As time elapses, the bridge grows stronger and these natural means of conveyance can last for centuries after being built over a period of 10-15 years. They can grow in length of up to 100 feet and carry the weight of dozens of people at a time, and it can carry more people the longer it has been allowed to grow. These bridges have incredible tensile strength and given that some of these bridges are close to five hundred years old they carry their age very well and show no signs of strain from the passage of time. One of these bridges, believed to be the only one of its kind, is a set of two bridges stacked one over the other and is known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.”

Living root bridges India

Rediscovered by Denis P. Rayen of the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort, his efforts have been directly responsible for reviving interest in the wellbeing of the bridges and the local people have once again begun to start building these ones at the expense of steel bridges that will rot away in the face of incessant rains. New bridges have again taken root and will be ready only after a decade, but patience is a virtue and its own reward and over time more bridges will take root and shepherd generations along, for generations to come. It is hard-to-find perfect solution in this imperfect world of ours.

Living bridges of cherrapunji

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