In Meghalaya – the land of clouds and mist, bridges in the jungles are grown and not built !!! Join me as I trek into the jungles to see this unique phenomenon.
I look at the twin bridges overhead. I can make out the dangling roots as I marvel at this feat of bioengineering. The trek to the double decker root bridges of Nongriat village near Cherrapunji was definitely worth the effort.
While planning the trip to Meghalaya, I had asked my friend, Medarisha to suggest a few hikes or treks I could go on. She suggested a trip to Nongriat to see these bridges and the nearby waterfalls. She hinted it was a gruelling hike, but on hearing it was just climbing down steps to the bridges, I brushed it off. Little did I know how wrong I’d be.
We start from Shillong in a nice bright yellow Trax, a bit later than I’d have liked. The drive towards Nongriat is pleasant, and we marvel at the vistas of the sheer drops into the valley below on the twisty hill roads. The weather is brilliant, with not a hint of rain given that it is Cherrapunji (one of the rainiest places on the planet) we are heading towards. The day promises to be good.
After a quick stop to pick up some packed lunches for the trek, we arrive at the drop point. From here we need to trek down to the village and the root bridges. The descent down is initially gentle but becomes steep quite suddenly. At this point, I wonder if we are to come back this way. I’d definitely find it a challenge to climb back up.
Once we reach the bottom, we begin the walk through the forest towards the double root bridges. The path is brilliant, passing through thick forests and opening up suddenly to crossings over narrow suspension bridges. Along the way we come across many little pools and small waterfalls. The blue water tempts us with it’s sparkling coolness and we spend quite some time in some of these pools frolicking in the water.
We continue onwards on the path and soon signs announce we have arrived at our destination. A short walk through the village leads us to the double decker root bridge. It takes a little while for me make sense of what I’m seeing, but when I do it’s a jaw dropping moment.
Now the Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, noticed that the Ficus elastica tree (a kind of rubber tree) produces a series of strong secondary roots. They perfected the technique of using hollowed out betel nut trunks as a root guidance system to force the tree to grow it’s roots across a river or chasm. The roots pass through the hollowed out trunks, finally taking root on the other side. Over time, in some cases 30-45 years, a sturdy living bridge is produced.
The root bridges are extraordinarily strong and over time get stronger because they are alive and still growing. Some of them are strong enough to support dozens of people at the same time and may even date back over 500 years. Overall the concept is one of perfect harmony with nature which I think we could learn a lot from.
We decide to continue to the Rainbow falls – named so because of the perpetual rainbow around the mist in its lagoon. The sign board I spot along the way says it’s about 1.5 hours to the falls. After a little while, we decide to stop for lunch. We find a brilliant spot, a little off the path, on a large flat rock overlooking the river far below. Lunch is rice, different dishes of pork and some vegetables along with some fruits.
After the quick break for lunch we begin to climb to the falls again. While the signboard said 1.5 hours, it seems to be anything but so short a hike. The path keeps climbing up and eventually starts climbing down. I realize I’m getting fatigued with this climb. Luckily we spot an people along the way who assure us that the falls are just about 15-20 mins away. Finally we arrive at the rainbow falls.
The falls are quite picturesque. The trademark rainbow is missing because the sky is overcast and it’s evening. Realizing it may be dark soon, we decide to head back the same way we came instead of taking another route up, which is precisely what I feared when climbing down.
We begin the long walk back to the pickup point. I manage the first leg till the double root bridge fairly well. But then, on the way back up my utter lack of any physical activity over the last year starts catching up. I finally somehow reach the final set of stairs, the steep ascent straight out of some circle of hell, and wonder how I will climb all the way up. The Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) I usually carry on most treks definitely help, but soon I end up climbing up maybe 5-10 steps before I am forced to stop and rest. Marin, Medarisha’s sister, forces me to hand over my gear to her so I find it easier to climb. Again, it helps but only so much and soon I am shambling like a zombie up the stairs. Eventually I make it to the jeep, but not before vowing to seriously work on my fitness levels and endurance.
As the jeep departs for Shillong and the icy evening wind blasts into me from the open window, I go back, in my mind’s eye, to the wonderful root bridges and waterfall and bid adieu to Nongriat.
The easiest way to get to Meghalaya is to fly to Guwahati in Assam. Guwahati is well connected by air to all major cities of India. From Guwahati, Shillong is about 100 km away. You can find shared cabs (₹ 500 a seat) or the periodic shuttle (₹ 400 a seat). The shuttle can be booked at the Meghalaya Tourism Center just before the exit. Nongriat can be done as a day trip from Shillong or you could optionally stay at Cherrapunji and do the trip from Cherrapunji.
When to Visit
I visited Nogriat in September, and was lucky with good weather. In general visiting the place just after the rains should be ideal since then the forests are still green and you have water flowing. Otherwise Nongriat should be good to visit in most of the non monsoon months.
What to do
At Nongriat you can explore the living root bridge and optionally trek further to the Rainbow falls. But be prepared for a fairly strenuous hike down to the bridge lest you end up being a zombie like me at the end of the trek.
Where to stay
The visit to Nongriat is best done as a day trip from either Shillong or Cherrapunji. However, if one wants stay options are available at the village. Do ask around. At Cherrapunji, consider Sa-i-mika Resort, which is a lovely scenic property just outside the town with authentic wooden log houses that you can stay in. Rates vary from ₹ 2000 – ₹ 6000 per night depending on the type of accommodation. Hotels and homestays are available in Shillong from upwards of ₹ 2000 per night.
Cover picture courtesy: Medarisha Lyngdoh
A big thank you to Medarisha, Meba, Marin and Jason for helping make this trip possible !!!