The Amazing Living Bridges of Meghalaya

Last updated on Apr 20, 2020

Posted on Dec 22, 2012

Meghalaya is a state which has the highest amount of rainfall in the world.  Cherrapunji holds a world record of the highest recorded rainfall.  In such a place, rivers are aplenty.  And trees as well.  When the entire land is crisscrossed with rivers – how do you build so many strong and reliable bridges?

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The War-Khasi tribe of Meghalaya has come up with the most ingenious idea I have ever seen or heard!  They use a combination of Bamboo tree and Banyan trees on both ends of the banks to construct one of the most robust bridge you can find.  The only catch is – one bridge takes one – or even two – generation to build.  But many of these bridges have been there for over 500 years.

Building bridges – is literally an inter-generational project.  Where one generation tends to the trees so their children can cross the river.  They have to care for the roots carefully and make sure no one cuts them or hurts them, for the tree to take strength and the roots to cross over – prodded by the caretaker – to complete a union between roots of two banyan trees!  In some places, the tribe is able to even build “double decker bridges” – one above the other!!

Here is a brief description of how it is built:

The development and upkeep of bridges is a community affair.  Initially,  a length of bamboo is secured across a river divide and a banyan  plant, Ficus benghalensis is planted on each bank.  Over the months and years, the roots and  branches of the rapidly growing Ficus are trained along the bamboo until  they meet in the middle and eventually supersede its support.  At later  stages in the evolution of the bridge, stones are inserted into the  gaps and eventually become engulfed by the plant forming the beautiful  walkways.  Later still, the bridges are improved upon with the addition  of hand rails and steps.

Cherrapunji is credited with being the wettest place on earth, and The War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area’s many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever the need arises, they simply grow their bridges.

The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they’re extraordinarily strong – strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time.

Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time – and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji may be

well over five hundred years old.

This video shows the bridges as well as one man tending to one bridge in the making by training his daughter on the whole process.

living bridge 1
Courtesy: Dailymail
living bridge 2
living bridge 3
Courtesy: Dailymail
Living bridge or Root bridge (Ficus elastica) & Khasi woman Khasi Tribe Nongriat, Khasi Hills Meghalaya, ne India Range: South China, NE India, Burma
Courtesy: Peteoxford

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