3500 steps to a bridge made of roots in Meghalaya.
I never thought a 3500 step climb at night could be enthralling or doable but it was both. The plan was to trek down to Nongriat village, where I had arranged a homestay for a couple of days and check out the stupefying living root bridge. Of all of mankind’s tampering with nature, this is perhaps the best one.
Found at many locations across North East India, living root bridges are woven from the pliable roots of a particular kind of rubber tree. The Khasi locals make them grow through Betel tree trunks until they join the other side. Stones, twigs, sticks and other objects are used to make them stable. These bridges make for one of the most ingenious natural creations of man and have been around for centuries. I learnt that the first mention of such bridges can be traced back to the year 1844, in the journal of a British lieutenant serving there at that time. The process still continues, and it’ll take a few decades to see the final results. You see, with a story like that behind something as commonplace as a bridge on a river, you cannot blame me for being excited. And though I was there for work, I had no complaints because it gave me the opportunity to travel to places I had always wanted to. Barring pit stops during my past exploits in Bhutan, I had never explored the North East. So I decided to make the most of my travels.
The upper deck of the Double Decker Bridge
Guwahati to Tyrna
My journey began at Guwahati, from where I took a shared cab to Tyrna. Despite hoping to leave early, by the time I reached the bazaar, it was already 11 a.m. To reach Tyrna, you can either book an entire cab for yourself for Rs.1200 to Shillong, which is a three-hour drive, or you can pay Rs.170 and share a Sumo that leaves at regular intervals with 10 other people. You can also pay Rs.300 and share a sedan with 3 others. I took a Sumo and paid for two seats in the front so I could sit like a Maharaja. By the time I left Guwahati it was almost 1 pm.
From Shillong, I took a shared cab to Cherrapunji or Sohra, as its historically known. This time, I was sharing an Alto with two local women and a kid at Rs.80 per head. I bought two extra seats again, not for space, but to be able to get out of the car immediately without waiting for passengers. Even though I was going to spend a night in Shillong later, it was love at first sight when I arrived.
With the cab windows rolled down, I saw the magnificient terrain scurrying past us turn into shades of brown. The driver stopped at a wayside shop for betel leaves and betel nut, colloquially called tumul. An old lady in the car offered me some but I declined. I’m not good with these things. I had a 420 paan once, and what happened later is better left unsaid.
The expanse around Cherrapunji
Trekking Under The Moonlight
From Cherrapunji, it was another 30 minute cab ride for Rs.300 to reach Tyrna. I stocked up on some Old Monk which kept me company during the ride. Once we reached, the manager at Biron suggested I do the trek in the dark with a flashlight. He also told me boys would carry my luggage if I paid an extra Rs.500. I decided to brave the trek that evening itself.
Cleavan was my guide and luggage carrier. We set out under a moonlit sky, music from his phone filling the air, creating a magical atmosphere. “I don’t like electronic. I like old rock songs,” he said. He sang to every Dylan song that played. I was sad that I was missing out on a wonderful view, but on the positive side, the cover of darkness spared me the view of the actual distance, making the trek (at least) mentally easier.
Just another day at work for Cleavan
Midway, Cleavan pointed towards some lights at a distance, indicating where we were headed. Making our way through hanging bridges and a root bridge, we finally reached the homestay. Cleavan stayed the night too, since this was his second trip for the day. I felt he had a great job, one that fetched him money plus kept him fit.
I planted myself at the open dining area and didn’t check into my room for a good half hour. There were some travellers lounging around waiting for dinner, which was to be served at 7:30 p.m. The local Khasi kids were huddled around a carrom board. Vegetarian dinner was served, and I chatted with the tourists as we all settled on the living room floor. A quick drink later, I turned in for the night, excited about seeing the bridge the next day.
The entry point to the Double Decker Bridge
Morning came, and after a breakfast of eggs and bread, I set out for the famous living root bridge. Luckily for me, my temporary home was very close to the Double Decker Bridge. In fact, it was almost like I had just stepped out into my backyard.
Trees towered around me and the roots that made the bridge were fused and interwoven like dreadlocks, or a flowing beard, like the tentacles of Davy Jones. It was a marvel. Elegant, yet wild. The hills, nature and a stream of transparent water all mingled together to create a beautiful picture. I stood there mesmerized. All the travel – plane, cars, walking - to get here was worth it.
We spend months researching and travelling to countries outside. Little do we realize the beauty and wonder that lies within our own.
Elegant, yet wild
101 Root Bridges
1. Hire a local if you trek at night, especially with extra bags
2. Rather than a hectic one day trip, take a day or two to explore Nongriat
3. Always leave some buffer time while taking shared cabs
4. Help the locals by opting for homestays
5. Check out the root bridges in neighbouring villages
The Double Decker Bridge – Most ingenious natural creation of man
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Mohan KK
Photographs by Mohan KK