Foot-bridges built on tree roots, which help villagers cross rivers and streams at Nongriat village in Meghalaya’s southern part, have emerged as the new attraction in this Himalayan state.

No wonder, the foot-bridges have been nicknamed by tourists as “living foot-bridges” which take shape over 12-15 years, and they are the sole effort of the villagers sans any Government help.

Mostly found in the southern slope of the state, these foot-bridges, or rather root-bridges, span across rivers as wide as 50 meters and swift streams to allow villagers to negotiate rough waters during monsoon.

What seems to be an easy job is actually a fruit of skill and boundless patience. The roots belong to the “Ficus elastica” tree, which grow higher up its trunk in addition to original underground roots.

These roots are then carefully laid across the streams using hollow betel-nut trees as a root support system. The thin, tender roots, prevented from straying by the betel nut trunks, grow flat across the rivers.

When they reach the other side of the river, they are allowed to take root in the soil thus providing a solid natural base. Over time, they develop into a solid walking platform.

“But what brings the tourists from far and wide are not just the bridges, but those with double decks and soon-to-be triple decks,” R Sohkhlet, a villager, told PTI.

He said that the existing double-decker bridge is going to have a third deck soon as villagers have trained the roots to span across the river.

Noting that it is cheaper to allow a bridge to grow over years than to build them with cement and iron rods in this part of the state, Sohkhlet said villagers have to shell out Rs 900 for a 50 kg packet of cement which would normally cost Rs 300 down in the nearby Sohra market.

The price difference is because of the steep height the carriers of the cement bags have to climb.

Sohkhlet said the decision to build the third deck was in fact not to avoid rising water during summer, but mainly for tourist attraction.

Mike, a US citizen, who ended his Indian tour with a visit to the bridges, said, “I want to let everyone know of my wonderful experience in Sohra, Meghalaya. This has been a highlight of my Indian trip”.

These bridges are also found at Mawlynnong village, often regarded as the “cleanest village in Asia”, as also along the southern slope near the Indo-Bangladesh border which are yet to be discovered.

(This article was published on December 10, 2012)
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