Living Legends of East Khasi Hills

As we hear Meghalaya, our mind immediately reciprocates with ‘cloud and rain’ and a picture perfect postcard image appears in front of our eyes with lush green landscape and a waterfall. Today I’m going to replace your postcard with a different imagery, where cloud and rain are just supporting actors and the protagonist of the story is a living legend. This is a story about an ingenious natural solution devised by native Khasi elders and passing a strong message to entire universe that – ‘Development is possible without cutting our roots’

In India’s northeast, Meghalaya is a young state with the capital Shillong. The Shillong Plateau comprising the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia and the outlying Mikir Hills is the eastern most continuation of the massive block of the peninsular India. And that geographical composition attracts profuse amounts of rainfall every year. These rains have long presented a challenge to the native Khasi people, who live deep inside jungles. Due to heavy rainfall during the monsoon season, the deep valleys are transformed into gushing torrents and because of that it’s almost impossible to cross them by foot.

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The Mountains of Meghalaya have waterfalls everywhere some small and some huge.

To overcome this challenge, Khasi elders devised a natural solution many years ago. They guided the Rubber tree roots in hollow canes of Areca nut palm to meet halfway across the stream. The roots were patiently supported for years until they slowly reached the opposite bank, forming the skeleton that eventually grew into a bridge capable of carrying a human’s weight.

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Single Decker living root bridge – “Jingkieng Ri-Tymmen,” the longest of all root bridges.

After the successful implementation of first bridge this became standard procedure to connect the two banks and as time passed a couple of other bridges were constructed. The most spectacular and arguably the most famous is the Umshiang double-decker bridge, which is outside Nongriat, a small village and only reachable by foot.

Walking on this bridge has been a long cherished dream for me and this time I decided to fulfill by clubbing it with my trip to Assam. From Guwahati Airport I directly headed to CherraPunjee and halted there overnight to start afresh in the morning.

My trek to Umshiang Double Decker living root bridge started from Tyrna, a small village approximately 20 Km away from CherraPunjee. There is no doubt that it is a challenging trek involving a steep climb of over 3000 steps. However, let this not keep you away from this beautiful place. Despite being a little challenging, it is very much doable.

The trail to the root bridge is fully paved and whole trek could be divided into 3 sections. First one is pretty neat and easy. Second is the most challenging as the steps are really small and the descent is almost vertical.

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And the third section is moderate but most picturesque. I crossed two iron rope bridges that run over crystal clear blue water. Those iron bridges reminded me similar but shorter version of Bhutan’s iron rope bridges.

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After crossing the second iron bridge a small sign board appeared ‘Welcome to Nongriat village’ –

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After seeing that sign board my weary body revived suddenly and got filled with exhilaration. The faint sound of running water that I was listening for quite some time was prominent now. I was feeling goose bumps with every step until I got first glimpse of the living legend – The Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge. For few seconds I could not take my eyes off from that unique bio-engineering wonder, which is only one of its kinds in the entire world.  I felt as if that magnificent structure was talking to me and telling the eloquent story of man living in harmony with nature.

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It was almost mid-day but due to dense foliage sun rays were only able to enter in patches. The calm water of Umshiang River running under the bridge was crystal clear, so clear that I could see its inhabitants clearly from outside.

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I took off my boots, dipped my feet into the cold water and sat there facing towards that majestic structure and murmured – “It’s been one hell of a ride, now what next”!!!

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