Earlier this week, I was watching an episode of the BBC series Human Planet and saw clips of some amazing, natural-looking root bridges in India.
I immediately wanted to know more about them.
Cherrapunji is a subdivisional town in the East Khasi Hills district in the Indian state of Meghalaya. With over 75 feet of annual rainfall, the climate in this region is one of the wettest in the world.
The intense rains have created a perpetually wet and often harsh environment. Local villagers are forced to cross numerous rivers, many of which can turn into violent rapids during the rainy season.
But the wet climate has also given locals there a gift: it allows the Ficus elastica tree to thrive, giving the locals a solution to their problems.
According to inhabitat.com…
“Villagers in Meghalaya, India have come up with a unique construction technique that harnesses nature in its purest form – they grow their own living bridges! Using the roots of the Ficus elastica tree (rubber fig tree), the residents have woven an elaborate system of living bridges, some of which are thought to be over 500 years old.”
The construction of these structures is almost as remarkable as their beauty. Since their strength comes from the growth of the roots, the pieces of living architecture can take as long as 15 years to become usable.
But after a bridge becomes functional it actually tends to become stronger with age- some of the older bridges can hold over 40 people at once.
The secret to creating these bridges is in the rubber fig tree’s unique secondary root system that grows above the ground floor. According to inhabitat.com…
“Long ago, the war-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya region, realized they could tap into the power of these roots and use them to their own advantage. By manipulating and directing the secondary roots, they could create ultra strong living bridges with which to cross streams and rivers.”
These bridges are still used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji. Many people believe that some of the bridges are well over 500 years old. Over the decades, many of these bridges have grown deep foundations, and some have had rocks added to serve as foot steps.
The most famous of these bridges is a double-decker bridge known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge”. This unique two-level root bridge is thought to be the only of its kind in the world.