Living Bridges of Meghalaya India

What do you do when you get up to 15 metres of rainfall per year, and the rushing torrents created by such fearsome rains have a tendency to wash the bridges away? If you live in the state of Meghalaya in north eastern India, you simply build a living bridge which gets stronger each year.

Cherrapunji (there are actually several spellings to add to the confusion) is a town in the East Khasi Hills District of the state of Meghalaya. Its main claim to fame is that it holds the world record for experiencing the highest rainfall in a calendar month, and the highest annual rainfall. That record rainfall is nothing short of phenomenal as the town received 9,300 mm (366 inches) in July 1861 and 26,461 mm (1,041.75 inches) between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861.

Due to the incessant rain, and the temperate climate combined with the town’s altitude, the hills surrounding the town are covered by dense rain forests, and it is because of these rain forests that locals have been able to create living bridges.

These bridges are suspension bridges that are primarily constructed from the roots of a rubber tree called Ficus elastica. Although the method used to construct the bridges sounds complicated, is basically just another way for forming plants into patterns, such as is used by bonsai growers or those who shape topiary.

Members of the local Khasi tribe have learnt how to span creeks and rivers by training the roots of the rubber tree to grow along planks made from the betel tree. As the roots grow they also strengthen so gradually form a bridge that is strong enough to walk across. Unlike most other bridges, the living root bridges continue to grow for as long as 500 years, and as they do, the bridges gain strength and form and get even more secure.

Some of the bridges are very complex and original in design, and there are even examples of double-decker bridges spanning waterways. They are a quite ingenious and entirely natural form of civil engineering.

The capital of Megahalaya is Shillong, which is a popular hill resort due to its mild climate, if you don’t mind putting up with a bit of rain, which falls mainly during the monsoon season from May until September.

Because of its close proximity to Myanmar/Burma many of the indigenous people of Meghalaya state have a Khmer/Burmese heritage, so the customs and people are different than in most other parts of India.

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