Each week, residents of the village of Kudeng Thymmai, in Meghalaya, hike for about an hour to get to a bazaar in a neighbouring village. On the way, they come upon a bridge that seems to have emerged from the earth itself—with moss-covered beams made not of steel or timber, but of sturdy, growing tree roots. The bridge is one of many living root bridges in Meghalaya.
The invention of root bridges
The northeastern state receives heavy rainfall, which forms many streams and rivers that surge along its forest floors. Long ago, Meghalaya’s indigenous people tried building bamboo bridges to cross these waters. However, the structures simply washed away. Then, they realised that by binding the aerial roots of local rubber trees together with bamboo or betel-nut tree trunks, they could construct better bridges—ones that would get stronger as the roots grew. The exact age of this construction practice is unknown. But the earliest known record of it dates back to 1844, when it was mentioned in a Kolkata-based journal.
Damage of root bridges
Over the years, the root bridges have become major tourist attractions. According to government statistics, more than 750,000 domestic travellers and 8,000 foreign ones visited Meghalaya in 2015. Conflict has recently arisen over the effects of this tourism, which some locals claim damages the root bridges. At the heart of this controversy is one tourist’s plan to, put Meghalaya’s root bridges on the map.
Patrick Rogers, a 29 year old travel writer from the United States believes that Meghalaya’s root bridges are in danger of being ruined. He opines that fostering tourist interest, which encourages maintenance of the sites, is necessary to protect them. Some locals disagree. Morning Star Sumer, a 52 year old local social activist and writer says that the bridges are being damaged due to influx of tourists. The only way to determine what needs to be done for the bridges, Sumer said, is to ask the locals. Meanwhile, the fate of the root bridges hangs in the balance.
Source- Deepika Gumaste is a travel writer based in Mumbai