Living aerial root bridges of Meghalaya, NE India - the government striving for UNESCO World heritage tag

The living root bridges of Meghalaya, India.

Quite common in the  southern part NE Indian state of Meghalaya,  the “abode of the clouds  ''Jing kieng Jri'' or'' Living Root Bridge''  is a  simple suspension bridge artificially created by the natives of this place. There are numerous natural bridges across the state and  lots of tourists  visit them. ''Jing kieng Jri'' (as it is called locally)   is made from  the aerial roots of rubber fig trees (Ficus elastica) The natives Khasi and Jaintia  of the  southern part of the Shillong Plateau   know how to construct them. Before the advent of modern bridges, the Khasi devised an ingenious way to traverse the turbulent waterways or streams  and establish contact with  isolated villages on the other side.

Mostly man-made, this being a mountainous region, the natives have to guide  the pliable roots of the Ficus elastica tree across a stream or river, and then allow them  to grow  in strength over a period until .  they can hold the weight of a human being. Tree trunks are planted on each side of the bank to create a strong  foundation and over a period of time 15 to 20 years.  Once the trees are well suited to  hold firmly on the rocky slopes, they  guide  the  Ficus elastica roots across a temporary bamboo scaffolding to link the opposite sides of river banks.  The aerial roots grow on steep  slopes of subtropical wet wooded area with broadleaf forest between 50m and 1150m above sea level. 

Living tree roots of Meghalaya, NE India.

This area during  the NE monsoon receives lots of rain and some parts are known to have  received  the highest rain fall  during the monsoon in the past.  If periodically maintained and kept healthy, the roots in the natural bridge can grow strong and thick over a period of time. Periodic pruning of new roots  that grow year  round is a must to give extra strength to the bridge. In order to use the living roots bridges, they have to grow in strength and a mature bridge is good enough to hold about 50 people crossing it at a time. Though the life span is 150 years, without proper care and periodic pruning, etc., the bridge may face decay or wild growth, unsuitable for human crossing.  Meghalaya’s Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya symbolize the direct link between humans and trees and plants growing in the natural environment.   

Living root bridges of Meghalaya,

The National Convention on Community and Science based Conservation Research and Development of Jingkieng Jri  and the state government are requesting for a tag of UNESCO World Heritage  Site because the living root bridges support several endangered flora and and fauna  and  are manmade by an age-old traditional  method being practiced by  the local communities. The various  specialists from the central government agencies particularly, zoological and botanical surveys visited this place and  reported the presence of  new fauna  -  orchids, amphibians, and mammals never reported anywhere in the country. The highlight is they support rich flora and fauna that are critically in danger.

Meghalaya root bridge in the making.

Above image: A root bridge in the making, Meghalaya, NE India. natives guide the roots on  bamboo scaffolding across the river. Rangthylliang, East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya..................

The age old craft of building the living aerial root bridges  that has come down from several generations need to be preserved for the posterity and the cooperative societies are right channels through which an awareness can be  created among the people about natural forest management and  conservation of the living roots.  The latter serves not only as a natural symbiotic eco system supporting    mushrooms, flowers, trees, lichen, birds and animals, but also helps humans cross the stream below. The other manifold benefits of them are  protecting the natural habitat in and around them, medicinal herbs growing there, planting fruit seedlings, besides handicraft activities.

The idea of  preserving the  the sacred groves known as 'Law Kyntang' by the communities in Meghalaya's has been around for a long time and it is deep-rooted. Through this tradition-bound customary practice,  living aerial root bridges in the forests are conserved and respected by the natives . It is a subtle message for the new generation of  people to  go back to the age old tradition  and respect nature  that gives  us every thing right from food to medicine to clean air free from particulates for healthy living.

 In a world where the symbiotic relationship between man and nature is on the decline for so many reasons, giving a UNESCO  World Heritage Tag  to the  Meghalaya's Jing kieng Jri, will help countries world over  understand  the importance of right balance between economy and growth on one hand and ecology on the other.  Meghalaya's Jingkieng Jri can be taken as a role model.