Meghalaya's aerial living root bridges - 15 essential facts!

Living root bridges, Meghalaya, NE

Living  aerial or suspension  root bridges are artificially created bridges by the tribes (Khasi) through  weaving and manipulating the roots of the Indian rubber tree  ''Ficus elastica''fig tree) and they  have been known in NE India  in the state of Meghalaya. for centuries - roughly 500 years  serving as connectors with near-by isolated places. These bridges act as  an amazing  role model for socio-ecological resilience and sustainability. 

.Meghalaya, NE India. Living root

The following are the essential facts: 

01. The native tribes  of Meghalaya  never fail to respect  Nature and live in harmony with it  and it  has been so for centuries.  

02. Often referred to ''Living root bridges.''  they are known to   occur widely  in the West and East Jaintia Hills districts and are found in and around  many villages like  Khonglah, Padu, Kudeng,   Nongbareh, etc.  

03. The tribes of Khasi (a tribe living in the eastern parts of Meghalaya) are expert  builders of these bridges. They through generations have gained knowledge to grow root bridges successfully and artificially in this sensitive and rough forested rain-sodden terrain. 

04. Reason for their construction is Meghalaya state is the wettest place on earth with dense forests and turbulent water ways and valleys. The artificially built bridges stay connected the tribes with other communities in isolated areas across the water ways. during the severe monsoon seasons (Both NW & SE monsoons bring in lots of rain). Centuries ago it was an ingenious way to stay connected with other isolated areas. 

05  They grow up to a length over 50 meters and  roughly 1.5 meters wide. Life span: 150  years and more.  

06.The Khasi tribes ingeniously use the Indian rubber tree  ''Ficus elastica'' to build  aerial bridges across the streams. Long tradition has it they  know how to guide the pliable tree  roots  to grow laterally over  a stream bed on both sides  resulting in a living bridge of roots in about 15 years. The roots in strands are guided by the halved trunks of bamboo.  They  mature with age growing  in strength and thickness over a period of time with soil getting compacted due to foot print. Once they are good enough to withstand 30 to 35 people, the halved trunks are not required and removed.

07. India rubber trees are most suitable for the aerial root bridge construction because they have  essential properties most suitable for this purpose - their growth in in rough, rocky soils,  elasticity and  ability of roots to combine  easily 

08. Their life span is dependent  on periodic care and pruning;  the latter is needed yearly  to maintain the strength of the bridge. 

09. The positive point is  as they become more resilient with age they  survive long years and gain  capacity  to withstand flash flooding  and storm surges  that are frequent recurrences during the rainy season .

10. They are symbolic of symbiotic relationship with humans and environment.

11. They are useful in an environmentally sensitive hilly forested region by way of preventing soil erosion, land slides and promoting soil stability. besides, the root bridges play a vital role in this eco system by absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

12. Centuries ago paved roads were impossible in densely forested terrain with powerful streams,  the diligent and innovative indigenous tribes of Khasi found a solution in nature.

!3. These root bridges are facing threats as the present generation of people has no patience. Efforts are being made by the state government  to safeguard the age old tradition 

14. The crux of the problem is making aerial root bridges is time consuming.  Right from bamboo bridges to  guiding  rubber tree roots horizontally  and get them entwined with halved bamboo  men need skill and patience.

15. It takes more than 30 years to develop a functional bridge with period upkeep and pruning.