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India Makes ‘Living Bridges’ Out of Trees

In the mountainous state of Meghalaya in India lives a truly fascinating phenomenon- living bridges.

Whilst the world looks to create more eco-friendly structures, these simple suspension bridges have been cultivated over many years by the Khasi and the Jaintia peoples.

The bridges are made from the roots of trees, which are then twisted and moulded into shape. In this mountainous north-eastern region, over 100 bridges have been created in 70 villages. The bridges traverse over rivers and other areas and are essential for the locals.

They allow people living in these isolated areas to travel. Without the bridges access to essentials services, such as doctors and schools would be extremely difficult. Villagers are also able to use the bridges to travel to different areas to buy and sell products.

Building roads in these regions is not feasible. This is due to the terrain being mountainous, with dense jungle and waterfalls making any kind of permanent road structures impossible. This is where creating living bridges, using the natural resources of the area, is the most viable option.

The bridges are made with a bamboo structure, whilst the roots of a tree -usually the rubber tree- are stretched across the structure.

Unlike conventional bridges, the Indian living bridges grow stronger with time. When they are first constructed, these bridges only allow 15 to 20 people to cross a day. After many years, the roots have strengthened, and can hold upwards of 50 people in one day.

India Makes 'Living Bridges' Out of Trees
Rangthylliang root bridge. Image credit: Anselmrogers

A living example of the longest root bridge is the Rangthylliang bridge, which is over 50 metres long. Double-decker bridges also exist, which consists of two parallel pathways. The most famous of these bridges is called Nongriat, and is said to be over 200 years old.

History of the living bridges

These bridges have a long history in the tradition of the Khasi and the Jaintia peoples. In Khasi mythology, their ancestors descended from a living roots ladder that connected heaven and earth. The earliest written records is from 1844, in an account from the Scottish geographer Henry Yule in his Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

The living bridges have now been entered into a tentative list for World Heritage Status. If awarded this accolade the living bridges would be afforded legal protection by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO). This is given to sites designated as having cultural, historical, scientific or another form or significance.

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