The Natural Root Bridges of Cherrapunji, India

In the depths of northeastern India, Cherrapunji, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built - they're grown. Around Cherrapunji in northeast India there are "living root bridges", a form of tree shaping, which are simple suspension bridges made of living tree roots of some suitable species such as Ficus elastica growing alongside the gap to be bridged, by gradually training some of its roots to grow across the gap until they take root on the other side. There are examples with a span of over 100 feet. They are naturally self-renewing and self-strengthening as the component roots grow thicker

The living bridges are made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree. This tree produces a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves.

Cherrapunji is the wettest place on earth, and The War-Khasi, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area's many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever the need arises, they simply grow their bridges.

The Khasis use betel nut trunks, to make the rubber tree's roots grow in the right direction. They used to slice down the middle and hollowed out betel nut trunks to create root-guidance systems.

The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong - strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time.

Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time - and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji may be well over five hundred years old.

One special root bridge, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, is actually two bridges stacked one over the other and has come to be known as the "Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge."

For more detailed information please check Living Bridges


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