The wettest place on the planet is home to some of the most amazing natural plant growth that you’ve ever seen. Mawsynram, a town in eastern India, receives an average annual rainfall of 467 inches per year -- that’s 39 feet of water -- and for Cherrapunji, another Indian town, receiving 463-inches of rainfall each year is the norm.
With all that water and rising rivers during monsoon season -- June to September -- communities can wind up stranded from the outside world. In the past, some people in these villages built bamboo bridges to free themselves from their “islands,” but the structures just couldn’t withstand the floods. So the Khasi people looked to a common tree in the area and started an ingenious tradition.
The Indian rubber plant or Indian rubber fig has unusual roots that can be twisted, tied, and shaped into structures -- while still firmly planted in the ground. And in these communities, these unique plants have been built into bridges that safely connect secluded locations, even when the river waters rise.
The process of growing these bridges isn’t simple or short. In fact, it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 years for them to start resembling a bridge. But once it has been formed, the bridges can last for centuries and can hold up to 35 people at a time.
Ummunoi Root Bridge, Seji Village
One of the most famous living root bridges in India is the Ummunoi Root Bridge near Seji Village. The bridge crosses the Ummunoi River near the village. The best starting point is from Laitkynsew Village. The hike to the bridge is about a mile and a quarter. You’ll be climbing upward, so it may take you a little longer than expected unless you regularly hike in the hills.
The bridge itself is 54 feet long and is one of the oldest known root bridges in the region. It’s extremely accessible to people who can handle a little hiking. Thanks to these factors, it’s also one of the most popular root bridge destinations.
Umkar Root Bridge, Seji Village
Another root bridge is under construction near Seji Village. You can still cross it, but it will probably be another 10 to 15 years before it will be grown to “completion.” The bridge is also reasonably accessible and it’s only a 30-minute round-trip hike from your starting point in Seji Village. This is probably the best root bridge experience for those who struggle with mobility or have a lower activity tolerance threshold thanks to the location and short distance from the hike’s starting point.
The bridge was once much more complete, but some flash floods washed a bit of it away. When you take this trek, especially if during monsoon season, you’ll be rewarded with a lovely hike in and out and views of a waterfall due to the higher water levels.
Ritymmen Root Bridge, Nongthymmai Village
On your way to visiting the Double Decker Root Bridge in Umshiang, you may want to stop at the Ritymmen Root Bridge in Nongthymmai Village. This is the longest known living root bridge at 100 feet in length. The bridge is about halfway to the Double Decker, so it makes a great stop along the way.
The hike to and from the bridge takes about two hours in full, leaving out from Tyrna Village. Sometimes, people who decide they don’t want to trek down and back up the 3,600 stairs to the Double Decker Bridge turn back after visiting this bridge, feeling satisfied that they have experienced the unique manmade phenomenon.
Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge, Nongriat Village
Perhaps the most famous of the living root bridges is Umshiang Double Decker Bridge. The bridge is probably the most magnificent, too. The area looks like a Disney depiction of The Jungle Book, while the unusual bridge adds all the more intrigue with its second “story” for crossing in times of increased rainfall.
To reach this bridge, you’ll start your trek from Tyrna Village and hike for four or more hours -- the fitness level of the group you’re traveling with will determine your time -- to reach it. The reason the journey takes so long is the 3,600 stairs you have to climb down -- and back up -- to reach the bridge.
You’ll spot waterfalls, butterflies, and flowers along the way to the bridge that hangs at an elevation of 2,400 feet.
Mawsaw Root Bridge, Mawsaw Village
If you’re still interested in seeing more root bridges and are willing to make a full day of it, you can continue past the Double Decker Root Bridge to Mawsaw Bridge, located down the trail in Mawsaw Village. It’s another 30 minutes out, making a total round-trip back to the starting point something like seven hours for the fit hiker.
Beneath the bridge is a natural swimming pool, a highlight for hikers, especially in the heat of summer. The pool isn’t safe during the monsoons, though, so plan your swim for another spot if your travels take you to India during the rainy season.
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