Sunday, April 7, 2013

Double Decker Rootbridge,Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya,India.

Common sense would suggest a bridge is built. Neither is this sense common nor are all bridges built. Some bridges are grown ! These are the root bridges of Cherrapunjee (one of the wettest places on earth).

We wanted to do this trek together as a family but then we spoke to the Manager of the Cherrapunjee Resort he advised Arun to do the trek alone. It would be a 7 hour trek and since we were there in August in the monsoon season the trek would be a slippery one with approximately 3500 steep steps one way and 3500 way back…7000 steps and with two kids!!

We agreed and I stayed behind with the kids while Arun packed lunch and with a guide set off at about 11a.m .We enjoyed the cloudy, foggy weather in the resort and after lunch went for a nap about 2:30p.m as we were sure that Arun would not be back before 5 p.m…was I surprised to see him back about 3p.m…and not sure if he made it to the bridge…what an experience he had…and he was walking like a penguin…this was what he had to say….

A view from the top before the trek…a cloudy day to begin with...
A waterfall can be seen far far away amidst the dense foliage...

my descent down the 3500 steps begin...
The steps are extremely steep at times as well as slippery after the rains...and my trek began...

This is how beautiful the place drop silence...this silence is only occasionally pierced by the sound of the gushing waters from nearby falls and streams...but with every descent it gets warmer and more humid and after a while the sweating becomes almost unbearable...
Little waterfalls...
The War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this rubber tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area's many rivers. The living bridges are made from the roots of the(rubber ) 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.


A root bridge.
In order to make a rubber tree's roots grow in the right direction the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, 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.
This is how slippery it gets...I realised my trekking shoes were no good, I invariably slipped with every step. Went Humpty Dumpty once! My guide was doing just fine with a pair rubber slippers. Placement of every step was a choice between loose rolling stones or  a blanket of thick green moss. I was educated by my guide to fit you step between two stones. I was learning to walk yet again!  
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.

a steel wire hanging bridge as well..

After a lot of sweating, puffing and panting and a point where I felt I will never make it...we finally reached the Single Decker root bridge...which is half way of the Double Decker root bridge, my destination...
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."
Finally after another long trek of sweating, slipping, falling I finally made it to the Double-Decker Root achievement and lifetime experience indeed!!
A view of the bridge from below...

This is where we (self and our guide) had our packed lunch...this nature restaurant provided perfect ambience with live music (gushing water), natural spring water from the flowing stream and the view of the double decker bridge in front of me. Could there be better dining experience than this ? Though drenched in sweat  and very low on energy, these did not matter, I was in a state of bliss. 
My earthly senses creeped back on me, reminded me to return back. I packed my camera...tasted the fresh sweet water and turned around. The very sight of being surrounded by mountains all around was indeed daunting. I asked my guide, if there was a shorter way up. He smiled and said "same way up".  I could feel my energy level drop instantly.
Mustered some courage and told myself "no way out, this has to be done". The trek back to the resort was with very low stamina even for further may notice there are no shots during my way back. Though I was really moved by the sight of an old man carrying a log of wood behind his back, as he climbed uphill with a smile. I did not have enough energy to even shoot a photograph. I was completely soaked in rain and sweat. For the first time in my life I took off my T shirt in public and climbed bare bodied. Rested after climbing every 10 steps. Finally, the never ending climb ended and I reached the top of the hill...Hats off to the people who live here and walk up and down this path daily as if it is only natural!
My guide asked me the time and found ourselves to have completed the entire trek in 3 hrs 45 mins . This was good as the average trek took 7 hours, I did this better not because I wanted to compete with others but because I just wanted to reach the top fast . I patted myself later ...a real test of  fitness.
However it was a trek worth it....given another chance I would do it all over again :)