Living tree bridges of Cherrapunjee – slice of heaven

Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, one of the rainest places in the world also inhabits one of secret locations of the tree bridges. If you watched Lord of the Rings, imagine this is what Tolkien’s land of the Ents would be like. Those tree giant creatures definately be walking among us.

Back in the days before climate change, this area experienced a lot of rain almost on a daily basis. Recent years, the cutting down of jungle forests and coal mining has changed the area. This year 2013 saw a series of droughts and water shortages, an unknown phenomena to Megahalaya.
Megahalaya is also famous for its matrilineal culture, call the Khasis, indigenous people. In this state of NorthEast India, women-power rule here, unlike much of the rest of India, known for their recent treatment of women. The Khasis tradition states that all wealth and property goes to the last daughter of the family. The children takes after the woman’s name and belongs to the family. The Khasis women are allowed many husbands and lovers, and there is even a special all female queue in all government offices. You can see why I would want to come visit.

This would be my final spot after a long exhaustive tour around North East of India. Since then has become one of my top favorite places to spend time in the world.

Cherrapunjee, or to be exact, Nongkriat village is what heaven feels like, clean, pristine, quiet and magical, very tolkienesque. For those into the spiritual side of things, you could almost feel that fairies and elves roam this magical place.

A fairly strenuous climb down along with a series of bridge crossings and more climbing up and down stone paved stairs, I finally reached this magical village of Nongkriat surrounded by gorgeous tree bridges that take at least 50 years to grow. Generations are needed to grow these bridges, some tree bridges have claimed to be 500 years old.

I loved staying here at the community village guesthouse, it was a quiet season and practically had the whole area to myself, along with the series of water pools that I was in every day that are just a few minutes away from my guesthouse.

The Khasis people of this area lived closely with nature, their intricate beliefs and their communal with nature can be a great anthropical study. They had the great foresight and patience to grow bridges with trees which are self renewing, as the tree grows and ages, the bridges strengthen and grows along with it.

The locals saw trees are spirit beings and cutting them down for resources were forbidden, rituals and prayers were needed in order to even cut down a tree. Their relationship with the trees were deep and often incorporated into their spiritual beliefs and practise. Prayers were chanted should they need to harvest from certain trees,  should a plant or a tree be harmed, their future generations might be harmed.  Over time, gradually the Khasis had lost the art of bridge growing when the government built steel bridges across the many rivers and streams surrounding this area. With the introduction of Christianity, many of their relationships with nature were lost, deemed too paganistic for the modern world.  Many old living bridges were abandoned and were in disrepair.

Most tourists would spend only a day walking around the village, but I would recommend spending a few days here, doing little treks around the many sub-villages to discover many other root bridges. The local Khasis are great gentle spirits who would be glad share their stories on their ancestors and talk about their knowledge on the root bridges. Come during the harvest season of April and you will be celebrating the Thanksgiving festival with them.

A few years back, a Japanese documentary crew visited the area and along with some tourist interest few years back, the locals became interested in their old traditions and have relearnt the ways of the ancients on growing bridges and have started passing down their traditions to the younger generation.

My images cannot do justice to this magical area, maybe this video would.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The famous double decker bridge in Cherrapunjee. This is the only one that still exists in working condition. The popular place to visit for many curious tourists.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The newer bridges in process of being grown. It would take at least 50 – 100 years before a bridge is full developed. It takes 2 to 3 generations to tend to these bridges, frequently needing to shape and develop the vines and branches. Bridges do not grow on their own, careful tending needed on a regular basis!

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

That’s me on the first day after a long hike down to this magical realm, could not wait dashing into the rock pools after a sweaty climb down.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

Stepping onto the bridges require some careful concentration, especially on a rainy day, mossed covered stones can be quite slippery.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

View from the top bridge! Can be scary for those with height phobias, including me!

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The famous double decker bridge in Cherrapunjee. This is the only one that still exists. Great rockpools to just relax from all that heat!

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