The road seems to be having a hard time staving off the rapidly growing thick vegetation straining in from both its edges. Given an ounce of earth on the tarmac they would probably spurt the next length of grass. There isn’t a soul in sight save the birds and the thickets on either sides. By now we have pretty much adjusted ourselves to sudden sighting of little streams behind dense foliage or a small waterfall gushing down the sides. Albeit poorly. We are on our way to Siej village in Sohra to marvel at what this area is best known for. The Living Root Bridge. And the Umkar Root bridge is one in the making ever since the original one was washed away in torrential rains.
We park the vehicle near the village school as instructed by the resort we are lodged at, and get ready to walk down a few steps to where the bridge is. A lone pineapple grows by the long steps that go up from where a matron materializes and descends to collect the fee . “ Camera? Mobile?” she asks, her lips stained with kwai. Having paid the nominal amount, we descend the flight of steps on the other side while she goes back to wherever she came from. A teenager sits in her verandah watching us go down. Wet soggy leaves lie strewn on the wide steps and we need to be careful lest we reach our destination in humpty dumpty style. It is the season of jackfruit ripening and as if to prove a point we come across a few splattered on the steps. The trees are shaking off the last of the rain till the next lot pours.
The walk down to the Umkar bridge takes just a few minutes in contrast to the superstar of its ilk, the Umshiang double decker root bridge . We hear the water gushing down much before reaching the point. And there it is. Roots twisting and turning , entwining and braiding across a stream that is jumping off the rocks. They are trained over the rocks midstream and for the rest of the way have a bamboo scaffolding to support the new roots, pushing them into the required direction.
It is an eye opener to see the roots of the Figus Elastica, a type of rubber tree, first dig deep into the ground on the bank taking shape so as to find support. The villagers guide the secondary roots, across and all around to lend a strong support and also to create the bridge. Bamboo poles are tied and positioned horizontally overhead leading the tender root to the other side. The villagers of Siej aim at engineering a double decker. It would take them another two decades or so before it is fully functional.
A still photography team from Singapore is positioned on the concrete bridge running parallel to the natural one. A root bridge ideally takes 15 to 20 years to grow and survives for many years. There is a wealth of wisdom in the Khasi forefather's understanding the quality of the tree growing by streams helped by the heavy rainfall. It took a considerable time of their life span to see their project fructify and yet they continued to build bridges for the future generations. Bamboo or wooden bridges would rot and give away in a few years time but a living root bridge would only grow stronger and sturdier.
The first few tentative steps on the Umkara bridge we take soon gives way to happy and delightful paces. But only till a little more than halfway. The roots are still tender and in the process of growing and reaching out to the other side helped by a bamboo frame underneath.
Buoyed by the world waking up to these bio engineering marvels, villages in Sohra are creating these bridges to cash in on its popularity. Like the one in Siej, where the aspiring double decker project is looking at more tourist inflow when it is ready. At least what they are exhibiting has not damaged nature in any way. They have only shown to the world how nature gives for generations if handled well.
This post was written for TWTFOW#5