While man-made marvels excite me, I prefer the wonders of nature: the gushing waterfalls, towering mountains, an ordinary brook, a giant & old tree, a secluded beach somewhere remote and quiet spots inside a forest. Over the last seven years, I have been rediscovering such hidden and visible riches of my country…and waiting for my turn to explore the stunning living root bridges of Meghalaya, another jewel in India’s already shining crown.
Living root bridges of Meghalaya
Made by the indigenous Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya, a living root bridge is a suspension bridge that’s made by using the roots of rubber trees. True to its name, the bridge continues to grow and strengthen as it is made from living roots. Some bridges grow so strong that almost 50 people can cross the bridge at the same time. Yes, not kidding. It takes several years for a bridge to get strong enough to bear the load capacity of human beings crossing over. But once designed, a bridge can survive for hundreds of years. Still proud of man-made architecture, eh?
The tradition of designing and shaping living root bridges is centuries old. As a result, there are many living root bridges in Meghalaya concentrated around Cherrapunji & Sohra. Like much of India’s heritage, most of the living root bridges have also got ruined. But those that have survived are still magnificent enough to qualify for World UNESCO Heritage sites.
Enter: the majestic living root, double-decker bridge
You must have heard (or used) this phrase: take someone’s breath away. Oh, Meghalaya does just that. The trek to the bridge will take your breath away but fill you with such energy and joy that you will end up feeling more alive.
Through the deep forest and lush-green vegetation, you descend some 2500+ feet to visit this bridge. In terms of distance, it’s just 3 km. on one side, but it takes 3500 steps to reach the bridge one way. But hey! don’t get disheartened. 3500 is just a number. The route is gorgeous with clean villages, waterfalls, butterflies and many short and long bridges in between, you don’t get bored even for a minute.
A dip in the waterfall nearby the bridge. And you know what? When you go inside the waterfall, many fish gather around your feet to give you a free fish pedicure. In the end, it’s not just your soul that feels free & lighter, your feet shine too from all the climbing, trekking and free fish spa. I would definitely recommend taking dips and preferably a bath inside the waterfall.
Only a few things come close to this surreal experience of watching the man-made marvel of living roots bridge while you chill inside the waterfall, one of the many free gifts of mother Earth.
Bonus: walk towards the waterfall and stand beneath for some super grand pictures. 🙂 No no, you won’t fall or drown. There’s a stone platform underneath where you can comfortably stand, get drenched & make memories.
3500+ stairs (not for the faint-hearted souls):
Now let’s talk numbers. Yeah yeah, it’s not easy to tread 3500 steps. But do you need to do it all at one shot?
No. First you descend. There are some 2500 steps to the single decker bridge that you need to climb down. It’s a beautiful route through the village, little water-streams and cafes. You would like it. Every once in a while, the landscape will open up with clouds and mountains. But after a while, you descend into the forest – peaceful, quiet and serene. No, there’s nothing scary about the forest. It’s dense. It’s Green. And it’s everything that you need to escape your crazy routines of urban life.
Once you reach the single decker bridge, click some photos. 🙂 And catch a breath. From now on, you would have to cross a long, suspension bridge that’s quite high, quite long and downright scary. But you will be fine. Post that, you would need to cross another bridge. This one will feel more stable and secure. And then stairs – moss ridden, steep but promising stairs that you would climb to reach double-decker bridge.
The moment you set your eyes on the bridge amidst the sound of running water, you would realise how inconsequential and insignificant the man-made world is. Hold onto that memory. It will be your guiding light in moments of disappointment at work, in relationships and during failures.
Preparing for the climb: the trek to the double-decker bridge:
All my friends who have seen me and met me know of my relationship with laziness. They all expressed their disbelief when I told them that I climbed 3500 stairs. Hahahaha. I don’t blame them. I am also surprised. I never knew that I could do this.
But you don’t do it. You train yourself. Develop an exercise regime. Build some stamina before your Meghalaya trip. The trek is quite difficult and climbing all these stairs in one day is not only super difficult but also not advisable.
Things that make climbing 3500 steps easier:
1. Wear loose clothes because you are going to sweat a lot
2. Keep water with you all the time. You would need to sip water at regular intervals
3. If possible, ask your guide for help. The guides are from that area and can comfortably carry your luggage at a nominal charge. This will help you walk
4. Carry a walking stick. It’s needed to make the trek easier. You could take the wooden stick or buy the proper, lighter and sturdier version that they sell in Decathlon
5. Find your pace. What’s important is to keep walking and keep moving. Don’t try to match up the pace of other people. They can be fast or slow. Let them do their thing. Find the pace at which you can comfortably climb stairs without raising your heart beat greatly. Be as slow as you need to be. Just continue to move
Mini guide – all you need to know for your trek to the double-decker bridge:
The trek starts from Tyrna village. It’s nearby Cherrapunji.
How to reach: You can take a flight or train to Guhawati. And hire a cab from there. If you are on a budget trip, I am pretty sure that there will be pool cabs from Guhawati to Shillong too. Find a pool cab and reach Shillong. It takes 2-3 hours from Shillong to reach Cherrapunji.
Time investment for the trek: it takes a whole day to reach double decker and come back up. So, if you are planning to do it the same day, I recommend that you start early like 8 am. You should target to reach Tyrna village by 8 am and start the trek. It takes somewhere between 1.5 to 2 hours to reach double decker bridge. It can also take 3 or 4 hours depending upon your fitness levels.
You might want to spend another 2 hours at the bridge and in the waterfall. Plus it will take you a minimum of 2-3 hours to reach back up.
Quick check: please know that it isn’t easy to do this the same day if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. If you ain’t comfortable or confident to do it the same day, here’s an option: plan to stay overnight near the double decker bridge. And come back up the next day. In case you decide on that, you could even visit the rainbow falls, some 1.5 hours further away from the double decker bridge. And spend time star gazing at night.
Things to carry: water, mosquito repellant (yes, there are mosquitoes if you travel during monsoons), cap/ hat, walking stick, raincoat (if you travel during monsoons), ORS/ Electral, protein powder (for after the trek), change of clothes, a water proof camera/ phone, towel and your meds.
I would also advise to wear loose cotton/ synthetic clothes. Carry a torch (in case you get late on your way back) and a whistle.
After having spent a week in Meghalaya, I can confidently confirm that the place is true to its name. The lush green forests, the playful clouds and the gigantic waterfalls together form landscapes that would blow your mind & sweep you off your feet (quite literally during monsoons). 😀 The best time to visit Meghalaya is definitely monsoons and early winters.