Deep within the forest area of North-Eastern state of Meghalaya, considered one of the wettest regions in the world, is a small War-Khasis tribal village named Riwai where a bridge to cross the flowing river water within the forest hasn’t been constructed or built out of wooden logs or bamboos but rather strangely has been grown out of the roots of the Ficus elastica tree ( rubber tree species).
The bridges are grown here because the heavy rainfall during the monsoon season in and around Cherrapunji causes the man made bridges to break time and again, hence the tribals took to the natural method of growing their own bridges to cross the river beds where ever needed.
The village of Riwai is located around 82 km from the state capital of Shillong and is at a distance of 8 KM from the village of Mawlynnong which is dubbed as the cleanest village in Asia. A visit to the living root bridge of Riwai is a part of the site seeing around Mawlynnong.
The best way to get to Riwai is to hire a taxi or a jeep from Shillong since the public transportation to Riwai is very poor. The Meghalaya Tourism department organizes a bus for travellers during season which is the most affordable way to get to see the living root bridge. The living root bridge of Riwai is included in the Mawlynnong tour section. To book a seat on the bus travellers have to go a day in advance and inquire about the timing and the availability of the same.
Once in the village of Riwai, travellers have to walk through the forest buffer area for about 300 meters till they reach the living root bridge. The walk can be considered more or less as a very easy hike through the Riwai village rain forest. The villagers of Riwai collect a nominal entry fee to see the living root bridge, the proceeds of the same go towards the development of the village.
The construction or growth of the living root bridge has been a well kept secret of the War-Khasis tribals. The tribals long ago noticed that the Ficus elastica tree produced very strong secondary roots higher up in its trunk which could be easily used to create a bridge by perching the roots along hung boulders along the river banks.
In order to make the rubber tree roots grow in a particular direction. The War-Khasis use betel nut trunks sliced down the middle and hollowed out to create root guidance system. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree are prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks and hence grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they’re allowed to take root in the soil. Over a period of time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.
The living root bridge is extremely strong and can even bear the weight of a whole heard of wild elephants crossing the bridge. These root bridges take around fifteen years to become fully functional and because this bridge is still growing its only getting stronger with time. Tribals from Riwai village claim that this root bridge is over 300 years old and still only getting stronger.
Accommodation in Riwai is limited to a couple of luxury home stays and a tree house stay in the village. The village of Riwai does not have any budget accommodation of backpackers so a day trip from Shillong is the ideal plan for a backpacker. There are no restaurants of any kind so the only eating options are the home-cooked food which consist of dal, rice, local chicken curry and pork. There are a couple of make shift bamboo stalls which sell cold drinks, biscuits and noodles.
The best time to visit the root bridge village of Riwai is during the dry months from September end to mid-April when the sky is clear and the road condition are at their best.
Visiting the living root bridge in the state of Meghalaya is a must-do thing for everyone who travels to this part of the Northeast of India. This beautiful art of growing bridges is only found in this part of the world and in the rain forest in Meghalaya bridges are never made but rather grown when the need arises.
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