I am always up for trekking. This enthusiasm probably stems from my boarding school habits, although I forget every now and then that I no longer have the same stamina at 30. I learnt it the hard way during my trek to the double decker living root bridge in Meghalaya, having to deal with 7000 steps! The Northeast part of India is fascinating with untouched natural beauty. There are so many hidden places that you only need the spirit of an explorer to set out and discover some of the most breathtaking sights in the world. And Meghalaya is renowned, making it a common inclusion in everyone’s Northeast India tour.
Our Meghalaya trip was a short one, and so we picked only a handful of places to visit. Number one was to trek to the living root bridge in Cherrapunji, a must-do for those seeking adventure. Besides it is a great way to witness an ancient wonder created by the local tribes (Khasi and Jaintia), which still stands strong over 250 years and attracts people from far and near. There are many living root bridges in Meghalaya, but the one in Nongriat village near Cherrapunji is more popular among travellers for its double decker structure. Since it is a tough trek, there are not too many people who flock the place, thankfully making it less touristy.
The living root bridges are part natural and part man-made. The ancient method bridges two banks of a river using the roots of Rubber Fig trees, said to be a native of Northeast India and some parts of Southeast Asia. Much like bonsai where you manipulate the natural growth of the tree, here the young roots are strategically tangled with each other to encourage them to combine and grow over the river. In the course of time, the roots strengthen and sure enough they can hold the weight of men.
Our Airbnb hosts in Shillong warn us about the strenuous trek, advising us to take our time to climb the stairs and let the muscles relax frequently. They also insist we take tea and noodle breaks, and tune in to the slow pace of nature. We make a mental note of their suggestions and set out to Cherrapunji, a place known for receiving high rainfall in India. We thoroughly enjoy the drive with picturesque views of the hills and gorgeous waterfalls. Luckily it is December, so the weather is dry and not rainy.
Also read: Dharamkot: The Trek to the No Name Waterfall
The Trek to the Living Root Bridge
Most treks start with having to climb uphill, but here it’s just the opposite as you need to make your way downhill through a narrow stairway amidst dense greenery. There are many guides available at the entrance, but they are unnecessary. It’s a clear path, and all you need to do is head downhill. The start is as easy as a breeze, and we chitter chatter along the way till we reach a small village where we take a short break and sip on fresh lemon juice. The locals are warm and friendly and prefer speaking in English over Hindi.
We continue on the path, which meanders through hills and we soon come across a stringy metal bridge over a gorgeous copper blue-hued river, which is probably a stream of the Nohkalikai Falls. The view is breathtaking but crossing the single person bridge is a little nerve-wracking, especially the part when we reach halfway and it starts to shake vigorously. Thanks to the metal enclosures on the sides that assure safety, we make it through without much trouble. We come across another bridge up ahead, which we cross with more ease.
On finally reaching the site, we are in awe. There, growing slowly and steadily for years, is the living double decker root bridge. We almost feel guilty stepping on the age-old roots, but it doesn’t even squeak. Below the bridge, on one side the stream of water forms a small pool due to the surrounding rocks, and it flows onto the other side as a wider stream. The pool also doubles as a lounge area for the travellers, who can dip their feet in and relax or play with the crystal clear water. We spend an hour or two at the site enjoying nature’s beauty, before bracing ourselves for the tough trek back uphill.
Remembering our Airbnb hosts’ suggestions, we decide to take as many breaks as possible. So on our first stop, we relish fresh grapefruit, sprinkled with red chilli flakes and salt. The much needed Vitamin C dose is refreshing, spiking our energy levels for the trek ahead. Next we stop to enjoy sliced raw mangoes, sprinkled with chaat masala, another lip-smacking treat.
After about an hour of huffing and puffing, we stop at a wooden shack overlooking the hills to savour steaming hot noodles and tea. A little puppy keeps us company as we rest and soak in the mesmerising view. Some more minutes of trekking later, we reach the village and sip on fresh pineapple juice this time. After some more climbing we finally make it to the base, short of breath but immensely happy. Nature has an incredible way to recharge you from within!
How to Get There: From Shillong, you can hire a cab to take you to Nongriat village near Cherrapunji, which takes about 2 hours to reach. If you are staying in Cherrapunji, it’s easier as many resorts make arrangements. If you want to skip most of the trekking, then you can drive to Tyrna village further downhill. From there it’s a 3 km trek.
Best Time to Visit: Oct to March