Cherrapunji commonly known as Sohra is a subdivisional town in East Khasi hills established in 1982 in the Indian state of Meghalaya. The town is known to be the wettest place on earth before its record was taken by Mawsynram. But it still holds the record of highest rainfall multiple times in the past. Located in the clouds, Cherrapunji sites an elevation of 1484 meters above sea level. This place has hardly one inch of topsoil as most are covered by a rock outcrop. The major attraction of Cherrapunji is the living root bridges.
The root bridges of Cherrapunji are the living tree roots. They are handmade out of aerial roots of rubber tree by Khasi and Jaintia people of mountains along the southern part of Shillong.
The living root bridges aren’t built they are usually grown. They take many years to grow and function depending on how healthy the tree is. These bridges are made of flexible roots of Ficus elastica (rubber tree) across the river allowing them to become strong to hold human weights. The roots are tied together with the process of inoculation (the natural phenomenon of growing roots of two trees together). This tree is well known to have a hold on itself to slopes and rocky surfaces. The roots can last for many hundreds of years as long as the tree of the roots remains healthy. The bridge naturally strengthens as the roots grow and become thicker.
There are many ways of making root bridges :
- Roots bridge by hand – Some root bridges are completely made out of rubber fig without any usage of man-made materials.
- Root bridge using wood or bamboo scaffolds – These are commonly made by wrapping rubber fig over scaffolds of wood or bamboo.
- Root bridge by Areca palm – These bridges are made by training rubber fig through hallowed trunks of Areca palms. The trunk helps the roots be stronger and protect them with nutrients from decaying.
- Root bridge by conventional structure – The roots is wrapped around already existing conventional structures like steel bridges.
People of Khasi and Jaintia do not know how the tradition of root bridges was started. There are no proper records stating root bridge history. The earliest record obtained about living root bridges of Cherrapunji is Henry Yule in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1844. He expressed his great surprise about the bridges and it’s making in the journal. These living root bridges are mostly found in West Jaintia Hill district and East Khasi hill district. East of Cherrapunji living root bridges are found in Khatarshnong region, Nongpriang, Sohkynduh, Rymmai, Mawshuit, and Kongthong.
The “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge” located in the village called Nongriat is the main tourist attraction. It is about 3km long starting from village Tyrna. It stands at a height of 2400 feet from the ground.
Ummunoi root bridges are also the popular attraction among tourists as it is known to be the oldest root bridge with the height of 1400 meters above ground and 74 meters long.
Cherrapunji from November to February is almost dry so march to October is the best time to enjoy its scenic beauty. When needed an escape and have a peaceful time with family, friends or alone Cherrapunji will just be the right holiday to take.