Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Living Bridge of Cherrapungee

We, human, build bridge to make a connection between two physical things. Malaysians build our Penang Bridge to connect between the Pearl of the Orient and Peninsular Malaysia. But in the depth of northeastern India, in one of the wettest location on earth, bridges are not built but they are grown! Yes, the bridges there grow by themselves. At the southern part of the warm and humid Jaintia and Khasi hills where there are swift-flowing rives and streams, there lie a special something magical. A species of Indian rubber tree with strong roots thrives and prospers!

A woman standing beside the living bridge

The special species of rubber tree, Ficus Elastica, can grow a series of secondary roots from its trunk and can easily perch over huge rocks and boulders along the river banks or better still in the middle of the rivers. So who discovered this special species of rubber tree?

Living wonder

You see the War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, has noticed this tree and saw in its magnificent roots an opportunity to easily invade the area's many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever there is a need, they will simply grow their bridges. So in order to make their rubber tree's roots grow in the correct direction that they want, say, over a river, the Khasis tribe will use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems.

It is strong and sturdy

So how does the root-guidance system works: The thin, tender roots of the Ficus Elastica tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When these roots reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced. So a bridge is grown. :)

These unbelievable living root bridges, some of them which are well over 100 feet long, take around 10 to 15 years to become fully functional. These bridges are extraordinarily strong, so much so that some of them can support the weight of 50 or more people at a time. In fact, because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time. Some of the ancient root bridges are used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over 500 years old. What? That long?

The legendary Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge!

And the most amazing one: a perplexing root bridge, believed to the only one of its kind in the world. It is perhaps a one in a billion kind of bridge which is actually two bridges stacked one over the other and has come to be known as the "Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge." Wow! So nature is so wonderful huh!

That's all for this Sunday folks. I hope one day I can visit these living wonders too. I believe tomorrow a lot of you will start working again right? Enjoy your day ok. :)