Living Root Bridges: A Wonderful Trip and a Lesson in Caring for the Environment
Lessons learned among the mountains, springs, bridges, and a waterfall.
I love traveling. I love going to places on trips and explore the local cuisines. Mostly I prefer where nature is in abundance. I like to get lost in the vastness of nature. The peace it brings to me is priceless. I always want to stay there longer and enjoy the beauty and peace that nature has to offer.
One such trip of mine was to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya (India).
There are many such living root bridges present across Meghalaya, which used to be and still are the only means of crossing the rivers and streams. These bridges are hand made, by the indigenous people of the region, out of living roots of the Ficus Elastica tree.
There are living root bridges that are hundreds of years old. Almost all of them are single-decker bridges. Double Decker bridges are very rare. Hence, it was a sure visit place for my friends and me.
To reach the Double Decker bridge, one needs to climb down more than 3000 steps, built with cement and concrete blocks, with hills and forest on both sides of the steps. As you can imagine, going down the 3000 levels is not easy, and imagine climbing back on the same number of steps after a long day of walking is even harder.
Knees start wobbling while taking those steps. There are no other means to reach the site. That is why very few people fancy to go down the steps to visit the Double Decker Living Root bridge.
Me and my two close friends, with whom I was traveling on the trip, decided to go down the steps to see the bridge. We went from Bangalore and did not want to miss it, though we had our moments of self-doubt about whether we can make it or not.
After discussing the plan for a few minutes, in the early morning, we decided to do it. We had our breakfast and went to the nearest village from where the steps to the Double Decker bridge starts.
We parked our vehicle at the beginning of the steps. Some locals were gathering nearby, and a handful of vendors were selling nuts. An old lady was renting bamboo sticks, to take along the trip, to help while walking down and up the steps.
A couple of young local boys approached us to help guide through the route in exchange for a small fee. I think they use whatever light tourists they get to make some money. The boys were very polite and were fluent in English too, so we agreed to take their service.
I always prefer taking guides (professional or not) as they know the place and its history much more than anyone and almost always are good in weaving an exciting narrative around the area.
Once we started walking down the steps, we realized it is not an easy task to keep going down the stairs. In around the first hundred steps, the knees started shaking. We started making fun of how the reviews we read in online portals, about wobbling knees, are real. The bamboo sticks and the railing on the sides of the stairs were helpful.
In a few minutes of walking, we noticed that our guide started picking the plastics thrown on the side of the stairs. He used to pick them up and place them carefully on the sides of the stairs. Even if the plastics were thrown a bit far from the railings, he used to go and bring them quickly and put them near the steps.
The guide was very acquainted with walking down the stairs as he must be doing it every day, and so he had quite some time in hand to do this plastic collection along the path while we three climbed down the steps slowly and took few minutes break regularly.
Forest is our home, and we take care of it.
After noticing the activity of the guide for some time, we asked him why he is collecting all those plastics. He told us that they put those plastics near the steps, and on the days when there are no tourists or the days he does not get anyone to hire him to guide — he and his friends go down the whole route till the bridge and collect all these plastics in sacks and dispose of them in the proper place.
Forest is our home, and we take care of it — that is what he told us. The guide showed us their villages. It was evident that they take good care of where they live.
As we know, the plastics are not right for the environment — and they all know that too. So, every time the guide or his friends traverse the path while doing the guide job, they pick plastics thrown around by tourists and put them on the side carefully. When they come back, it becomes a little bit easier for them to collect those plastics faster.
We were amazed at the environmental awareness of the local people. It was incredible to see their commitment to preserving nature.
To date, I am not sure it is due to their ignorance that people throw their garbage around, or it is pure arrogance and carelessness that makes them do it.
Along the stairs of 3000 steps, we saw many thrash cans being present, but plastics were still thrown around before and after the dustbins. It takes absolutely zero more effort to throw the plastics in trash cans nearby than throwing it randomly a couple of steps after or before the dustbin.
Still, for some unknown reason, people choose to throw the plastics mindlessly.
To date, I am not sure it is due to their ignorance that people throw their garbage around, or it is pure arrogance and carelessness that makes them do it. For sure, it shows, such people have no respect for the places they visit or for the people who live around it.
We were amazed and ashamed at the same time. We were surprised at how the people who live there are so much aware of their surroundings and how to take care of it. At the same time, we were ashamed for being part of the group of people who come as tourists and destroy the place, with their garbage strewn around.
We started helping him along the way, in our little ways, in collecting trash and throwing them in nearby trash cans.
The guide asked us not to worry about it and enjoy the journey. He said they would take care of it. He just suggested us not to add to the garbage and bring back whatever plastics we were carrying with us, and we made sure we do that throughout the rest of our trip.
After taking our own sweet time walking down the steps and crossing few tribal villages on the route, we reached the Double Decker Living Root Bridge. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the location. It was a calm and peaceful place, surrounded by mountains and big trees.
There was crystal clear water flowing under the living root bridge. Shadows from the mountains and trees were making the location absolutely relaxing. There were around 7 to 10 people, including us. The place was filled with tranquility.
It was completely worth the strenuous walk.
Once we reached the location of the bridge, we just forgot all the strain of walking down the 3000 steps. The place was quiet and amazingly peaceful. We sat there for an hour or so, dipping our feet in the crystal clear water with schools of doctor fishes eating away the dead skins from our feet.
Next, we adventured towards the Rainbow falls, which was an hour further down. As per our guide, hardly anyone goes to the Rainbow falls as the route was among the side of the hills, and there is no proper path laid down to reach there.
We were already tired from walking for 3 hours and more than 3000 steps. We took some time to decide whether to go further or not. Ultimately our adventurism and curiosity to see new places won.
The path to rainbow falls was a real adventure. We walked through many hanging bridges, made out of steel wires, over the mountain rivers, and many more living root bridges. The main adventure was the walk on the sides of the hill where only one person can walk and that too very carefully.
After an hour of carefully negotiating the curves of the hills, we reached the location. The beauty of the place was breathtaking. It was a gorgeous waterfall. The pool where the water was falling was a mix of colors. Water was crystal clear, and the stones under the water were clearly visible.
The shallow end of the pool was light green, and it suddenly turns into deep blue/green after a few feet — due to the sudden increase in depth of the pool. The colors were just mesmerizing.
There were hardly any people down there. The guide helped us navigate through the rocks to reach near the waterfall. We were the second group of people who visited it that day.
After some time, we were the only four people in that location. Mountains surrounded the place. The only noise there was from us playing in the water and from the waterfall running down the surface of the mountain and crashing on the pool beneath.
We spent there a couple of hours and played in the water for a long time. The place was amazingly beautiful and serene.
With a heavy heart, not wanting to leave the place, we started walking back. It took another 4 hours for us to reach back at the top of the stairs.
It was dark when we reached the top. Climbing back the 3000 steps was the most challenging part of the whole trip. We climbed one step at a time. It was completely dark. All we had was the light from our mobile flash and a torch with the guide.
It was an amazingly fulfilling experience for my friends and me. The conversation with the guide made me aware of their environment, the forests, and the springs. I loved the humble lifestyle of the natives and their consciousness about maintaining the environment in the pristine condition.
The trip was completely worth the effort. The time spent among nature, and the beauty of the places visited that day will always remain close to my heart.
A Wonderful Trip and a Lesson in Caring for the Environment was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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