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Cherapunji A Bridge Too Far

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Probably every school kid has heard of Cherrapunjee, in the north eastern state of Megalaya, which receives the highest rainfall in the world. But few know that it is also home to the amazing Living Root Bridges. Indeed, these remarkable works of bio-engineering are located on the rugged mountain slopes that overlook the flood plains of Bangladesh.

However, be warned, it is a hard trek down into the valley to these eco friendly bridges and up again. The adventure starts in the village of Laitkynsew which is rimmed by hills that seem to wrap around it like a natural amphitheatre. The trekking trail falls sharply down the mountain slopes once you leave the little village which commands a view of the flat Sylhet Plains of Bangladesh. And though the pathway is well marked it is most uneven and steep compelling one to stay focused on where one steps. Occasionally the trail evens out and it is across these stretches that one gets to look around and appreciate the thick green forest. Here the air is perfumed with the rich aroma of nature; the musty smell of fallen tree trunks mingling with the sweet fragrance of moss and plants in bloom. Around 300 varieties of orchids and wild flowers grow under the canopy of these ancient eco systems splashing the mossy floor with daubs of colour – blues, pinks, purples and whites.

About one hour on the trail you skirt a cluster of enormous boulders that pockmark the rumpled land and are rewarded with the grand prize – a vision of a Living Root Bridge. This amazing phenomenon is created from the secondary roots of the Indian rubber tree which are trained by local residents over a period of 20 to 25 years to arch over swift rivers and streams. Some of these bio-engineering marvels which have a life span of 600 years are up to 100 ft long and can carry as many as 50 people at a time. Somewhere out in the mountains, streaked with waterfalls and alive with the song of birds, there is even a two level Living Root Bridge. Here, when the river swells with the monsoon rains and covers the lower span, the locals use the upper deck to cross the raging waters. This eco-technology which is in sync with nature has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of centuries. Indeed it still surprises us that these bio-engineering wonders are still one of Cherapunjee’s best kept secretes.

Fact File
The nearest airport and railway station to Cherapunjee is at Guwahati (103 km) which is well connected by road to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. From here one drives down to Cherapunjee.

By way of accommodation the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort at Laitkynsew village is a charming option. It also serves as an ideal base for trekking down to the Living Root Bridges.

Cherapunjee offers a number of other options to visitors on the adventure trail.

At the Mawsmai one will find the largest and finest stalactite caves in India.

The Sacred Forests of these parts are protected by the local tribes and only medicine men may harvest the bounty of these rich bio diverse hotspots for traditional cures for anything from an upset stomach to compound fractures. One may also take a cool dip in nature’s own Jacuzzi: the Rock Pools at the head of Dainthlen Falls (which are ideal for rappelling) where the gentle flow of streams cascading into rocky depressions massage one’s bodies.


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