A QUICK LOOK AT HOW A ROOT BRIDGE DEVELOPED OVER TIME

Today I thought I’d share a few photos of a small root bridge in the Khasi Hills that I was able to visit several times over the course of three years. Now, bear in mind that this is not an especially impressive or visually distinctive example. It is, however, one where active measures had been taken between 2015 and 2019 to develop it and make it more useful as a piece of infrastructure. It’s also a living root bridge that’s far enough from a major village that it was, at least as of 2019, beyond any sort of tourist zone. This meant that the maintenance and new growth encouraged on the structure had to have been done by local Khasi people who were primarily interested in using the bridge to facilitate agricultural activities, rather than for tourism.

The developing root bridge as it appeared in 2016

The changes to the bridge over four years were significant, though subtle. The primary span of the structure, consisting of a single stable root, appeared to have been in existence for quite some time as of 2015. But the span was still quite narrow, and would be challenging to cross without railings.

Thus, by 2015 railings had begun to be formed on one side of the bridge, were being quite actively trained on both sides of the bridge in 2016, and by 2019 were developed enough to help maintain one’s balance. In short, over the space of four years, the bridge had gone from nearly impossible to use, to moderately functional. By the time of writing (May 2022), I suspect the bridge, if it hasn’t been damaged by floods or landslides, has developed enough to become easy to cross and so a valuable piece of infrastructure.

As I write while contemplating this structure in my upcoming book Through the Canyons of Living Bridges: “While it may be true that it takes a long time for a living bridge to go from initial planting to complete functionality, this does not mean that their rate of development is slow. Ficus elastica trees tend to naturally be in a relentless state of growth and adaptation. They are constantly shooting out additional roots and grasping onto new surfaces. That living bridges are evolving structures is one of the things which make revisiting them interesting, and which sets them apart from virtually any other sort of historical or traditional architecture. Though living root bridges can be decades or even centuries old, it’s impossible to cross the same one twice.” 

Thin roots tied together. The simplest and most common method of training living architecture

For anyone interested in visiting this structure, it can be reached in a day hike from Kongthong Village. It’s across an impressive metal suspension bridge that spans the Pdei River below that settlement (though, confusingly, I think the land the living bridge is on is actually controlled by another village named Wahkhen). There’s also a living ladder and another, much larger, living root bridge nearby.

Go here for more on living architecture.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me on my Patreon page. There, you can download [BEGINNING JULY 2022!] a new extended edition of my book The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills which includes several chapters available exclusively on Patreon, as well as access lots of other perks. Any help is greatly appreciated!

The developing bridge as of 2019. In this photo you can just make out some of the new ficus elastica roots that had been added in the previous few years…though they don’t stand out much against the background, which is one of the factors which make photographing living root bridges a challenge

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