Author of The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills
SUSPENSION BRIDGES OF MEGHALAYA: PART 3
Now for the third and final post of my series on the Khasi Hills’ architecturally unexceptional, yet inarguably scenic, steel and concrete footbridges.
Today I’ll be covering just a fraction of the conventional bridges found within the vast system of remote interconnected gorges that make up the basin of the mighty Umngot River.
As I’ve written in my upcoming book Through the Canyons of Living Bridges: “The Umngot enters Bangladesh next to the border town of Dawki. Upstream from that culturally mixed settlement that straddles two nations, the river cuts a long, crescent-shaped gorge that bends slightly to the northeast. There are a few significant tributaries of the river at this point, such as the Amkshar and Padu streams which flow into it from the east, though these only produce short, deep-but-narrow canyons, which are mere interruptions in the tableland rather than whole landscapes of their own.
“The contrast between the lower and upper Umngot gorge couldn’t be greater. Not far below the village of Nongkwai, the river makes an abrupt eastward turn and runs through an immense chasm for a few kilometers. Then it curves sharply to the north again and climbs to its cool headwaters atop the Shillong Plateau. To the west of the first sudden turn, several major tributaries merge and then meet the Umngot. These gouge a succession of huge, parallel, north-south running canyons. Several villages cling to the tops of the thin ridges that divide these gorges, and trails and very recently constructed roads lead along the crests.”
For my previous two entries on the scenic suspension bridges of the Khasi Hills, check out the posts below:
Parts of this region are far from obscure. The border town of Dawki, and the lovely village of Shnongpdeng nearby, are both firmly on Meghalaya’s tourism map. And Shnongpdeng has what is perhaps the most iconic steel-and-concrete suspension footbridge in all of Meghalaya, a 170 m span that crosses the Umngot in its lower, wider, reaches, only a few kilometers from where the river spills out onto the plains of Bengal and becomes a tributary of the muddy streams of Bangladesh as they wind down to the Indian Ocean.
However, upstream from Shnongpdeng is a wild, remote, swath of extraordinarily difficult canyon country that was almost completely untraveled, at least as of the last time I visited (which admittedly, due to covid and sundry other issues, was a few years ago). In 2019 I trekked through the basin of the Umngot, crossing several obscure side-canyons before hiking across the primary canyon of the river through an incredibly beautiful, though also rarely visited, stony gorge. There were several steel and concrete footbridges on the way, along with the occasional rumor or faint recollection of living architecture that had since disappeared.