The root bridges of Nongsohphan

by Amos Chapple

Heroes (Issue II/2018)


A root bridge in the jungle at Nongsohphan. Photo: Amos Chapple

The jungle around the village of Nongsohphan in northeastern India is extremely humid. The region is said to be the rainiest in the world, every wooden structure rots in a short time. For centuries, the Khasi people have therefore turned to the flexible aerial roots of the rubber trees (Ficus elastica) to build bridges over the many rivers in the area. The roots are woven into each other, or they are led to the other bank with thin, hollowed out trunks of the betel nut tree. There they are grown into the ground. It takes many years for a bridge to be stable enough to carry a person. In good conditions, however, it can last up to 500 years.

As long as the trees stay healthy, the bridge virtually renews itself. Nobody knows exactly how old the bridge in the picture is, but a girl from the village told me that her grandmother had walked over it as a child. It is a quiet and very peaceful place. When I saw such a living bridge for the first time, I was fascinated by how harmoniously it blended into the infrastructure of the jungle. A miracle that can actually be used. As you cross a bridge, you can see how the interconnecting roots have solidified over time. People lay flat stepping stones in the gaps between the roots and over the years the tree roots wrap them up tightly.

Translated by Jess Smee

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