Saturday, 25 December 2010

Living Bridges of Meghalaya

Nitoli and Sidsel on one of Meghalaya's Living Root Bridges

It is time for me to take on a very special sight, which to me is grotesquely overlooked as a tourist attraction in India: The living root bridges of Meghalaya located in and around the villages in the hilly area south of Cherrapunjee towards the Bangladeshi border.

Not many people  have even heard of these marvellous creations of man and nature combined. And that goes equally for Indians and foreigners. I find that to be a big mistake, as the bridges - to me - are extremely ingeniously designed and aesthetically fit to appear in any scene written by Tolkien. I can just so clearly visualize a battle between humans and orcs taking place over control of one of these bridges.

The most famous of the living bridges - the amazing double decker allowing traffic in both directions simultaneously

The bridges alone make this area worth the major journey, which is required to get there. But on top of everything else, the hike to reach the bridges is very appealing as well. The hike is very strenuous, but this is actually good for the few tourists that do make it here since it means that the bridged are not crowded with hordes of day trippers, which they would most likely be  if they were a bit more accessible. To get here from Delhi, you must first fly to Guwahati, then drive about 5 hours through Shillong and Cherrapunjee and then walk for several hours to reach even the first bridge.

The double decker seen from the opposite side. At the time we visited in late November there was barely a small trickle of water, but in monsoon season this would be a gushing stream

Basically the story behind the bridges is that some very smart folks figured out that they could guide the roots of the tree Ficus Elastica to grow across the many rivers and streams of the area to form comfortable and sturdy bridges allowing villagers to cross safely. In other words the bridge is grown, not built. A living bride can last for hundreds of years and only grows stronger with the years. According to what I was told, it seems that the practice of using living trees to make bridges was developed over 1000 years ago.

Sadly the practice of creating living bridges has died out now in favour of cheap and fast but ugly steel wire bridges. We have probably lost the vast majority of the many bridges that once covered so many of the streams and tivers of the area. However, the wonderful owner of the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort where we stayed is working hard to conserve, promote and restore the dousin or so remaining bridges. I don't normally make hotel recommendations on my blog, but here I'll gladly make an exception and recommend everyone to stay there. Not so much for the resort itself, which is ok, but especially for the wonderful folks running this place. It is also by far the best base for reaching the bridges.

The actual walkway. The path you walk on is enforced with big flat rocks,
which the tree grows around

Nitoli and Sidsel on each level of the double decker

Sidsel - our friend (and my colleague) - on the lower bridge
 
This is a bridge which is under restoration or construction - not sure which. It grows over a steel wire bridge and will over time completely eat up the steel bridge

The bridges come in all sizes - here is a minor one which crosses just a minor stream. You might not even notice that it was there if you were not looking for it

A 3-section bridge crossing a major river (dried out in this picture) via two small islands in the river. You can see two of the sections here, but sadly the middle one has fallen into such a state of disrepair that you have to cross using a nearby steel wire bridge

It's a tough hike down to the bottom of the canyon where the bridges are. The steps seem to have no end. It gets even worse on the way up, and we only barely made it back before dark. And not without some tears of pain being shed!

After the steps there is a flatter stretch through the thick, lush jungle
 
One of the ugly new bridges you cross on the hike to the living bridges - but look at the colour of that water! I have not manipulated the colour on this picture, if anything it's even better in real life

Nice tri-colured fruit. Anyone got any idea what this plant is?


You pass through a few small village on the way to the bridges - here is a family in Nongriat Village where we stopped for a tea break in the small shop owned by the man int he picture, Andreas.

Andreas gave us some complimentary fresh oranges plucked right off the tree. So sweet!

Beautiful wild flowers near the village


The hike ends at some nice natural swimming pools

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Girl and her Cake


This is a picture from the 2-year birthday of, Rovi, the daughter of two of our friends. In the picture above she is looking with awe and wonder at her beautiful lady bug birthday cake. I think this picture in a way conveys the magic time that is early childhood.

Below are a few snaps from my own son Valdemar' first birthday - an event he won't  remember, but at least he'll have the pictures to remember:

Being the centre of attention can be a bit over whelming!
 
Valdemar also had a cake - then the mood improved a bit