Villagers in Meghalaya, India, use root bridges to cross rivers and streams. Incredible? But true. The villagers, through their unique construction technique, grow their own living bridges, using the roots of Ficus elastica tree (rubber fig tree). Some of these living bridges, which the residents have built, are, supposedly, over 500 years old. These roots take about 15 years to grow into root bridges. With age, the living root bridges grow stronger and support the weight of 50 or more people at a time!
The Cherrapunji town in Meghalaya receives the largest amount of rainfall in the world — over 75 ft! In this rainy climate, the rubber fig tree grows luxuriantly. The tree has a secondary root system that grows up above the ground and lets the tree easily grow on top of boulders and even out in the middle of streams.
Long ago, the war-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya region, realized that they could tap these roots and build bridges. By manipulating and directing the secondary roots, they built super-strong living bridges across streams and rivers.
To make a tree grow in a certain direction, the tribals use the trunks of a betel nut tree, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, as a guidance system. Eventually, the roots reach the other side of the river and grow into the soil.
Some of these bridges are over 100 feet long and these bridges are used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji There is even a double decker bridge, known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge,” which features two bridges grown right on top of each other. It is thought to be the only bridge of its kind.
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