Living root bridge

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Living root bridge
Double living root bridge in East Khasi Hills
Double living root bridge in East Khasi Hills
MaterialLiving trees roots tapu and sonu
Trough constructionRocks
Total lengthover 50 meters
Widthover 1.5 meters
Design lifeup to 500 years
A living root bridge near the village of Kongthong undergoing repairs. The local War Khasis in the photo are using the young, pliable aerial roots of a fig tree to create a new railing for the bridge.

A living root bridge is a type of simple suspension bridge formed of living plant roots by tree shaping. They are common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees (Ficus elastica[1][2]) by the Khasi and Jaintia[3] peoples of the mountainous terrain along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau. Most of the bridges grow on steep slopes of subtropical moist broadleaf forest between 50m and 1150m above sea level.[4]

As long as the tree from which it is formed remains healthy, the roots in the bridge can naturally grow thick and strengthen. New roots can grow throughout the tree's life and must be pruned or manipulated to strengthen the bridge. Once mature some bridges can have as many as 50 or more people crossing, and have a lifespan of up to 150 years. [5] Without active care, many bridges have decayed or grown wild, becoming unusable.[6] Root bridges have also been observed in the Indian state of Nagaland.[7]

Living root bridges have also been created in Indonesia at Jembatan akar on the island of Sumatra, and in the Banten province of Java, by the Baduy people.[8][9]


The Khasi people do not know when or how the tradition of living root bridges started. The earliest written record of Sohra's (Cherrapunji's) living root bridges is by Lieutenant Henry Yule, who expressed astonishment about them in the 1844 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.[1]

Methods of creation[edit]

A living root bridge is formed by guiding the pliable roots of the Ficus elastica tree across a stream or river, and then allowing the roots to grow and strengthen over time until they can hold the weight of a human being. The young roots are sometimes tied or twisted together, and are often encouraged to combine with one another via the process of inosculation. As the Ficus elastica tree is well suited to anchoring itself to steep slopes and rocky surfaces, it is not difficult to encourage its roots to take hold on the opposite sides of river banks.[10][11]

As they are made from living, growing organisms, the useful lifespan of any given living root bridge is variable. It is thought that, under ideal conditions, a root bridge can last for many hundreds of years. As long as the tree from which it is formed remains healthy, the bridge will naturally self-renew and self-strengthen as its component roots grow thicker.[10][11]

A root bridge can be made in several ways:

By hand[edit]

A root bridge in Burma Village, East Khasi Hills, being developed without the aid of a scaffold.

Some living root bridges are created entirely by manipulating the roots of the Ficus elastica tree by hand, and without the aid of a scaffolding or any other natural or man made materials.[12]

Often, locals using root bridges will make small alterations to them, manipulating young roots as the opportunity presents itself. Because of this, one can say that the development of a living root bridge is very much a social endeavor, and that the structures are perpetual works in progress.

Wood or bamboo scaffold[edit]

A root bridge being grown using a wood and bamboo scaffold. Rangthylliang, East Khasi Hills.

Root bridges are also commonly formed by training young Ficus elastica roots over scaffolds made from wood or bamboo, materials which are abundant in Northeast India. In these instances, the roots are wrapped around the outside of the perishable material. The scaffolds may be replaced many times over the years as the root bridge becomes stronger.[12]

Areca Palm trunks[edit]

Here, a living root bridge is being developed with Ficus elastica strands being guided along a halved Areca Palm trunk.

Some living root bridges are grown by training young Ficus elastica roots through the hollowed-out trunks of Areca nut palms. The pliable tree roots are made to grow through betel tree trunks[13] [5] which have been placed across rivers and streams until the figs' roots attach themselves to the other side. The trunks serve to guide the roots, [14]to protect them, and to provide them with nutrients as they decay.[12] Sticks, stones, and other objects are used to stabilize the growing bridge.[1] This process can take up to 15 years to complete.[15] The means of creating living root bridges can best be observed near the tourist friendly village of Nongriat.

Conventional structures[edit]

Here, Ficus elastica roots have been trained across a pre-existing steel bridge, in the hope that eventually, as the steel elements fail, the roots will form into a usable living root bridge.

Root bridges can also be trained by guiding the young roots of Ficus elastica trees across conventional structures, such as already existing steel wire suspension bridges.[12] As the structure being used as a scaffold is already functional, the problem of the length of time it takes for a root bridge to become functional is here essentially bypassed; the conventional structure can be used until the more sustainable root bridge is sufficiently strong.[12]


This living root bridge is the longest known example.

West Jaintia and East Khasi districts[edit]

Living root bridges are known to occur in the West Jaintia Hills district and East Khasi Hills district.[3][16] In the Jaintia Hills, examples of Living Root Bridges can be found in and around the villages of Shnongpdeng, Nongbareh, Khonglah, Padu, Kudeng Thymmai and Kudeng Rim.[3] In the East Khasi Hills, living root bridges nearby Cherrapunji now called Sohra are known to exist in and around the villages of Tynrong,[17] Mynteng, Nongriat, Nongthymmai, and around Laitkynsew.[18]

East of Sohra (Cherrapunjee), examples of living root bridges are known to exist in the Khatarshnong region, in and around the villages of Nongpriang, Sohkynduh, Kongthong (also popular for whistled language[19][20] used by the villages), Rymmai, and Mawshuit.[21] Many more can be found near Pynursla[16] and Mawlynnong.

Notable root bridges[edit]

The double-decker two-lane living root bridge of Padu Village.[22]

At over 50 meters in length, the longest known example of a living root bridge[16] is near the small Khasi town of Pynursla in India, which can be accessed from either the village of Mawkyrnot or of Rangthylliang. This bridge is known as Rangthylliang bridge. [14]

There are several examples of double living root bridges, the most famous being the "Double Decker" root bridge of Nongriat, pictured above. There are three known examples of double decker bridges with two parallel or nearly parallel spans. Two are in the West Jaintia Hills near the villages of Padu and Nongbareh,[3] and one is in Burma Village, in the East Khasi Hills.[3] There is also a "Double Decker" (or possibly even "Triple Decker") near the village of Rangthylliang, close to Pynursla.[16]

Other root structures[edit]

The War Khasis and War Jaintias also make several other kinds of structures out of the aerial roots of rubber trees. These include ladders and platforms.[23] For example, in the village of Kudeng Rim in the West Jaintia Hills, a rubber tree next to a football field has been modified so that its branches can serve as living root bleachers. Aerial roots of the tree have been interwoven in the spaces between several branches so that platforms have been created from which villagers can watch football games.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lewin, Brent (November 2012), "India's living Bridges", Reader's Digest Australia, pp. 82–89, archived from the original on 16 November 2012
  2. ^ "Living Root Bridge in Laitkynsew India". Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e Rogers, Patrick A. (2 September 2015). "evenfewergoats: The Undiscovered Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya Part 1: Bridges of The Umngot River Basin". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  4. ^ Ludwig, Ferdinand & Middleton, Wilfrid & Gallenmüller, Friederike & Rogers, Patrick & Speck, Thomas. (2019). Living bridges using aerial roots of ficus elastica – an interdisciplinary perspective. Scientific Reports. 9. 10.1038/s41598-019-48652-w.
  5. ^ a b Chithra, K.; Krishnan, K. Amritha (2015). Implementing Campus Greening Initiatives. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. pp. 113–124. ISBN 978-3-319-11960-1.
  6. ^ Middleton, Wilfrid & Habibi, Amin & Shankar, Sanjeev & Ludwig, Ferdinand. (2020). Characterizing Regenerative Aspects of Living Root Bridges. Sustainability. 12. 10.3390/su12083267.
  7. ^ "Living Root Bridges of Nagaland India – Nyahnyu Village Mon District | Guy Shachar". Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  8. ^ py6unova (13 December 2015). "Baduy Tribe". Ruby Mangunsong. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  9. ^ Grundhauser, Eric, WEST SUMATRA, INDONESIA Jembatan Akar, Atlasobscura
  10. ^ a b " A Dream Place". Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  11. ^ a b "Living Root Bridge". Online Highways LLC. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  12. ^ a b c d e "How are Living Root Bridges Made?". The Living Root Bridge Project. 5 May 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  13. ^ Vallangi, Neelima. "Indias amazing living root bridges". BBC. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  14. ^ a b Thomas Vallas (25 May 2017). peer reviewer Luc Courard. "Using nature in architecture Building a living house with mycelium and trees". Frontiers of Architectural Research.
  15. ^ Baker, Russ (6 October 2011). "Re-Envisioning Our Environment". Business Insider. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  16. ^ a b c d Rogers, Patrick A. (14 September 2015). "evenfewergoats: The Undiscovered Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya Part 2: Bridges Near Pynursla". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  17. ^ Rogers, Patrick A. (26 January 2014). "evenfewergoats: An Unknown Living Root Bridge". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  18. ^ "Cherrapunjee". Cherrapunjee. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  19. ^ "Kongthong – A Village in Meghalaya where People Whistle to Communicate". 10 August 2017. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  20. ^ "Kongthong among 3 Indian entries for UNWTO 'Best Village Contest': Meghalaya CM". Assama Tribune. 9 September 2021. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  21. ^ Rogers, Patrick A. (24 September 2015). "evenfewergoats: The Undiscovered Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya Part 3: Bridges of the 12 Villages". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  22. ^ Rogers, Patrick A. (2 September 2015). "evenfewergoats: The Undiscovered Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya Part 1: Bridges of The Umngot River Basin". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  23. ^ a b Rogers, Patrick A. (1 October 2015). "evenfewergoats: The Undiscovered Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya Part 4: Living Root Ladders and other uses for living root architecture". evenfewergoats. Retrieved 4 October 2015.

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