“The knowledge of our elders”: India’s living root bridges submitted to UNESCO | India
India’s famous living bridges – tree roots coaxed and stretched into the form of a suspension bridge over a river – have been submitted to Unesco’s tentative list for coveted site status. World Heritage.
The mountainous state of Meghalaya in the northeast has more than 100 such bridges in 70 villages, unique structures created by a combination of nature and human ingenuity.
Once a bamboo structure has been stretched across the river, the roots of the tree, usually the rubber tree (ficus elastic), are teased and manipulated to intertwine with the bamboo until it becomes a solid mesh.
Roots grow gradually and get stronger over time. In the early stages, only about 15-20 people can cross the bridge in one day. Much later there may be as many as 50 or more, although it may take up to two decades for a living root bridge to be completed.
In a remote region such as Meghalaya, known as the “Abode of Clouds” and home to “the wettest place on earth” at Cherrapunji, road construction is not feasible. The topography is dense jungle dotted with waterfalls, steep slopes, lakes and streams.
Living Root Bridges are the only way people in a village can cross a river to reach the other side to farm, sell produce, contact a doctor, or send children to school. During legislative elections, officials on horseback transporting ballot boxes to remote villages have no other means of reaching voters than these natural bridges.
Known locally as Jingkieng Jri, some bridges are two-tiered. Some are above a valley, while others are only a few meters above the surface of a river.
A description on the Unesco website reads: “Cultivated by indigenous Khasi tribal communities, these structural ecosystems have functioned under extreme climatic conditions for centuries and embody a deep harmony between man and nature…validating resilience of an ancient culture, where collective cooperation and reciprocity were the cornerstones of life.
“Each living root structure reveals a distinct ethno-botanical journey rooted in a deep culture-nature reciprocity and synthesis. exceptional skill, suggesting a masterpiece of human creative genius.
The root bridges are not yet listed as World Heritage. However, by including them on UNESCO’s “tentative list”, the Indian government is taking an essential step in submitting them to the examination of the World Heritage Committee.
Morningstar Khongthaw, 23, is the founder of the Living Bridges Foundation, which builds new bridges and helps preserve old ones. His village, Ranghylling, has 20 living root bridges.
“I am very happy that the knowledge of our elders has been recognized by Unesco. We want to multiply this knowledge so that future generations will also benefit,” Khongthaw said.
Already popular with tourists, the state government has been pushing for the Unesco label for years in hopes it will become easier to preserve the bridges while boosting tourism.
James Sangma, a minister from Meghalaya, expressed the state’s enthusiasm in a Tweeter.
He said: “Living Root Bridges are distinguished not only by their exemplary symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment, but also focus on their pioneering use for connectivity and resilience, and the need to adopt sustainable measures to balance economy and ecology.”