If there is one experience that perfectly encapsulates the beauty of Meghalaya, it is the living root bridge trek. In this trek, you will not only come across the only bridge of its kind in the world, but walking through evergreen jungles, crossing rickety bridges over the bluest natural pools you would have seen so far, makes the journey just as beautiful as the destination. Needless to say, if Meghalaya is on your mind, then this hike should definitely be on your bucket list.
The trek starts from Tyrna, a village in Cherrapunjee, often labeled as the “wettest place on earth”. Of course, now its neighbour Mawsynram, wears this crown.
How to reach Cherrapunjee
If you are traveling from Guwahati, take a shared cab to Shillong and from there another shared cab to Cherrapunjee. This is the cheapest way to get there. The total journey would take about 3-4 hours.
Note: If you are a little more adventurous, then you can take the route from Nohkalikai falls too, but if you are a first time trekker, or going with family, then I would recommend the route from Tyrna.
1. Trail from Tyrna
The trail from Tyrna is well-marked and you can do it on your own, although you will find a lot of guides at the village itself, who will take you for a nominal charge.
The trek initially starts with a steep descent along cemented steps, leading you deep into the forest below. You will cross quite a few traditional huts along the way. There are small shops where you can buy candy, mineral water, snacks and juices.
Since its a long trek, carry energy bars and lots of water.
You will continue along this route till you come across a Y-shaped fork, left of which leads to the double decker bridge (Jingkieng Nongriat) and the right one leads to the single decker bridge (Jingkieng Ri-Tymmen), the longest root-bridge in the world.
The trek on both sides involves either ascending or descending a series of steps along a straightforward and well-marked route. So you can choose to take any route first and then come back up the same path and visit the other bridge.
Note: From the Y-junction, the single decker root bridge takes only about 10 minutes. So it makes sense to go for the double decker one first, since it’s a longer route.
We took the left route first, continuing along the forest trail. As an avid trekker, I have done plenty of treks in the Sahyadri’s, but rarely have I seen a forest as green as this one. It is truly a treat for the senses.
After walking for a while, we came across the first of the iron bridges. Suspension bridges, which sway every time you walk on it. The irony is, there is an instruction on the board which says “Do not shake the bridge”. Well, despite my best efforts to adhere to that, it shook and swung as I walked over it.
A disclaimer here, if you are afraid of heights, then you will surely feel a knot in the pit of your stomach, but don’t worry, these bridges are quite sturdy. Just keep calm and walk slowly.
Since I went in winter, the river was dry. Otherwise these bridges have actually been built to help locals cross over raging rivers in the monsoon.
2. The Bluest natural pool I’ve ever seen
After crossing that bridge, another short walk takes you to the second bridge. There were two of them in fact, the first one made of bamboo while the second one was longer and made of rusty iron cables and both had steel wires to hold onto for support.
This one swayed even more when i walked over it. But I must say, walking on this wobbly bridge, suspended 25-30 feet in the air was an experience in itself.
On the other side of this primitive piece of engineering stood the village of Nongriat, home to the double decker bridge.
And just below this bridge lies one of the most beautiful natural pools you can lay your eyes on. It’s clean and transparent to an extent that we could see the pile of rocks at the bottom. It was hard to resist its alluring beauty and we scrambled down some rocks to take a dip in its icy cold waters.
3. The Village of Nongriat
Nongriat welcomes you with a little root bridge and from there you can see the majestic double decker root bridge. We walked up ahead to look at it from close quarters.
Descending up till this point can take around 2-3 hours, as you are going to be descending around 2500-3000 steps.
I was famished by the time I reached. Luckily there was a stall selling steaming hot maggi and tea.
We took a much needed break sitting on the rocks and just swooning over the picture perfect scenery around us.
The gentle stream underneath the bridge, which transforms into a monstrous rapid in monsoon, had little fishes swimming about. You can sit on the banks and get fish pedicure if you wish to.
4. How were the living root bridges formed?
Living root bridges are formed by roots of trees, which over a span of 15 years were guided by villagers to intertwine with each other and become strong enough to support people. They are actually said to gain strength with time.
They were created by villagers to help cross torrential rivers during monsoon. In Nongriat, one fine monsoon, the water levels rose above the root bridge and that is why, another layer was added to create this unique wonder called the double decker root bridge.
Now that it has become popular among travelers, a third layer is set to be made. One fine day, we will get to see a triple decker root bridge.
I can only imagine the patience and perseverance needed to build something of this kind.
5. Rainbow Falls
If you have energy and time on your side, you should further hike up to Rainbow falls. An enchanting cascade of water that plunges into turquoise blue pools, it is nature at its dazzling best.
This trek takes around 1.5 – 2 hours from Nongriat, again over cemented paths and after crossing a few more iron bridges.
Note: If you want to trek further to Rainbow falls, you have to start the trek from Tyrna as early as 6-7 a.m. to make it back by sundown.
6. Where to stay in Nongriat
Nongriat is almost like a place straight from fairy tales. Despite being commercialized, there is no hint of it and its remoteness ensures that you are pretty much cut off from the world. It’s a good place to stay for a couple of nights and just listen to the sounds of nature.
There are two guesthouses where you can stay. The rates start from INR 300 per bed. You can stay here and do the trek to Rainbow falls the next day. It’s a good way to break the exhausting trek.
7. Hike Back to the Y-Junction
The hike back up is the hardest, physically and mentally. It’s a long walk right from Nongriat/ Rainbow falls back to the Y junction. And you have to take the exact same route to reach the fork. There is nothing new to see, so the mind is a bit reluctant to push the body.
A short 10 minute walk from the fork will take you to the single decker root bridge. This is the longest root bridge and believed to be over 120 years old.
Another gentle stream runs underneath it. As somebody who loves scrambling over rocks, I was monkeying around the whole time.
We then took a short break lazing around the rocks and munching on some bars, before starting the uphill climb.
The last part, the ascend to Tyrna is devilish. It’s a steep hike over 700 odd steps. So if you are someone who has been living on a couch so far, you are going to have a hard time clearing this stretch.
While we were climbing, we saw a lot of people just sitting on the steps and taking a break. I even remember seeing an old lady. So yes, as hard it sounds, it’s doable. Do it at your own pace but.
8. Where to stay in Cherrapunjee
No matter where you stay, you can hire a cab and reach Tyrna in no time.
9. Root Bridge in Mawlynnong
If after reading this, you feel, that you are not physically fit to do this trek, then there is an alternative.
Mawlynnong, considered one of the cleanest villages in Asia, is home to a living root bridge. To reach it, you can drive down to Riwai village, a few kms before Mawlynnong. It’s a short walk to the root bridge from there.