Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky… And that’s how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales like… Right? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked so that we could trek down to the Nongriat village- where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ lies. Over 2500 steps need to climbed each way so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal people who live in deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a few decades and only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya while most of them have been untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness.

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The route to Tyrna village

We met a Khasi villager from Nongriat whom we befriended and agreed upon to guide us through our trek. Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first hand experience of treading on a living root bridge… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge…

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek while our new friend cum guide was enlightening us on the rich traditions and culture of the Khasi people. We stopped by for a quick meal at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles for breakfast and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering- The Double decker root bridge. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale- Creepers hanging across a little waterfall that was fed by pristine river in the middle of nowhere! While a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes over the last night were enjoying their swim in the cold waters, we decided to move away from them after spending some time admiring this beauty. Next mission- Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

The small number of tourists who make it to the double decker bridge seemed to have disappeared thereon owing to the tiring path that lies ahead. But, nothing comes easy- Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, Butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes greeted and accompanied me all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking by clearing the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little creatures. The path was so full of butterflies… The walk that cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense- I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing atleast 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flows down with its seductive clear blue waters.

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature was unfolded amid the greens.. We stood there in AWE….. the Green trees and bushes opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue waters and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums adding to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall- giving the place its name.. Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago…

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The Rainbow falls

Had we known a little more about the enchanting beauty of this trek, we would have extended it by a day.. As narrated by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves(2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls- the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this path before starting. So now, it was well past afternoon and we had a long way to walk back. And very less time left until sunset.. We stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way my guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds and leaps so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna while the sunlight was still available for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee. A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Summary:
• Although, we missed to trek up the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight facing the waterfalls and catch the sunrise over the waterfalls!
• Plan a 2 day trip covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai- My friend Denzil can be an amazing guide to accompany you!

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