Tourist inflow takes a toll on Meghalaya’s root bridges

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Rangthylliang (Meghalaya), July 22: Deep in the tropical forests of Meghalaya, an uncharted territory even two decades ago, the aerial root bridges that bear testimony to the ingenuity of Khasis are dying a slow death, overburdened by tourist inflow.
The living-root bridges, which surfaced in popular imagination only a few years ago, have now become a hotspot for tourist selfies, say local residents.
People come to visit the suspensions bridges regularly, but not much is done to preserve these “botanical architectures”, said Morningstar Khongthaw, a resident of Rangthylliang, who along with a group of local youths, has taken up the task of creating awareness on the issue.
The root bridges were conceived by the Khasis centuries ago for crossing turbulent streams, especially during the monsoons. The locals trained the roots of fig trees on either side of the river to grow laterally, forming a suspension bridge over a period of 10 to 15 years.
Khongthaw, who established Living Roots Foundation here, said mass tourism has greatly affected the bridges as people come here in hordes.
“There are a number of living bridges along the southern slope of the state, especially in the Khasi Hills region, the most photographed among them being the double-decked bridge at Nongriat below Sohra,” he said.
The activist, who dropped out of school a few years ago due to poverty, travels to nearby villages with his team to encourage local people there to build more such bridges, besides protecting the existing ones.
“The double-decked bridges at Nongriat and Nohwet villages have come under threat as there is no mechanism to control the number of visitors. Also, the bridges are badly in need of maintenance,” he asserted.
Last month, a drive was initiated on World Environment Day to build at least five new living bridges in the Khasi Hills region, Khongthaw, who is in this early 20s, said.
“There are about 50 root bridges that we have identified for preservation. We are working closely with the stakeholders at these villages to give them an idea about controlling crowd on the bridges. Besides, they would also guide the tourists about the place, its history and significance,” he added.
Lauding the initiative, Tourism Department officer B Nongkynrih said the present government’s objective is to harness the untapped rural tourism prospects of the state.
“The Tourism Department is focusing on rural tourism to generate employment opportunities and promote sustainable livelihoods in villages. In such a scenario, organizations, such as Living Roots Foundation, would go a long way in sustaining environment,” he claimed.
Satyajit Rao, a scientist at the North Eastern Hill University told PTI that some of the bridges in these tropical forests of southern Meghalaya are believed to be hundreds of years old.
“A proper study is yet to be conducted on the bridges to determine their exact age,” he added. (PTI)