Meghalaya has an outstanding attraction: Root Bridges, typical for that region. These natural bridges have grown over many years based on theold tribal art of building. Meghalaya has several of these root bridges, we visited one of them in Tyrna.
How do these Root Bridges Come to Life?
Root Bridges grow from the roots of the rubber fig tree (ficus elsatica). Jainta and Khasi Art (both southern Meghalaya tribals) make these roots grow into a natural bridge to cross the river. Due to their organic material, these bridges get more solid and stable over the years. These bridges are able to maintain themselves for centuries if circumstances are right. Altogether a very fascinating process that shows how to live in unity with nature in a way only indigenous peoples are able to.
Ritymen Root Bridge in Tyrna bei Cherapunjee
There are several root bridges in and around Cherapunjee and in the Jainta Mountains. We visited the Ritymen Root Bridge.
You can reach Ritymen Root Bridge from the little village Tyrna from Cherapunjee (12 km, 30 min). We stayed in a hotel in Cherapunjee and like that reaching Tyrna was easy. You can also go there from the more popular Shillong (ca. 2 ½ hours). But you need a driver, you are far from all the big cities and should not rely on public transportation.
At first comes the Ritymen Root Bridge. If you continue descending, you reach a double root bridge called Umshiang Double Decker Bridge. Double means there are two natural bridges with on top of each other.
Descending the Ritymen Root Bridge
A sign at the entrance says “3 km to Double Bridge”. That is a bit of an understatement, it means 3 km of stairs. The descend is exhausting, we only walked to the first bridge, the single Ritymen Bridge.
Descending these stairs is still doable. We were there with a larger group of people, most of them athletes and fit. We had to walk down hundreds of stairs and that made all our thigh muscles shiver. But that was still ok.
There is a local tour guide who walks the group downstairs. At the entrance they rent bamboo sticks. Makes sense, of course there is no handrails at the stairs.
There are several smaller buildings every now and then that also sell beverages. Locals charge a small fee to see the bridge, 10 Rupees per person, 10 more for every camera. Close to nothing, even if they make you pay for every camera and phone you carry. Altogether it would still be less than 1 Euro (30 Rs about 45 cents).
Bridge and River With a Natural Pool
After a long, you finally reach the bridge with crystal clear water below where you can either swim or enjoy the sun while sitting on a rock. Swimming is only for men, I would discourage women from swimming here.
If you feel strong and energetic enough, you can continue your route to the double bridge. I cannot tell you anything about this. We were in a group of 9, nobody wanted to walk any further. The links at the bottom provide some more information about that.
Ascending From the Bridge
What stopped us from moving was the ascend that was waiting for us. We already had a 2000 steps descend, it’s supposedly another 1500 step to the double bridge.
I consider myself fit above average, I work out regularly and think I can do quite an amount of walking. There were marathon runners, football players and other athletes in our group. Yet, the way back was hard for all of us. It’s a steady 2000 steps ascend. It takes a long time and is exhausting. On the way back, we met several untrained but wealthy Indian families that had huge problems to walk back. Some of them were visibly suffering, looking quite unfortunate and only continued walking because there was no choice.
Our tour guide praised our fitness, said we were better in walking upstairs than the Indian tourists. How seriously you have to take this is another matter. Yet, you should know what you are getting into.
View from the Stairs and the Region’s Climate
In particular during descend,the view of the valley and the mountain is great: pristine nature that is indeed green and clean everywhere, for India very unusual.
The region is rather wet, Cherapunjee is called the “Wettest Place on Earth” (sometimes refered to as “Scottland of the East”).
It’s wetter and cooler than in the rest of India. Many Indians call it cold, but that’s a relative thing. To me, it still felt like summer, in particular around midday it was really warm. All those many steps don’t make it any better. It’s warm and the sun is burning. Definitely bring sunscreen and something to cover your head. We did not have any rain during our three days in Cherapunjee. Even the grass was partly brown and visibly dry.
How To Reach and Some Final Remarks
The root bridges are a spectacular play of nature, something totally different and new. The surrounding nature is nice, pristine, green and clean. All of this shows a very different face of India than the one in the big cities. Definitely worth a trip!
You reach Meghalaya from Assam. The best option is to fly from Delhi to Guwahati and take a driver from there (ca. 160 km, 5 hours). There are also public busses. From Guwahati, spend the night either in Shillong or Cherapunjee and make a day trip to the root bridges. We left it up to the drive how to reach the bridge that was the easiest way.
As usually in the Northeast, you are off the main tourist routes. Some Indians from other states spend their holidays here. We have not seen any other Europeans. Everything is relaxed, people are friendly and open. They let you be and don’t annoy you.
More information about Meghalaya’s root bridges (Rítymen but also other ones) can be found in these two Blog articles (both articles in English).
You can buy beverages everywhere, even Coke and other sweet sugar sodas. Yet, I would take a bottle of water just to be sure. But that is all you need, you don’t need to carry a bagpack full of water bottles with you.