Every year, a large number of travellers flock to witness the Living Root Bridges of Nongriat, better known as the Double Decker Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya. The crowds marvel at this masterpiece of bio-engineering by the Khasis.
The trek to these bridges, however, is not easy. It starts at the parking lot of Tyrna village. While everyone curiously begins the walk, they give up in the first one-third of the trail. This mostly happens because of the lack of knowledge about the terrain and other conditions.
What is the terrain like?
The hike starts with a descent of 3500 concrete stairs. This lengthy flight of steps is steep and narrow at certain junctions. Be mindful to take frequent breaks than mechanically walking down. The path passes by a number of villages and houses with well-manicured bush fences. At certain vantage points, jackfruit trees and hill slopes with pineapples can be seen.
Once the stairs conclude, three suspension bridges and a forest trail succeed it. The first iron suspension bridge is characteristically interesting but can be daunting. Be sure to maintain balance and distribute weight evenly (with other hikers) while walking through it. I am petrified of heights. While walking through this one, the bridge swayed continuously owing to the crowd concentrating on the centre of the bridge. Though while returning, it was just the two of us and there was perfect balance.
The following two bridges felt relatively steady though they are at a higher height. Traffic moves one way on these bridges and it is best to remain patient and allow those in hurry to walk through.
The stony forest trail with occasional ascents and descents starts soon after and continues until the gates of Nongriat. Here the double-decker living root bridges overlook a series of naturally forming swimming pools.
The same trail will bring you back to the parking lot. I found climbing (or returning) friendlier than descending. Even though the steepness of the stairs are visually frightening, it was easier on my legs.
How fit do I need to be?
Not in excellent shape but a good stamina goes a long way. People with vertigo or those afraid of heights may want to reconsider. While walking down the stairs, monotony may set it. Please refrain from staring or overemphasising on each step. This can make you dizzy and cause you to miss a step. This could prove fatal on the flight of steps.
The walk will definitely affect your joints and leg muscles. If you have joint, knee, back problems, you may want to skip this one. For those in doubt, carry a walking stick for additional support. Either way, be prepared for aching muscles after the trek.
When is the best time to go?
The trek can be done round the year. I would avoid hiking during the rains (April to October), even though it is probably most gorgeous season. Personally I am insecure of walking on wet, slippery terrain (even with anti-slip footwear!)
The winter months are a good time to go (November to February). Depart from Shillong early to start the trek comfortably by 1100 hours in the morning. On a sunny day, expect to get warm in the first 15-20 minutes of the trek.
How long is the trek?
Expect the trek to take half-a-day on a leisurely pace. We started the trek a little before 1100 hours and made plenty of stops (refreshments, photographs, air) on the way. We reached the double-decker bridges around 1245 hours and spent an hour there. Our return took us approximately two hours with more breaks and frequent conversation delays with fellow trekkers.
Is there food on the trail?
The many houses we crossed on our way displayed refreshments like Frooti, fresh lime water, sliced cucumber and boiled eggs on a small table on their lawn. There are bigger food huts which serve Maggi and basic vegetarian meals at affordable prices. Some items, such as Maggi and chips are charged at an additional ₹20-40. Owing to the distances and resources these items travel, I didn’t feel a pinch to pay extra.
What are the other things I need to know?
Expect to pay ₹10 per person and ₹20 for a camera at the gate of the double-decker root bridges.
Dress in layers, if possible. Even though I hiked in late December, I was very hot in the first 15 minutes of the trek. A comfortable, absorbent t-shirt with a pair of light denims or stretchable tights is good. Top it up with a light jacket if necessary. Wear a cap to keep away from the strong sun. Expect to leave all heavy woollens or fleece in Shillong or in the cab. You will be drenched in sweat on your way back.
If you are trekking during the rains, a plastic poncho which doesn’t restrict your knee movement is a good choice. Else stick to an umbrella. Don’t overburden yourself with a thick raincoat.
Select comfortable shoes with good grip and possibly a pair which can minimise shock on your toes and knees. Open floaters and sandals are also a good option, if you are trekking in the dry months.
If you are tempted to carry quick bites for the trek (I always carry some), keep them limited and useful. Stick to options like bananas, oranges, pears or high fibre biscuits. Do keep a bottle of water at all times. You can refill these at natural open sources like streams or taps on the trail. Be sure not to overpack your bag.
Carry a change of clothes, if you wish to swim in the natural pools. There are changing rooms at the twin bridges. Keep tripods and other camera accessories away. You are most likely to get good light through the day. Again, carrying any of these will add to your bag’s weight as you return.
How to get there and away?
Hire a cab from Shillong and drive past Cherrapunjee (or Sohra). It should be approximately 2.5 hours away from the capital. A cab for the day will cost you about ₹3000. I would recommend Hilik Lajong (+919089393936) for the day.
Expect to leave Shillong by 0800-0830 hours in the morning and spend 5-6 hours in the trek. Be sure to depart from Tyrna village for Shillong by 1700 hours. The sun sets early in this part of India and the drive will take you another 2.5 hours back.
How can I travel responsibly?
Khasis (and the other tribes of Meghalaya) are very clean and environment-caring people. No matter where you travel in Meghalaya, expect to find a clean home, hygienic washrooms and immaculate surroundings. Amidst all of this, please do not throw around plastic or any other garbage. There are bins positioned at various places on the trail. Please dump dirt there. Until then, hold on to them.
Please do not talk loudly or attempt to dominate people serving/cooking for you. Resources are limited here and if you are picky about your diet, please carry packed food.
Also, while you are trying to communicate or asking for information, please address them courteously. Don’t expect Khasis (or anyone else) to speak your local language when you are in their hometown.
Please do not buy plastic bottles of water. This increases the circulation of plastic in the environment. If you do not trust open streams and springs, request you to carry bottles with filtered water from your homestay/hotels.
For more tips on responsible travel, go here.
Have you been to this natural wonder yet?