These Living Root Bridges in India Are Bio-Engineered to Thrive For Up to 500 Years

Avatar Michelle Estevez | September 9, 2019

Living Root Bridges Provide Long-Standing Techniques to Modern Approaches

We’re in the midst of applying more of our technologies to work with natural systems and build a sustainable future. Popular examples include the use of bamboo alternatives and reusable plastic bags. However, there are century-old architectural designs that provide new ways of approaching a greener existence. These living root bridges in India are made out of aerial roots to provide a means for transportation over rivers and mountainous plateaus. This approach reinstills possible wonders found within bio-engineering while reminding us it is not always necessary to tear down or kill existing organisms in order to make them useful in our modern society. While alternatives are a great step forward, this ancient practice reminds us of our potential to work with our surroundings in a way that allows natural systems to continue to thrive.

Not only do these crossways provide accessible transportation, but they also provide a solution serving as aqueducts over the wetland. These banyan trees grow on the banks of the river making it a prime location to work around. It takes about 15 to 20 years for the bridges to grow and become stronger with age. Natives begin this process by slowly threading the Ficus elastica roots across a temporary bamboo scaffold. This is what connects the gaps while paving a direction for the aerial roots to grow. The humid weather provides young roots with ample moisture and flexibility to strengthen over time. Just as it is important to allow nature to thrive, it’s just as important to observe how climate and available resources create conditions to work with.

living root bridges

Applying Centuries-Old Techniques in a Modern World

The closer we are with our natural surroundings the more our awareness increases when it comes to sustainable practices, cleanliness, and respect. With that being said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Maghalaya is the cleanest area in India. Ancient natives kept this understanding alive through their technique in building living root bridges.

Just a little over 1,500 miles across Meghalya lies New Delhi—the most polluted city in India. While the large population plays a major role, it’s also interesting to see such an extreme comparison in such a short distance.

As of April 2019, the global population was estimated to have reached 7.7 billion. There is much we can learn from these longstanding bridges and apply to future architectural designs. While different parts of the world have their own set of resources and climate, observation and attention to detail allow for unique implementation. What works in Meghalaya for these root bridges might not work in Brazil, Portugal, California, etc… There is a universal approah that can be modified to accomodate different systems.

Preserving the Trees After Attracting World Wide Attention

These living root bridges (also known as jing kieng jri or abode of clouds) have brought an onslaught of tourism to their location in Meghalaya, India. While the additional foot traffic helps the soil compact and entangle over time, preservation efforts are enforced to protect these constructions. Some bridges are said to thrive for over 500 years and can hold up to 50 travelers at a time. 

“These bridges can last forever! According to me, if you take care and maintain the bridge properly, it will continue to grow roots that will replace the older ones unlike other researchers who believe these bridges can last 500-600 years,” says Morningstar Khongthaw, the 23-year-old school dropout and founder of the Living Bridge Foundation (LBF), a foundation dedicated to the preservation of this unique cultural heritage, speaking to The Better India (TBI).

Just as a home needs maintenance to function properly, these bridges require updates every two to three years to prevent root deterioration. With an increase in tourism and efforts put forth by the LBF, these living root bridges in India continue to raise awareness and implement similar techniques to build other structures in the forest, ranging from ladders, swings, seating platforms to even tunnels.