Living Root Bridges
I recently caught an episode of “Human Planet” on the Discovery Channel. It is a series produced by the BBC about the ability of people to survive in some of the world’s harshest environments. One of the coolest things the episode highlighted were living root bridges in the state of Meghalaya in northeast India.
This particular area of India (Cherrapunjee to be exact) is one of, if not the, wettest place on earth. It does not have a particular monsoon season, for the monsoon rains come year round. Because of this climate, the people have had to devise ways to cross many swollen rivers and they have done so brilliantly. They have created living root bridges.
Timothy Allen, a photojournalist for the BBC series describes the process:
Initially, a length of bamboo is secured across a river divide and a banyan plant, Ficus benghalensis is planted on each bank. Over the months and years, the roots and branches of the rapidly growing Ficus are trained along the bamboo until they meet in the middle and eventually supersede its support. At later stages in the evolution of the bridge, stones are inserted into the gaps and eventually become engulfed by the plant forming the beautiful walkways. Later still, the bridges are improved upon with the addition of hand rails and steps.
Check out some of his photographs:
And here is a woman climbing a living root ladder (photo by Timothy Allen via The Independent):
This is an amazing process, one that involves the entire community. A bridge takes 10 – 15 years to grow into a functional form of infrastructure but can last hundreds of years. These bridges are an incredible example of sustainable design.