We had been most excited that day but equally dreaded it. Clad in comfortable and light clothing, and with a hand-drawn map, we headed to Tyrna village, the starting point of Double Decker Living Roots Bridge Trek.
It would be better to keep a insect repellent spray handy. The tropical weather can cause light rains and insects will find you perfect for a feast. By the way, raincoats will only cause you to sweat more so it’s better to ditch that and keep an umbrella instead.
The road to that village was curvy but dashingly picturesque. Most of the turns were marked by Quote-Boards feeding the “travel bug” in all of us. It was an approx. fifteen minutes drive from our hotel, and we reached there around 10:15 AM. However, it is suggested to start your trek earlier if you want to come back up the same day.
We were told that the trek (down and up) in total takes about 6 to 7 hours and hence, we started off almost immediately. You can hire a guide for about 600 INR and also borrow a bamboo stick for support (I’ll suggest you take it, you’ll need it more than the guide). The first few steps were painful and our legs wobbled so bad that we had started thinking of going back already.
However, the trembling did not last long and we were soon hopping down steps quite quickly. At times, the steps were wide and easy to stand and take a breather for a while. At others, the steps were too steep to even take a single breath.
After descending more than a thousand steps, we found a tap, a sign board and the steps forking out into two separate paths. We stopped for a breather at that point. The sign board was pointing to our right and it was written ‘Long Roots Bridge – Only 3 minutes’ on it.
We felt confused and wondered if the board was pointing us towards the Double Decker or Single Decker Bridge. Our map said we should go left but still we felt a little lost that moment. A couple was coming down behind us with a Guide but unfortunately when we asked for guidance, the Guide simply ignored us. We followed them apprehensively and hoped we were going the right way.
Little bit of more walking over rugged terrain, and we could hear the sound of water gushing down somewhere in the jungle. And after a few more steps, we could even see it. The stream rushed past a number of boulders and trees hanging over it. And above the stream, lo and behold the Single Decker Living Roots Bridge. There are several of these bridges all over Meghalaya.
It was built by the local Khasi people in collaboration with Mother Nature for over a hundred years ago. Using the bamboo stems as support, the roots of the rubber trees all around had reached out and formed a Living Bridge. The locals used this kind of bridges for their commute and these days they were becoming popular due to the rise in adventure trips.
My companions, already pumped up with adrenaline, dropped their bamboo sticks and bags at my feet and carefully treaded forward to cross the bridge. I dropped myself on the cemented sitting area instead, and caught hold of my overlapping breaths and racing heart.
Before us, that couple with the Guide had crossed it and we heard the Guide that only two at a time should cross the bridge. Hence, we waited for our chance patiently. Believe me when I note that crossing that bridge was more daunting than climbing those steps.
I was scared. I watched them one by one ambling over that side of the bridge and wondered if I’d be able to do it. Or would I slip and fall? And a fast-forwarded version of possible future where I’m falling down on the stream and hitting my head on the huge rocks and being washed away by the water played out on my mind-screen.
I gulped down my fear and bit back my tongue before stepping forward on the mesh of bamboo trunks and giant rubber tree roots. I could feel my knees wobbling when I finally saw the entire view of the bridge and the rushing water down below.
I looked straight at the other end of the bridge and found my friends waving at me. They were saying something but it was not at all audible over the loud roaring of the stream. I prayed to Mother Nature and started trotting down the path. The bridge immediately started vibrating under my weight. I carefully stepped forward and reached out for the supporting root fence.
I tried looking straight at my destination at times but it was so so far away that I focused on singular steps instead.
And just like that, I breathed in thrill and breathed out exhilaration and slowly reached over that side in no time. That day, I crossed the first bridge of fear in my life. I was hell scared, of course. But at the time of crossing it back, I had that one thing extra with me; a little new feeling called confidence, that I can cross the bridge.
Beside this bridge, there was another Root Bridge, currently under formation. It is believed that in a few decades, that one will also be eligible to cross. After the Single Decker Root Bridge, we resumed our journey to the Double Decker. A few hundred steps later, came a steel wire bridge. And I am not kidding, when I say this bridge was even scarier than the previous one. I did have confidence this time but fear doubled up in my backpack.
One step at a time, I crossed this one as well. Just remember to not look at the end of the bridge; it will be so far away that you’ll be scared that you’re not going to reach it.
As I mentioned, the first wired bridge was longer and hence the stream was wider under this bridge. Moreover, it felt fantastic watching the green water of the brook making all that noise. I wish I had stopped for a few more seconds to cherish the beauty of my surroundings a little longer.
A few more hundred steps after the first wired bridge, we reached the second wired bridge which was wider and could carry 4 to 5 people easily at a time. You’ll keep coming across small villages (a cluster of homes, actually) on your way and also the locals on their regular day up and down. When I reached village Nongriat, I could see small boards put up in front of houses displaying ‘Home-Stay’ options.
One board said, “Welcome to Double Decker Root Bridge – This way” and an arrow pointed at a flight of stairs upwards. And after that, we climbed down the final flight of steps that led us to a natural pool and right across it was the nature’s marvelous creation of Double Decker Living Root Bridge.
We were damn exhausted but at the same time ecstatic. Close to 3500 steps done! It was a few minutes past 1 PM, and without wasting another minute, we started removing our shoes and got ready for the Fish Spa. Oh yes, that natural pool by the bridge and at the foot of the waterfall was known for Natural Foot Spa given by the teeny tiny fishes in that clear water. As soon as we perched down on rocks and dipped our feet in the chilled water, the fishes gathered around and started kissing our feet. It felt good but also weird and extremely ticklish.
After my first ever Fish Spa, it was time to dive in the water for a refreshing bath. However, do remember to mind the hidden boulders and slippery rocks. After spending almost an hour in the cool water and enjoying the view of the Double Decker Root Bridge, we started wrapping up for our return trek up the daunting steps. There’s a changing room available at that very spot so do not worry about having to climb up in wet clothes. Carry some lighter clothes to change into for your climb back up.
The time was 2:10 PM when everyone was ready with shoes and dry clothes on for the climb up. The fatigue got washed away by then but hunger was making its presence evident.
The climb upwards was obviously more tedious and bone-breaking and exhausting. This time it was mostly ascending with hardly few periods of descend in between. I took more frequent breaks than the others, thanks to my Asthma. Well, yes. It is not advisable for asthmatics to take down this trek but here I was, a physically unfit corporate sloth with asthma and foot-nerve issues, who survived the Double Decker Living Root Bridge Trek. All it took me to complete this trek was determination and belief. Belief in me that I could do it and belief in my companions that they’d be there with me when I do it and when I fall.
The climb back up, however, ended to be quicker than we estimated. We only stopped once for a large break (around 15 to 20 minutes) at a stall to get something solid inside our stomachs. It was Maggi (if you’re wondering what it was); no-doubt a hunger savior at remote places such as this one as well.
We reached a point from where we still had to climb up 1000 steps more to reach Tyrna village. There was a hanging shack selling tea and few more snacks; and two benches created with bamboo stems and wood.
When I reached that bench, I let go of my backpack, my bamboo-stick-support and dropped myself on that bench. I closed my eyes and instantly felt tears wetting my cheeks. Tears leaked out of my nose as well and my breath was impossible to catch. For five minutes, I sat there, covering my face and unable to stop the tears rolling out of my eyes. Since it was drizzling a few minutes back, and we were sweating like pigs, nobody realized it was actually tears on my face. When my hands stopped shivering, I took out my hand-towel and wiped my face dry. I was finally able to breathe again.
From the point where we were sitting, we could see the Nongriat Village down there, clustered white specks in the midst of dark green forests. We could not believe our eyes when we found out that we had actually crossed three hills via those steps to reach that village. I still can’t believe it to be honest.
The last 1000 steps were crossed pretty quickly with 50 steps and one minute break in between.
The climb got easier when broken down in small segments.
We came back up before it was 5:30 PM and before we died. With our legs sore and trembling, we literally crawled inside the car and begged for the driver to take us back to the hotel.
When we reached the Hotel, and limped all the way from the car to our rooms, we did not only get our food but also two tubs of hot water for our feet. We dipped our sore feet into the tub of tepid water and gorged on noodles for the next few minutes. That night, and following few more nights, whenever we closed our eyes, we only saw steep steps and hanging bridges.