A Walk in the Woods in Nongriat

Imagine, if you will, the most eco-friendly bridge in existence.  Surely it wouldn’t be made of concrete, rebar, or steel girders, right?  Might it be a big slab of stone?  A few planks or logs laid across a stream?  A bunch of stalks of bamboo roped together?  Wrong, wrong, and wrong!  Not that these things aren’t eco-friedly; they’re just not sufficiently kickass to win the title.  Want to know what is?

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The living root bridges (!!!) in the valley village of Nongriat, located in the jungle about 1000 meters below (we’re talking straight vertical drop here) the town of Cherrapunjee, one of the rainiest places in the world.

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In case the first photo didn’t make it clear, these bridges are made from the live roots of a local variety of strangler fig.  Over generations and hundreds of years, the villagers have coaxed the roots into twists and tangles and intertwinings that span over the raging waters separating one side of the valley from the other.

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We heard about this place from Toni and Clo, a pair of Swiss travellers (hitchhikers, to be precise) we met in Bangkok.  It was a nice little exchange: we told them everything we had gleaned from hours of internet and email research on the topic of making the crossing out of Myanmar and into India by land; they went and did it first, filled in all the details, and gave us some bonus advice about India’s northeast.  Thanks guys, hope you’re well!

(Photo Courtesy of Chris Buchman at www.fromatobe.com)

We found a sweet little resort (called Saimika, in case there are any other travellers out there) just outside of town where they allowed us to camp for free and leave our gear while we made the trek to the valley below.

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There was an official trekking route starting on the other side of the valley, about 20km away by road, but we decided on the scenic route suggested to us by the guys at Saimika.  We were basically told to follow the river until the rest became clear.

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Chris takes a break to mark his territory.  Just so you know, this all belongs to him now.

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They didn’t mention that there’d be a waterfall.

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Or that we’d have to walk across it.

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Or that afterwards it would be a kilometer or two of knee-deep muck.

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Likelihood of leech attack: 110%.

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After an hour of walking and another half hour of wandering around looking for the trailhead, we finally found the zigzags labeled on our our map as “1000m vertical descent.  Bring your own water.”

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We were lucky to have clear skies, but August is the peak of monsoon season and so the path was in a state of total disuse.  The stepping stones were either covered with moss and slime or fully obscured by three or four months’ worth of jungle overgrowth.  Before long I had nabbed a pair of bamboo rods to use as walking sticks; whichever one wasn’t planted on the ground below was being swung up in front of me to clear spider webs.

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After three sweaty and stressful hours, we reached the bottom  just before sundown.

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It felt like we had passed through a wormhole and into a different universe.  A world away from all the cars and commerce up above, vegetation so thick you could hardly tell what time of day it was.  The time of year is marked by the weather, of course, but also by what kind of wild tropical fruit is falling down all around you; in August, it’s pineapples and jackfruit.

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A world where it’s easy to get absorbed in all the small miracles of nature

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the flora

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and fauna

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and vista.

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All of this, in addition to the things we had come to see.

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This first bridge, about two meters long, was so built so thick that I didn’t realize I wasn’t walking on solid ground.

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With the longer ones, it was impossible not to be aware of the waters rushing below.

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The ones in the works were a little bit freaky to walk on.

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Though not any freakier than the conventional bridges.

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The older ones, though, were as if all one piece.  Wood, rocks, and dirt had been crammed into every gap and crevasse, pushed into place both by the pressure of constant footsteps and the continuous growth and expansion of the roots themselves.

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Some of the bridges incorporated a metal skeleton

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A baby bridge.  Every so often, whoever it is that is in charge of such things has to come by and wrap the new roots around the older ones that have already made it across.

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After a generation or two it’ll grow into this.

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Alright, time to shut up and let the photos do the talking.

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The double-decker.  I’m pretty sure this is the one that’s featured in the Human Planet episode.

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After a day of rest, relaxation, and recuperation at the bottom, we returned to the modern world.

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By way of a few thousand stairs – the ascent along the nice path was about a tenth as strenuous as the way down, but far less rewarding.

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Chris puts on his best “You’re telling me that’s Bangladesh down there?” face.

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4 Responses to A Walk in the Woods in Nongriat

  1. myra says:

    wonderful bridges thanks for sharing. You left your tents up top or brought them with you- just curious. If you are heading into Bengali country let me know since my neighbors have family there. would you want their info? – actually they were supposed to be over there sometime this fall.

    • Michael Roy says:

      We packed the tents up and left them with our bikes and other gear at the resort, taking only light daypacks with us for the hike down.

      Unfortunately I dont think Bengladesh is in the cards for me, the visa situation is a bit messy. Thanks for thinking of me though.

  2. Wilson says:

    Hi Mike,
    This is Wilson from La Ilha Formosa. Thanks for sharing this great story and nice pics too! If you do get a chance to re-visit Taiwan, please feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to show you some scenic areas in the mountains, including but not limited to the 3,000 meters+ alpine world in the national parks, by either cycling or hiking. All the best luck and fun in your wonderful journey of love and peace!!

    • Michael Roy says:

      Wow Wilson, that sounds awesome! I’ve already done one huandao and one trip from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake but still havent seen Taroko or cycled across the country yet. Hope to someday!