Photo credits : Yash Chavan
Choices. Choices define our whole existence. A single choice has the potential of changing the course of things. Sometimes when you are about to regret the choices you’ve made, something unexpected, something extraordinary , something good happens. This is when your faith grows stronger.
It doesn’t happen very often that your choices lead you to an experience of a lifetime. But that day, we were just in luck. It was our third day in Meghalaya and a trek to the living double root bridge was the only thing on our agenda. Yash had read some blogs on this particular trek and drawn a conclusion that we have to reach there early in the morning so as to avoid the herds of tourists.
So, we planned. We woke up at 6 in the morning and by 7:00 we were ready to go. A day before this, our host, Yai had asked us if we knew the route to the bridge and we had confidently said that we have google maps and we will figure it out. This was the first mistake. When we left from the cottage, Yai was nowhere to be found and we had run out of water. So, we started off without taking water bottles with us. This was the second mistake.
Thus, with the status “almost prepared”, our journey began. To reach the bridge, you have to first travel to a village called “Tyrna” which is an hour and a half from Sohra. After that, there is a 2 hour trek to the bridge. This bridge is in the valley and one has to climb down almost 4000 steps to reach there. So, when all the odds are in your favor and it doesn’t rain, you will surely reach the bridge and be back to the top within 5 hours.
In an ideal scenario we were to reach Tyrna by 8:30, park our car in the parking lot there and take a local guide as suggested by the many blogs that we had read. But something went wrong. 45 minutes into the journey to Tyrna and the mobile screamed, “GPS signal lost”. We should have panicked right there and turned back or should have asked people while we could still see some. But we thought, this is Meghalaya and the mobile signal plays hide and seek all the time, there’s nothing to worry. Little did we know that this was the third and the most severe mistake that we were making.
Photo credits : Yash Chavan
After several wrong turns and a heated game of “who is to blame for this?” we reached a dead end. A cliff from where we could see a mesmerizing view of Bangladesh Plains. To our luck there was a man sitting on a rock smoking his bidi in peace. We asked him the route to the bridge. Most of the people in Meghalaya speak English. This man was not one of them. So we played dumb charades for a while and concluded that we have to take a U-turn, take a left and drive down the road till we could find the steps which go down to the bridge.
It seemed easy. So we drove till we could find the steps. Neither was there a parking lot nor were there any guides. We again thought it’s early in the morning and the people are still sleeping. It was a Sunday for crying out loud! So we parked our car and started walking down the road till we could see the beginning of the steps. There was written “footpath to Mawsahew” on a sign board. We had expected the name Tyrna but this was a different village. There was a reason to worry but we could see the steps. So we decided to trust our guts and started climbing down the steps.
They were recently constructed concrete steps. It was a pleasant morning and we could hear the chirping of the birds. With smiles on our faces we started the trek. I found a piece of bamboo lying on the stairs and picked it up. “This would make a nice cane”, I said. Neer laughed at me and Yash mocked the idea. 30 min later both of them were searching for similar canes.
It had been 1 hour since we started climbing down the stairs and the concrete stairs were gone. There were only natural stone steps and they were very slippery. All we could hear was the chirping of birds and our heavy breathing. We decided to stop and take a break when we saw an elderly women climbing up the footpath with 2 kids. We asked her if this indeed is the way to the root bridge, but she understood nothing. Then Yash uttered the word “Nongriat“, the name of the village where the bridge is situated. Instantly her eyes sparkled and she pointed to the bottom of the valley. We understood that we have to walk further down the valley. After this incident, thrice we met different locals. All of them pointed to the valley when we said the name “Nongriat”.
It had been over 2 hours when we reached the first village on the way named” Ramdait”. By then we were tired and parched. I saw a kid playing by the house and decided to seek his help. Fortunately, he knew English. He brought us some water and showed the way to the bridge. We again stated walking down. The stone steps were long gone and we could only see a rugged path. Along this path there were several pineapple trees and wild orchids. All that beauty couldn’t please us anymore because we were trekking for almost 2 hours 30 minutes with no sign of the bridge. Our legs were sore and our throats were dry.
We decided to drink from the natural steam which we came across near the suspended bridge. I was about to tell Yash to be careful of the slippery steps when I lost my balance and fell down. I hurt my leg pretty bad there. It was a little too much for the day. I was in immense pain and to our frustration, the path was never ending. We sat down and took a minute long break before starting off again. We thought, we have come such a long way, we can’t give up now. So we got up, started walking and a few min later I saw a man. Upon asking, he showed me the way. He stopped us and asked, “Why you not take guide?” When I told him we couldn’t find any, he said he can be our guide. For 500 rupees he can take us to the bridge and back to the top. At this point of time we didn’t know that we had taken the longest route to the bridge. It was only when we told our guide, Verlin that we had come from Mawsahew, he explained the situation. He said, “Ohh! You come long way, very long.” I looked at Yash with disappointment and sheer anger and Neer burst into laughter.
Verlin was our Knight in shining armor, our guardian angel! He told us many folklore which included the story of the double root bridge. He said, in the ancient times, the people from their tribe used to marry people from the tribe on the other side of the river. During the wedding ceremonies, they used to exchange flowers by sending them across the river. God blessed one such flower and it bloomed into a tree in the stream itself. Then the divine voice taught the people the art of bending and shaping its roots and thus, in a hundred years the bridge was build. Now, this will be indigestible for a scientific mind. But, my faith was restored by Verlin’s presence and I chose to believe in the story.
After thirty minutes and a lot of chatter, we FINALLY saw the bridge. Its first sight and suddenly all that trekking felt worth it! The double root bridge stands strong with a milky white waterfall in the background. Fortunately, there were only a few people. We got rid of our stinky, sweaty clothes and jumped into the cold waters. All the pain vanished instantly. We spent almost an hour in the water before we changed our clothes and went to a guest house right across the bridge. The maggi we had there was the best meal of my life. We took some water with us and bid farewell to the most amazing sight ever, The Double Root Bridge.
This time, Verlin was going to take us from the shortest route which was of an hour and half. But there was a problem. We were clueless as to where we had parked our car. Yash was smart enough to click a picture of the place where the car was parked. We showed it to Verlin and like a pro he said, I know this place. Relieved, we started our journey back. Even a thought of climbing the mountain was painful but we had signed up for this. The way back was indeed a shorter one. I had again stuck a conversation with Verlin. He told us how the Khasi people keep the delicate balance of the forest and how they have to give back a part of their earnings to the village. After hearing all these stories I couldn’t help but wonder, Can we truly call ourselves civilized? If destroying the nature and satisfying our greed makes us civilized, I’d rather adopt the ways of Khasi people.
While verlin was telling me stories from his childhood, we came across a place where the steps were so short and the slope was so steep that for a second we thought this is impossible. Verlin was effortlessly climbing the mountain and we had already lost our breath. Two hours later, when we had almost reached the top, Verlin showed us a natural steam. The water was flowing through the roots of a tree. He told us that this is the freshest water we’ll ever drink. It was indeed true. Drinking from that tree was like drinking from Mother Nature’s bosoms! It was a heavenly sip.
In a few minutes, we were on the top and near our car. We were extremely satisfied with Verlin’s services. So, we paid him a little more than what was agreed upon along with some chocolates for his kids. He smiled and we thanked each other. While driving back to the guesthouse, we stopped at a restaurant for a meal. Near Ramkrishna math, on our way back to Sohra, we came across a thali restaurant. It goes by the name Orange roots. They had veg, south Indian-style thalis. Our day couldn’t get better. A wholesome meal and a cup of refreshing tea was just what we needed.
Now comes the point when I pass down my wisdom to you. Because, I don’t want your 5 hour trek to be completed in 8 hours and after climbing up and down 20,000 steps equivalent to 14 km! There are some things you should do and there are quite a few things that you shouldn’t.
Let’s start with How to reach the double root bridge?
1) If you don’t have a guide with you, download the google maps for offline use.
2) Take a car/ ride a taxi till you reach the village Tyrna. It’s an hour and a half ride from Sohra.
3) Park the car in the parking lot and take a local guide if you don’t have any with you. (They typically charge 500 to 1000 rupees)
4) Climb down the mountain and within 2 hours you will reach the bridge.
Second and the most important thing. What to carry for this trek?
1) Pack light but DO NOT FORGET the water. (However, drinking from the streams is a better option)
2) Keep some dry food items with you. (But, do not start the trek on an empty stomach)
3) Keep some cash and carry a Swiss knife along with a lighter. (Don’t be afraid, it’s just another precautionary measure)
4) Wear heavy duty outdoor shoes with firm grips (This is a must if you don’t want to fall in the valley)
5) Buy a cane which local people sell for 30 rupees near the parking lot.
After returning to the cottage, the only thing everyone wanted to do was to sleep. So I jumped into my bed and closed my eyes. I could still see the green bridge and feel the foamy water caressing my skin. I Thanked God for His marvel and for sending Verlin to us. If it had not been for him, we would have been still searching for the bridge. We sometimes meet people for a few minutes, but their faces are forever carved in our hearts. Verlin was one of them. Sometimes we see something that stays with us forever. The sight of double root bridge was certainly one of them.
If you have any queries regarding the trek feel free to email me.
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Author: Akash More
Photographs: Yash Chavan