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Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges

The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and warm, crisscrossed by swift-flowing rivers and mountain streams. On the slopes of these hills, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system thrives and flourishes. Living root bridges are a form of tree shaping common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from the aerial roots of Rubber Trees by the Khasi and Jaintia peoples of the mountainous terrain along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau. In order to make a rubber tree’s roots grow in the right direction—say, over a river—the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they’re allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced. They are extraordinarily strong—strong enough that some of them can support the weight of 50 or more people at a time.

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