Monday 30th March, a day we’d been in training for. After a hearty breakfast of typically English things (meh) and typically Indian things (nom), we left at 8:30am for the Big Walk. Only three of us were feeling fit enough (or pretending to), so the other two went off for a gentle day of visiting caves and waterfalls. We were committed to seeing living root bridges over on the other side of the valley.
See those teeny, tiny white houses in the distance there? That was our destination. And the only way to get there is on foot, down to the floor of the valley and back up the other side. There are steps all the way. 3,000 of them. And the only way out, is to do it all over again.
Crazy, right? But every single possession, every bag of cement, every log, has to be carried there. Every child does that journey to school and back each day.
That guy is carrying a piece of teak as big as he is (not poetic licence) – who knows how much it weighs. Still, he thought we were nuts to be doing the journey for fun.
We didn’t have to go too far to see the longest root bridge.
It’s about 95 feet long and 150 years old. Just contemplate the forward planning that goes into this: planting the trees in the right places, tending them so that they thrive and then training the roots to form a usable bridge. It was mind blowing. Ongoing maintenance is also necessary to keep the bridge sound and the trees healthy.
Going down didn’t seem that bad, at first, using walking poles for stability. It was bloody hot, mind you, and humid, (well it is a jungle) but really beautiful.
Not all of the bridges are alive, some of them are just cables.
over deep green pools
Just after we’d stopped going down and started going up, there was a little tea stall where we stopped for a drink. The tea was some of the best we’ve ever tasted, and not entirely due to the setting. It was a beautiful, clear amber colour and had an earthy, spicy taste, perhaps of cinnamon (or ginger or cloves, or something). One of those moments you never forget.
The next bridge was very short, but absolutely solid. It had rocks incorporated into the structure and felt just like walking along the path. That’s our lovely, serene guide, by the way (and then one of us).
Finally. Finally. The objective of our walk was in sight, the world’s only (we’re told) double-decker root bridge. The two levels are side by side, one high, one low. Below should be a pool, where our guide promised we’d be able to dangle our tired feet and get a fish pedicure. Sadly, the water had been dammed so that maintenance work could be done, so we drank tea and chatted instead, after doing lots of posing on the bridge.
Lunch was at a guesthouse in the village and was absolutely delicious. Curried pumpkin, dal, cabbage and cauliflower, beautiful sticky rice.
And then…all the way back again. On the way down it was all about leg muscles and wobbly calves, but on the way back it was a massive cardio workout. Our guide’s advice was to count 30 steps, then pause, then count 30 steps until we reached the top. And if 30 was too many, just count 10 or 20. It was such sound advice, to break it down into chunks and never think beyond the current count. It stopped the task seeming insurmountable.
As we slogged slowly to the starting point, schoolchildren began heading back home, carrying radios, chatting, skipping downhill several steps at a time. We viewed them with envy. A young couple from Delhi, also walking back up, slowly caught up. As they overtook, she remarked “I’ve been talking with my guy. We really hope we have your stamina when we reach your age”. It was sweet to say so, but really, I don’t know how ancient she thought I was! A few moments later he passed me too with “kudos! It’s a strenuous hike”.
Exhausting as it was, the whole experience truly was worth every step. We can only hope they never find an easy way of shipping in tourists.
— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Cherrapunjee album.