Tyrna village is the last motorable point to begin the trek to Umiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat village, Meghalaya. Visitors adventurous and curious enough to cross the bridge when they come to it would be greeted by a swarm of Khasi youngsters who want to peddle their services as guides.
The younger ones are selling bamboo sticks—for Rs 40 each—that they claim would make the best support for the trek. The first descent begins over a narrow cemented trail, its steps winding and steep. Considering the atmospehere it should be chilly but the energy of the walk is enough to raise a sweat. Once the raincoats and thermals are off, and the bamboo sticks held firmly in hand, within the first 10 minutes the huffing and puffing begins.
Exertion is for the townies. The Khasis walk past with nonchalant ease with heavy burdens towards Nongriat as they have done for ages on nimble feet. Past Nongthymmai village, the trail changes its character.
The side ropes of the narrow iron bridge that spans the river are held with thin wires and bamboo shoots. To walk on it is a careful adventure: each step has to be diagonally taken to avoid the feet from getting stuck in between the rusted cables. Calling out to all the gods is a natural reaction then. The bridge has to be crossed in a single file, with walkers maintaining a distance of 20 m from each other.
Looking down from the rickety structure through the gaps between the iron cables, the cyan-coloured waters of the river can be seen clearly, frothing and gushing underneath. It takes crossing three bridges to reach Nongriat and witness a miracle made by Nature and man—a living root bridge made from the aerial roots of the Indian Rubber Tree, which the Khasis have tamed to form natural trails across many water bodies.Umiang bridge is no different in its pagan glory; immortal grandfather with matted hair who endures through time. Surprisingly, the bridge is steady and boulders have been placed by locals to create a smooth path.
By now, mesmerised by the spell of Nature and walking through uncharted territory leads to another secret: a natural swimming pool brimming with water as clear as a mirror in the middle of nowhere, dozing serenely amidst the cacophony of birdcalls. Then return to reality; on the walk back squats a small wayside shop selling hot Maggi noodles and coffee. Today is never faraway.