Building green bridges

An artist from Karkala is promoting sustainable living, and reviving the culture of areca tree trunk bridges in villages. His philosophy being ‘Keep it natural’

Published: 18th July 2021 04:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th July 2021 04:38 AM   |  A+A-

Eco-friendly areca trunk bridge in Karkala | Manu B Nackathaya

Express News Service

UDUPI: The grey gash of a concrete bridge strikes a discordant note in the earthy shades of a rustic setting -- a sign of development which stands out like a sore thumb. It’s not meant to be there, says Purushotham Adve, who spent his childhood in Karkala taluk, by streams and rivers running through the Western Ghats. There were no squat ugly bridges in his childhood memories, only natural crossovers built by experienced villagers -- often areca tree trunks slung together to form a bridge.  

In an attempt to to set right the anomaly and stay true to the environs, Adve, an artist, decided to utilise the special skills of the people -- which they were handed down along with natural wisdom through the ages -- and the resources in abundance in the region.

A believer in sustainable living, Purushotham Adve (45) founded ‘Prachi Foundation’ in Karkala a year ago, to revive the culture of constructing areca tree trunk bridges. ‘‘I could see only concrete bridges everywhere, even where they were not necessary. They suppress the skills of village folk in constructing tree trunk bridges. With concrete occupying space in our minds, villagers too are forced to adjust to concrete. Bridges across small streams deep in the forests are not in sync with nature. Tree trunk bridges give job opportunities to villagers every two or three years, as these nature-friendly structures need to be replaced,” Adve added.

Last year, Prachi Foundation  built three bridges using arecanut trunks and creepers that have a variety of adaptations for attaching themselves to their host --  the areca tree trunk. Hundreds of areca trees die a natural death, so the Foundation decided to use the ones lying in plantations. Four types of creepers and cane are used to tie the trunks together, giving them strength. In fact, the bridges are strong enough to withstand the ravaging monsoon, and take the weight of cattle, two-wheelers and bicycles.

This year, two bridges were built, and two more will be built by Prachi Foundation, Adve added. Two volunteers of Prachi Foundation, along with 58-year-old Appanna, a resident of Maala, built the bridges. Appanna is an expert in selecting the creepers and estimating the quantity of tree trunk needed for constructing the bridge. The group members have built bridges measuring 25 feet long, which takes about two days to construct. ‘‘It all depends on the length of the bridge,” says Adve.

He says it is political leaders who are interested in building bridges even across small streams, as a sign of ‘development’ -- quite unaware that by doing so, they are eroding the native culture and intrinsic skill of utilising the resources available locally. As development seeped into these hamlets over the past decade, many bridges began popping up.

Areca bridges have other uses too -- they deter people from going deep into the forest to hunt, and help preserve the pristine enviroment. ‘‘Concrete bridges are permanent structures, and hunters can move inside forest areas easily. But arecanut tree trunk bridges are built only when necessary, and if villagers feel they need to access a certain area, the bridge can be dismantled and set up in another place to serve their purpose,” says Adve.

He stresses on the role of nature in the villagers’ lives. “The skills they acquire to make a living, resonate with nature. Be it constructing a house, or infrastructure like bridges or culverts, the minds of rural people ensure that the end result is in sync with their natural setting,” says Adve.

Taking this philosophy forward, Adve holds ‘sustainable living camps’ in interior parts of Karkala for schoolchildren from cities. Here, they mingle with rural children and learn the nuances of village life.

Adve is an artist who knows metal crafting too, and has tried to reinvent this art by training budding artists. He has created handmade face shields for Tulunadu Daivas, who would earlier get only factory-made metal shields. Underlying his passion for these rustic arts is the urge to keep skills alive among village folk, and he also holds  training programmes to revive them.

In his ventures, he is supported by his wife Shashikala, a banker. Son Avani Krishna is in Class 9, and daughter Dhathri is in Class 2.

The group members have built bridges measuring  25ft

long, which takes about two days to construct


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