A 7000 stair trek to Nongriat’s Living Root Bridge

#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya

 350 seediyan hai. Pehle neeche phir upar jaati hai, phir village aur bridge aata hai. Ek baar main gaya tha. Uske baad 2-3 din tak bimaar padh gaya. Seedhiyon se nafrat si ho gayi thi  (It is 350 odd stairs that go down and then up to the village and the bridge. I did it once and after that , I fell in bed for 2-3 days. I hated the sight of stairs),” muttered Tapan, our driver in Cherrapunjee, once the rainiest place on this earth. From his sombre voice, it was evident that this was his attempt to discourage me from doing the trek to the village, based on his bad experience. The trek to the Living Root bridge of the Nongriat village near Cherrapunjee is not for the weak kneed or the faint hearted as I was soon about to find out.

The living root bridges of Nongriat village are one of the manmade wonders, dating back many centuries. The aerial roots of Banyan tree on opposite sides of the river are continuously twisted, given direction and woven together, till it can be shaped and strengthened into a sturdy bridge. This is the only means for the villagers to cross the raging water streams to reach the other side. There are two living root bridges in Nongriat, a single deck bridge and a double decker bridge.

#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
View of Nongriat village (Mid of the mountain on the left)

Dismissing Tapan’s foreboding warning of things to come, I decided to embark upon the trek to the village the next morning. After all it was just 350 steps!  What was he talking about! It couldn’t be that bad after all. After reaching the Tyrna village, the starting point on top of the mountain, I found a guide named Phil. Phil was a smiling young lad, right out of school, who was killing time and making some pocket money by offering to guide in the few months he had before he had to join college. The board at Tyrna village indicated a 3km hike to the Nongriat village and some mild alarm bells were set off in my head. 3km and 350 steps didn’t quite add up!

The path to the village is a cemented staircase in middle of a thick jungle, that first reaches the bottom of the valley and then after crossing the river, another flight of stairs upwards lands one at the village. Very casually, we walked down the flight of stairs, enjoying the beauty around. After about ½ hr of walk down the stairs, with knees beginning to become wobbly, I figured we must have actually done double of 350 steps that my driver warned me about. I asked Phil, how many steps were actually there? To my shock, he said 3500! Clearly Tapan didn’t count properly! Well, shoot me, I said. Phil smiled helplessly. How was I even going to get through it, with my knees already wobbling! Walking down was the easy part I figured. Walking up the steep and narrow flight of stairs could be a death wish! Never mind, I would crawl up. But it was a problem for later.

So we continued. The breathtaking hike through the forest was well worth it. The jungle was enveloped with clouds and the morning dew made everything look fresh and beautiful.  We saw a few villagers coming up the stairs. One was a little girl in a school-dress, not more than 7-8 years, who was walking up the stairs to go to school! It was very hard to imagine that the young kids did this everyday! Just for basic things like going to school and getting a good education!  Soon, we spotted two more villagers who were transporting local produce in heavy sacks strapped to their backs. To see & experience the hardships that the villagers faced day in and day out, was extremely heart wrenching. What made them go up and down the stairs every day? Why couldn’t government make more efforts for them to easily connect with the world outside, like making ropeway trolleys. But observing them gave me the impetus to complete rest of the trek without a whimper.


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
A girl treks to the top everyday to go to school – Nongriat


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
A villager carries his produce to the top of the mountain – Nongriat


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
The never ending stairs – Nongriat

After the steep flight of stairs down, we arrived at a small village, from where the single root bridge can be accessed. We progressed ahead, arriving at a wobbly iron bridge at the bottom of the valley. Crossing it for the first time, gave me a good scare. While Phil languorously strolled ahead, with wind in his hair and spring in his step, here I was, sweating by litres, clutching the swaying bridge for my dear life and crawling ahead. I did not want to look down at the water stream 30 ft below, for I would have succumbed to my fear of heights and gotten fully paralysed. Miraculously, I survived, only to find another higher and longer iron bridge after a short walk ahead. History repeated itself as this also I survived. Phew!

#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
The shaky iron bridge – Nongriat

 After a short walk up on another flight of stairs, we arrived at Nongriat village. Nestled in the middle of the jungle was this quaint and clean village, freshly sprayed clean with the shower that had just started. The village is fully off the grid and hence has become a hotspot for trekkers who want to be engulfed by nature. There were a few homestays I found on the way where trekkers esp from abroad were relaxing.  It is commendable what the villagers have done to encourage responsible tourism while protecting nature. They have contributed towards a community guesthouse for trekkers, have made large dustbins for collecting waste etc. They respect nature by keeping the village clean. It is a harmonious co-existence of villagers, nature & tourists. A short walk from the village, is the Living Root Bridge. The first view of the root bridge mesmerised me and made the arduous trek fully worth every drop of sweat and every ache in my body. It felt as though I had arrived in paradise. With chirping birds that began to emerge after the downpour, the double decker bridge in middle of a thick jungle, set right across a rumbling waterfall and over a gentle water stream, was a sight to behold. The double bridge was a masterpiece in itself, with intertwined roots made sturdy over centuries. The villagers are working on creating a third deck, by twisting and shaping the roots. Perhaps in a half a century, it would be fully made. The water was so clear, cool and fresh and it was enticing me for relaxing dip. I hadn’t got a change of clothes, so I just made do by sitting with my feet swaying in the water and periodically dipping my face in it. Mesmerized with the bountiful  greenery around me, I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the place amidst the slight drizzle.


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
Welcome to Nongriat


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
The double decker Living Root bridge of Nongriat


#asia, #bridges, #forest, #hike, #homestay, #india, #jungle, #manmade, #must do, #nature, #nongriat, #photography, #root bridges, #serene, #steps, #travel, #trek, #village, #waterfall, #Meghalaya
The Double decker Living Root Bridge of Nongriat

Ahh, I so didn’t want to go back. It is quite natural to feel like this in middle of nature, completely off the grid, where one can unburden the stresses of daily life and try to find a rhythm between self & nature. I bumped into a foreigner who completely endorsed my sentiments. He, like me, had come for a day trek and decided to stay back after feeling enchanted by this place. My resort in Sohra doesn’t know where I am, he said very coolly. I wished I could have done the same. But I am a woman with proper plans and it would mean the rest of my trip would have gone for a toss. A small tea shop right next to the bridge was just perfect to have a cup of hot tea and steaming Maggi, before I reluctantly winded my way up.

The rains had cleared up the clouds on the way up and I could see the spectacular landscape of the valley, gasping in awe of how much we had walked. Slowly and steadily, I made my way up, not knowing what was sweat and what was rain drops on me. This time I had counted. It was 3500 stairs (app 5000 steps ) from the bridge back to the top which meant we had done 7000 stairs and total 10000 steps up and down. But it didn’t hurt one bit, for my body and mind had found a gentle rhythm to propel me further. I met an aghast Tapan at the top, for I had completed the trek in 4.5 hours which is quite an average time clocked for the trek. Thank god you didn’t tell me it will be a 7000 stairs trek,  I would not have ever done it, I told him. The loss would have been only mine!

 And yes, my body revolted at the sight of stairs for almost a week after that.


How to get there:

Tyrna village, the starting point of the trek is ½ hr drive away from Cherrapunjee. From there it will take a relaxed 1.5 hr walk down to the Nongriat Village and then a 2 hr walk up. Budget 4-5 hours including stops.

Where to stay:

If you want to do a day trek, stay in one of the Hotels in Cherrapunjee. However, it is recommended to stay at Nongriat village for a night or two to thoroughly experience the place. Serene homestay is a good option. Expect nothing fancy.

What to do:

Carry swimming trunks and a towel if you want to dip in the stream. If you plan to stay,  walk around on other trails to nearby villages and take a dip in many waterfalls along the way. Also trek up for an hour to Rainbow Falls which is supposedly very scenic and highly recommended by all trekkers and locals alike. Chances of spotting an actual rainbow over the waterfalls are very high. It rains abruptly making the stairs slippery, so wear trekking boots and waterproof  your camera and phones. Travel light.


Sualkuchi – Weaving silken dreams

india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker

Hum sab workers ne protest kiya. Hum Varanasi se cheap powerloom products yahan aane nahi de sakte tey. 2-3 log bhuri tarah ghayal hog aye use protest mein (We all weavers organised a protest. We couldn’t let the powerloom products from places like Varanasi enter this village. 2-3 people were injured badly in the fighting that erupted during the protest),” said Tapan, a supervisor of handloom silk factory employing 20 workers in Sualkuchi.

Sualkuchi (pronounced as Hualkusi), popularly known as the Manchester of the East, is a small village 35 kms from Guwahati where the primary occupation of the villagers is silk weaving of the famous and fine Assam Silk. Assam is famous for Muga, Pat & Eri Silk of which the Muga silk is the only one exclusive to  Assam as silkworm from which it is made is endemic to Assam. It is naturally golden in colour and the colour only becomes more bright and golden with every wash. Pat silk also known as Mulberry silk, is pearly white and is made from mulberry silkworms. Eri silk is also known as the Ahimsa silk as the silk threads are made from the cocoons after the adults have left it and hence the pupae are not killed in the harvesting process unlike what happens in the harvesting of other varieties of silk.

The silk handloom tradition in Sualkuchi dates back to 11th century when the Pal dynasty king established the village by bringing in silk weaving families from Tantikuchi and settled them here. The tradition continued over generations, firmly entrenching Sualkuchi by 17th century as the silk weaving centre of Assam, producing fine Mekhela Chadars, Gamosas (both are traditional Assamese garments worn by women & men respectively) & Sarees. As I walked through the back-lanes of the village, through open doors and windows, I could see almost every household having 2-3 looms. I visited some medium scale ‘factories’, either with 30- 40 looms operating from a whole floor of a 2 storeyed run-down house or with 20-30 looms in an improvised cowshed behind the residential huts. It is estimated that in a population of 14000, the village has about 17000 looms which well indicates the prominence and importance of weaving in every villager’s life.

No wonder the battle between handloom and powerloom is a battle for survival of this traditional craft. Mechanising the industry with powerloom reduces the cost of labour & hence lowers the cost of the final silk weaves. Few years ago, the market was besieged with powerloom products from Varanasi which often used cheaper silk, i.e. silk mixed with polyester which reduced the prices further.  Since it is difficult for a consumer to tell the difference between powerloom and a handloom weave and equally difficult to tell the difference between 100% silk and adulterated silk, the costs charged by the local handlooms comes under a big question and puts further pressure on the viability of the handloom factories. “Powerloom iss village mein aane hi nahi de sakte (We cannot let powerloom enter this village),” passionately cries Tapan.

The angst is well justified. I could only understand it better when I walked into a shop. As my jaw dropped after hearing the prices of sarees (a pure silk saree costs upwards of Rs.5.5-6K), the shop manager, Arun, visibly upset with the look on my face said, “Aap mere saath aayiye madam. Main aapko dikhata hoon. Aap phir samjhenge iski saree ki keemat (You come with me madam. I will show you. Only then you will appreciate the worth of this saree).” As I walked into a rundown factory, I was indeed appalled. The conditions in which the weavers work is frightening and saddening. Most factories are set up in jute and bamboo sheds, much like an improvised cowshed! The factories are cramped to pack in as many looms as possible, fitting in as many as 30 looms in a 600sqft area. There is little sunlight and no fans to keep them cool on a hot summer day. The process of silk weaving is time consuming and labour intensive. Depending on the design, it could easily take 6-7 days with 12-14 hours of non stop work with only lunch breaks in between to weave a full saree. There are no fixed hours of work and no weekends off either. Only in the context of seeing the working conditions and knowing about the tedious process, was I able to appreciate the “worth” of the silk weave and the angst the weaver community had towards onslaught of cheaper and inferior powerloom products.

Equally, skilled labour is also increasingly hard to come by. “Wapas aayenge ki nahi pata nahi (I don’t know whether they will come back or not),” laments Arun who is also supervisor of the handloom factory apart from being the shop manager. Since there is a state election the next day, he has given an off to the workers to go back to their villages to cast their vote. That is the sad reality. While lot of government effort has gone into making it a co-operative industry, it still remains highly unorganized.  Many villagers have given up the traditional craft to pursue more lucrative opportunities in cities. Hence most of the weavers are migrants who come in from other parts of the country to work & earn here. But there is no system to check, verify and track the workers, making it difficult for factory owners to get reliable labour.

The rocketing raw material prices have further put pressure on the industry here. The process of cultivating silkworms, harvesting and creating the threads have been mostly outsourced while some local operations still exist. The pat silk threads usually come in from Bangalore and the supplies have shrunk, spiralling the prices upwards. Coupled with the flooding of the market with ‘semi silk’, which is nothing but synthetic silk made with polyester with a look & finesse of real silk and at almost 1/5th the price of real silk, the viability of the handloom industry is really challenged.

Despite all the issues plaguing the industry, it refuses to die. The demand for Assam silk is very high and Sualkuchi contributes to ~75% of the Assam’s output. It is the hub for wedding shopping as prices here can be easily lower by 1500-2000 rupees and in an Indian wedding where clothing is gifted to close relatives from both bride and groom side, buying in bulk does mean lots of savings! Demand is also coming in from international buyers from Thailand, Germany etc. who buy in bulk and sometimes also give their own designs for production. Several government initiatives are helping the handloom owners after their plight has been highlighted by media and in other forums. For e.g. Govt has set up a fashion institute in collaboration with NIFT which imparts training for skill up-gradation, design process & innovation, apart from widening their perspective on fashion and trends, so that they can cater to demand in a fast changing fashion environment. Traditionally, the design pattern for the borders and the motifs embellishing the saree are first sketched and then holes are manually punched on paper cards. These reams of design cards are mounted on the loom and the weaving happens as per the patterns on these cards. Now with the help of the institute, design process and the punching is now being increasingly computerized, saving lot of time and manual effort.

Tapan speaks about his future, “Experience mil gaya hai mujhe. Ab apna chota factory open karoonga (Now I have the experience. I want to open a small factory of my own).” As Tapan continues to talk about his dreams, his young 8 yr old son, Shyam, walks in to eagerly show us more about the factory where his dad works. “Ji haan. Usse sab aata hai. Roz yeh sab dekh raha hai jab se bacha tha (Of course! He knows how to weave. He has been seeing all this everyday since he was a child),” says Tapan upon being asked whether Shyam knows how to weave as well. Will Shyam continue in his father’s footsteps, I ask eagerly. “Bas padh likh kar achi naukri kare city mein, main toh yeh hi chahoonga (I only wish that he studies well and gets a good job in the city),” he says with a dreamy voice. The dreams are indeed silken.


How to reach Sualkuchi

It is 35kms from Guwahati, about an hour’s drive.  Stay in Guwahati.

Visit the place before noon. Weavers have lunch breaks from 1-3pm.


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft, worker
Peeping inside open windows, looms visible in each house – Sualkuchi, Assam


A cramped factory in a shed – Sualkuchi, Assam


A silk weaver – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker, silkworm, cocoons
Silkworm Cocoons – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft ,
Threads – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker, threads
Silk threads – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker
Son of a worker shows how to operate the spindle – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker
Design Cards mounted on the loom for creating motifs – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft, worker
The Silk Weaving tool – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker
A silk loom – Sualkuchi, Assam


india, travel, photography, Silk, weaver, assam, assam silk, textile, handloom, craft , worker
A silk shop – Sualkuchi, Assam