The living root bridges in North East India are a complete fairy tale destination. Unique and unimaginable, these bridges will make it totally worth all the effort it took to get there. Without a doubt, this trek remains one of the most memorable experiences from our travels so far.
This comprehensive guide is everything you need to know about how to get there on a budget. Of course you could fly straight to Shillong and get a private taxi, but where’s the fun in that?
What are the living root bridges?
If you’re not yet familiar with the living root bridges, now is the perfect time to learn more about them. We first heard about them through a TV program called Human Planet. You’ll also get an increasingly rare opportunity to get there before it becomes just another part of the beaten path. Aren’t we all trying to get off this?
For centuries, the villagers of Nongriat have been battling monsoons to try and cross the overflowing streams that run through the mountains. People were building bridges over the swelling waterfalls to try and stop locals from being cut off from one another. Each year, bridges were destroyed and rivers left impassable.
Then, one man decided to use the roots of the trees that grow around the rivers. He began by training the flexible roots to grow across the water to create a living root bridge. The strength of these enormous trees and their roots mean that the bridges are secure and of course, the most environmentally friendly solution we could possibly get.
How to get there
The best way to travel to the closest town is by train and then taxi. After that, its just a bus and a walk to get you right into the heart of this wonderland.
Chances are, you’re either at, or near, a city with a train station. The train station you need to get to is called Guwahati. If you can’t get a train straight there, you can change at New Jalpaiguri Junction.
Once you’re at Guwahati train station, leave the station whilst trying to politely ignore almost every offer of transportation you get. Get outside and see if you can see any other tourists.
You need to jump in a taxi and get to a town called Shillong. It takes about 3.5 hours depending on how crazy the driving is. You can share a taxi, so find out what others in your taxi are paying. If you’re sharing with locals, pay a little more if you can, round up to the nearest 50 maybe?
When you get to Shillong, you’ll need to get a Sumo to Cherrapungee and it should take about 2 hours. Sumos are big 4x4s that cram in far too many people than they can possibly have capacity for. But they’re cheap and quick. What’s not to love? They often like to wait until the car is full so be prepared to hang around for more passengers.
If you didn’t manage to find any other tourists at Guwahati, have another look in Shillong. You’ll likely find someone here who is also trying to get to the bridges.
To find the Sumo’s heading towards Cherrapungi, you need to walk a little way out of the town. You’ll likely be dropped off in Shillong at a taxi rank where you can ask someone for directions. You might have to be persuasive to get directions as many people will try and take you themselves.
You can negotiate a price you’re happy to pay, if by this point, you just want to get there.
We arrived here at 4:20am and were searching for somewhere to stay until 10am. Turns out, the entire town was pretty much full. So, we actually did pay ₹200 in a private taxi, just to get to Cherrapunji quickly. We were knackered!
If you do get a sumo, it should cost you no more than ₹70.
Cherrapungi, Where to stay
If you can, stay at By The Way Backpackers. It’s the best hostel and the owner is really friendly. We paid ₹250 per person for a clean private room.
If there are no beds at By The Way, you won’t have to walk too far. La Kupar Inn or Lyn Lyn Homestay are just some alternatives close to By The Way but we haven’t stayed here.
What to take
You don’t need to take your huge heavy backpack if you don’t want to. We packed one bag and shared the load between us. (I love travelling as a couple!) We were able to leave our big bags at By The Way and they were secure. Another great reason to stay here.
Depending on how long you’re planning to stay in Nongriat, take enough clothes with you and something to swim in. Sensible walking shoes are important especially if you want to do other treks once you’re at the village. It’s known as one of the wettest parts of the world here! Flip flops just won’t do. Our shower was a bucket shower in a small hut like space, so I did wear my flip flops to shower in. If that’s not something you’re always prepared for, pack your flip flops just in case. Take a bottle of water with you and a few snacks too for a quick burst of energy. We took some nuts and we were thankful that we did.
Just don’t take too many things, you’ll only have to carry unnecessary stuff and that sucks. Nongriat literally means ‘bored of clouds’ unless you fry like a piece of bacon, you probably won’t need sun cream.
How to reach the start of the trek
From Cherrapunji, you need to reach the beginning of the trek that leads you to Nongriat.
You can either hitch a ride or get the bus. We took the bus and recommended this way. The bus reaches Cherrpungi in the morning and stops opposite By The Way at about 9am. There are more buses but this is a good time to leave. Our bus was really full, as in, India full. There were just as many people on the top and sides of the bus as there were inside the bus!
The bus takes about 40 minites and cost ₹20 which you pay on the bus. You need to get off at a village called Tyrna and follow the road signs to the double decker root bridge. The locals will no doubt know where you’re going so don’t worry too much about missing your stop. Walk a little way through the village and on your left, you’ll spot the beginning of the steps leading down.
Get ready, because now it begins! The trek includes 5,000 steps. Yep, 5,000. That’s definitely not a typo. We travelled at a very comfortable pace with some awesome people we met at By the Way. It took us 2 hours in total to reach the village of Nongriat and this included plenty of rest stops.
You’ll walk down the steps which pass through some other tiny villages. You’ll find loads of tables set up along the way where locals are selling bottles of water and snacks to all the people making the trek that day. This is the only way in and out of the village.
Towards the end, you reach a long swing bridge which passes above a collection of huge blue pools and a waterfall which you can swim in. The water is so extremely pure and fresh you absolutely have to have a dip.
About 15/20 minutes from here is Nongriat where you’ll find the double decker root bridges and accommodation.
Nongriat, where to stay
We stayed at Serene Guest House owned by a guy called Byron. He’s excellent and provided us with gourmet home cooked food for our entire stay. You’ll see a sign for Serene Guest House as soon as you reach the village. Byron asked for ₹200 per person and the rooms were really clean and the beds are comfy.
We only ate here but we heard there are other guest houses around which also sell food. We also heard, Byrons food is the best.
Byron offers work exchange and if he needs the help he will let you stay for free.
The entire village is accessed by narrow pathways and steps leading off in all directions. You can spend a while walking around but the village is tiny.
Things to do
Obviously the big one is the double decker bridge. We paid ₹20 to take our camera. There is one small changing area with a door if you want to swim. Be aware that this is still India and perhaps a tiny two piece isn’t appropriate. Wear shorts and T shirt ladies!
There are many more bridges however, and they are all accessible. You can find them easily by following the paths that lead off from Nongriat. Just ask the locals and they’ll happily point you in the right direction.
There is a gigantic waterfall called Rainbow falls you can trek to. It takes about 1.5 hours each way. It took us 4 hours in total including plenty of relaxing time. The path was really dangerous at times and isn’t maintained as well so be careful if you’re not too confident on tricky, uneven walkways. We were using our hands a lot of the time and found the stones in some places to be really slippy!
The reward is completely worth it however, and in our opinion, an absolute must. Remember, you might not come back!
There a tonnes of treks down here, just ask the locals where you’re staying for all the details.
How to get back
So, there really is only one way, and that, unfortunately is back up those 5,000 steps.
It took us 2 hours to get back, again, with many more rest stops. Once we reached Tyrna, we followed the road signs to Cherrapunji and waited for a car to hitch a ride back.
Once back to town, we stuck around for a day or two to let our sore thighs recover. There isn’t much to do in Cherrpunji other than take a few walks, and that’s exactly what we did!
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