Text by Rumana Maheen
Hanging bridge somewhere in between Hawai and Walong; Anjaw District
Photo: Rumana Maheen
“Roads were made for journeys not destination” –Conficious.
The question is what happens when the road that you are meant to travel is not lined with asphalt or is not even a road at all but just a trail leading nowhere.
At the end of year 2021, I found myself in Anini; capital of Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh. I was here on my field trip collecting information on macaque species that I was working towards my PhD. My work takes me to places fit to be in a fairytale complete with mystical tales of yore. Here I was greeted with magnificent sights wherever I went and abundant hospitality in the people who call this place their home. Through divine guidance and a number of administrative sanctions later I got to visit some of the frontier most regions of our country. One such place was Dambeun, a small village 32 kms from Anini in Dibang Valley District. There are no guest houses here but was welcomed into the home of a local resident introduced by an acquaintance.
One misty Mid-November morning me and my host Shri Amonge Nava (Nava means father in Idu Mishmi language) made our way across a kitchen garden towards the hanging bridge that spans across the Dri river. Here the river is calm and gentle. It had rained the previous night and now the nearby mountain tops were covered in snow announcing the arrival of winter. It was drizzling and the sun was playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds refusing to shine upon its humble subjects. As I stood on the threshold of the bridge I forced to clear my head to ready myself for the slow walk across bamboo planks but not too calm to that am rattled by the swaying bridge under my feet. Nava kindly reminds me to keep looking straight and not to focus on the water’s below. I start my solitary journey on the lively bridge and remind myself to be the slow and steady tortoise from the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”. I wonder how many more I would have to cross for them to stop being a novelty. Stepping on to a hanging bridge is not for the faint hearted. Like all things in nature, it looks serene and calm from afar but when one tries to stands in the midst of its beauty; it is terrifying and mesmerising at the same time.
Its design does not allow much for stability so as to ensure flexibility. Depending on the materials used the construct allows for movement in a single file and only on one direction as in case of a narrow 3 strips of bamboo brakes as footbridge. This is not my first time on a hanging bridge but the beauty of these seemingly alive structures still hasn’t worn off. I remain fascinate by these humble structures that dot the geography of this land and wonder of their stories.
Criss-crossing meandering streams dot the entire landscape of Arunachal Pradesh. These streams can be as wide a few kilometres to less than a few feet wide; they can be perennial or seasonal. The omnipresent rains ensure their steady uninterrupted presence sometimes transforming into mountain lakes. In the verdant landscape of Arunachal Pradesh; the suspending hanging bridges often break the monotony of blues and greens; yet maintain a harmony of its own swaying gently in the wind. For supporting the bridge and distributing its weight; these structures have towers made of metal and cement and main cables made of iron. The humble yet sturdy bamboo is often used as planks interlocked with wires to act as the footway. Such suspension bridges can often be seen connecting two landmasses dissected by a roaring river. Based on where these are located they look something out of a sci-fi novel seeming like portals transporting one to some unknown realm beyond. The weather adds to the mystical appeal with fog, mist and solitude lending it otherworldliness. These mystic structures are of vital importance to the people of these regions for they are the connecting strands for the resilient group of people, who create and maintain them.
Aside from capital required to build these structures; they often vary from one topography to another and also maybe from people to people because unlike a modern bridge these bridges require regular human touch to maintain them. They wax and wane more often than mortar and are dependent of its user’s generosity and tenacity for their continuity. They are the lifeline of people who live in these mountains and in my limited experience have witnessed the struggles of transporting food and other necessities across these bridges to their homes deep and high into the mountains. To the unaccustomed traveller, this seems like an impossible task yet to the people of this region it is but simply a matter of living. They carry on with the same zealous endeavours of cultivation on these mountains as their brethren of the plains.
Hanging bridge over Siang River at Tuting
Photo: Gojen Mihw
Since the dawn of civilization bridges have been utilized by mankind; made of the most rudimentary to the most sophisticated materials that can be found. These simple suspension bridges are not unique to Arunachal but are found in different cultures around the world and not limited to any particular region. The uniqueness to Arunachal is their relative abundance in this state compared to any other. Their mere presence is a testament to mankind’s resilience against nature. These humble structures are a reminder of a bygone era now that concrete bridges have begun replacing them. Sometimes standing alongside a concrete bridge these remain discarded and forgotten. Yet these structures in today’s time can be found all over the world and are constructed for maintaining the aesthetic of a place or to minimize ecological impact. These are different from the glass bridges now popular as tourist destinations maintained for aesthetic and not functional purposes. They are the lifeline of the people of these mountains and have adapted to a lifestyle across these bridges.
As I reach the opposite bank, I remember to pray for the hands that maintain them and hope for their continued existence. That they forever remain; swaying in the wind and deliver the people who need them.
Photo: Rumana Maheen
About the Author:
Rumana Maheen, is currently working towards her PhD and has been a Researcher at Wildlife Genetics Division of Aaranyak. Forests, wildlife, especially winged friends hold a special place in her life and hopes to be a lifelong learner at heart.
You can reach her at email@example.com