In the past, people from Shnongpdeng village would have to walk several kilometres from their homes just to cross a river.
Suddenly one day, a villager's herculean strength and willpower lay bare before his very eyes when he took the onus to fix the problem by planting a living root that could be used as a hanging bridge.
The man's name was Mawphlang, and he used to be a fisherman who would often spend time near the river. One day, while fishing in the Umngot River, Mawphlang noticed that there were no hanging bridges for people to cross over to get to the other side of the river. He then took it upon himself to plant a root that could be used as a bridge.
Initially, his village didn't like the idea of constructing hanging bridges since it would take up too much time and resources. But Mawphlang was adamant because he wasn't willing to spend hours walking across the river every day or lose his life trying to cross during the rainy season. So he planted a root and watched it closely every day. And as expected, the root began to grow and extend its branches on both banks of the river.
After some time, Mawphlang's hanging bridge gained enough strength and length that people from his village started using it for daily routine crossing. Before too long, word of his invention spread like wildfire to the neighbouring villages, who also wanted their own hanging bridges. This gave birth to a new profession with no prior experience or knowledge required.
An experienced villager would select a healthy fig sapling at least 50 feet long near the bank of any river and plant it across, making sure that it extends its branches on both banks. Then, he would tie two or three supporting ropes around the sapling in order to hold it up in place.
Ropes, nylon nets and other materials are used in building these living bridges because they allow the tree roots to grow throughout the structure in an undisturbed manner. Once in a while, when required, one or more strands of iron chains are added to these structures.
The root bridges of Mawsynram and the surrounding areas were first documented by an engineer, John L. Baker, in 1924 during his expedition to find new ways for increasing the production of Indian opium. Though he was quite confused at that time as to how these structures actually turned out to be living root bridges, there was no denying that they were strong enough to hold the weight of at least two men.
Two years later, an English forester named Douglas Forsyth, who was working for the North Eastern State Transport Corporation, took some pictures of these bridges and submitted them to The Indian Forester journal.