ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY profile ten beautiful bridges in India you must surely cross in your lifetime
India is a land of mighty rivers and spectacular bridges. From the hollow chug of a train crossing a river bridge to the rhythmic rattle of automobile tyres on the tarmac or the gentle swing of a bamboo bridge; there’s great romance and excitement in crossing bridges. Be it India’s longest river bridge – the 9km long Bhupen Hazarika Setu across the Brahmaputra or the 5.75km Mahatma Gandhi Setu over the Ganga at Patna to massive bridges over the Mahanadi in Odisha and Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, bridges in India come in all shapes, sizes and statistics.
Do all Mumbaikars know that the Bandra-Worli Sea Link they cross to and fro everyday is the longest sea bridge in the country? Vidyasagar Setu over the Hooghly in Kolkata is India’s longest cable-stayed bridge while the 9.5km long Dhola Sadiya Bridge over the Lohit and Brahmaputra rivers connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, is the longest road bridge. We pick 10 bridges you must surely cross – each unique for its scenic or historic value.
Hanging Bridge, Damro (Arunachal Pradesh)
In the mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh, criss-crossed by rivers, you encounter a charming assortment of bridges. From Pasighat, Komsing to Mechuka, you find lovely bamboo or steel bridges lined by fluttering Buddhist prayers flags. But take the back road from Pasighat to Yingkiong, and you come across the longest bridge in Arunachal at Damroh. Stretching across the yawning Yamne river is a giant lattice structure akin to a giant spider’s web. In some places, the planks give way to strips of bamboo that serve as a toehold for nimble-footed kids and local herders going to the forest to tend to their herds of mithun (semi-domesticated bovine)! Stay at Yamne Abor for local explorations.
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati and Dibrugarh, from where Pasighat is 155 km away
Double Decker Living Root Bridge, Laitkynsew (Meghalaya)
In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, the Living Root Bridges are centuries old modes of crossing wild mountain streams. Their natural beauty takes your breath away as you wonder how simple village folks could train the roots of the Ficus elastica tree to interweave and create a Cat’s Cradle-like mesh bridge that spans rivulets. The ancient tradition continues to this day so much so that any passing villager, young or old will diligently twist a fresh errant tendril around an older root, allowing it to curl and grow over each other, strengthening over time. Some root bridges are so strong, they are paved with stones! Meghalaya is home to several root bridges like Riwai’s Jing Kieng Jri, a 2km hike from Mawlynnong. Near Cherrapunjee, a long trudge into Laitkynsew valley leads to an ancient double-decker root bridge. Here you can take a dip in blue-green pools set amidst boulders or savour a natural fish spa.
Jet Airways flies to Kolkata and Shillong
Dudhsagar Railway Bridge (Goa)
Travellers on the Vasco-Madgao-Londa train route await the moment when they get close enough to be sprayed by one of India’s most spectacular waterfalls. True to its name, the Dudhsagar literally spills over the mountain ridge like ‘an ocean of milk’. Set in the Western Ghats at the Goa-Karnataka border, the waterfall lies within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary (Mollem National Park). Dudhsagar is created by the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi which plunges 310m to form India’s fifth highest waterfall. Mist covers the imposing ridge that is cleaved by a fairytale bridge and railway line. It is an unbeatable and exhilarating experience for train passengers; some even fling coconuts or coins as sacred offerings, much to the consternation of revelers below! The bridge is accessible from Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka) or a dirt track from Collem (6 km off Mollem). Stay at Dudhsagar Resort near Mollem checkpost or Off The Grid Farm near Castle Rock.
Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa
Pamban Bridge (Tamil Nadu)
Not far from Dhanushkodi’s legendary Rama Setu or Rama’s bridge built by the vanara sena (monkey army) to reach Lanka, lies another epic bridge. Looming forty feet above the sea’s aquamarine waters, the Pamban railway bridge connects Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge and the longest in the country until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link upstaged it in 2010. Despite its beautiful setting, the bridge is located in the world’s second most corrosive environment after Florida, lashed by high wind velocities and cyclones. The metre-gauge line from Pamban to Dhanushkodi was destroyed during the 1964 cyclone. One of the most amazing features of the Pamban railway bridge is its Scherzer rolling type lift span that is raised to let ships pass. Its two wings, each weighing 415 tons, are still opened manually using levers! It’s best viewed from the adjacent Annai Indira Road bridge.
Jet Airways flies to Madurai and Trichy
Howrah Bridge, Kolkata (West Bengal)
From Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen to Satyajit Ray’s Parash Pathar and Shakti Samanta’s Howrah Bridge to Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku, Kolkata’s iconic cantilever bridge has been immortalized in celluloid with several films featuring it. Built in 1942 to replace an old pontoon bridge, the Howrah Bridge or Rabindra Setu across the Hooghly connecting Calcutta to Howrah is riveting in more ways than one! The metal wonder does not have any nuts or bolts but was created using rivets. 26,500 tons of steel was used, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile Tiscrom alloy steel was supplied by Tata Steel from its steel plant at Jamshedpur nearby. Within a few years of construction, nearly 27,400 vehicles, 1,21,000 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle used it daily. Till 1993, it carried trams as well! Flanked by 15 feet wide footpaths, today it sees a daily traffic of over 1 lakh vehicles and 1.5 lakh pedestrians, making it the world’s busiest cantilever bridge.
Jet Airways flies to Kolkata
Mountain Railway Bridges in Nilgiris/Shimla/Darjeeling
There is a quaint romance associated with tooting vintage trains chugging up mountains, tunnels and bridges – a theme exploited repeatedly in Indian movies. Three of India’s Mountain Railways – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) and Kalka-Shimla Railway – have been collectively designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty in the Nilgiris crosses 250 bridges rolling past tea estates, churches, lakes, gardens and viewpoints. The 96 km train ride from Kalka to Shimla has 864 bridges while the 88km journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling presents stunning views of the Himalayas.
Jet Airways flies to Coimbatore, Chandigarh and Bagdogra
Nurabad Bridge (Madhya Pradesh)
Forget the Bridge over River Kwai, the striking bridge over River Kuwari, a branch of the Chambal, has to be seen to be believed. Located between Gwalior and Morena at Nurabad, a city founded in the 16th century, the ornate stone bridge bears a quiet alluring beauty. Pleasing Mughal arches, minarets and stone pavilions mark this bridge built by Motimad Khan, a sardar of Aurangzeb during the Mughal period. Historian James Tod in his 1829 book ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India’ writes: ‘The Taili-ca-Pool, or ‘Oilman’s Bridge’ at Noorabad, is a magnificent memorial of the trade…These Tailis (oilmen) perambulate the country with skins of oil on a bullock, and from hard-earned pence erect the structures which bear their name.’
Jet Airways flies to Delhi
Wellesley Bridge, Srirangapatna (Karnataka)
Stretching across the Cauvery at Srirangapatna is the historic Wellesley Bridge. Erected in 1804 at the princely sum of rupees five and a half lakh, it was built under the supervision of Dewan Purnaiya and named after the Governor General – the Marquis of Wellesley. An interesting specimen of vernacular architecture, the bridge is built only with granite and its stone pillars capped by stone corbels surmounted by stone girders have survived the heaviest floods in the Cauvery for over two centuries. The fact that the bridge is still functional speaks volumes of its architectural genius.
Jet Airways flies to Bangalore
Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad (Gujarat)
It was from the historic Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad that thousands heard Mahatma Gandhi declare the Dandi March on 8 March 1930. Linking the western and eastern parts of the city across the Sabarmati River, the 125-year-old steel bridge with its emblematic arches was the first of its kind in Ahmedabad. After floods destroyed the original wooden bridge constructed by British engineers in 1875, a new bridge was made in 1892. Engineer Himmatlal Dhirajram Bhachech built it out of imported Birmingham steel at a cost of Rs.4,07,000 and named it after Sir Barrow Helbert Ellis, commissioner of the North Zone. Since the estimated budget was Rs.5 lakh rupees, the Government suspected Himmatlal of using substandard materials. But an inquiry committee found that it was indeed a fine construction and Himmatlal was honoured with the title of Rao Sahib. When the bridge became too cramped with heavy motorized traffic, new concrete bridges were constructed on either side. In 1997, Ellis Bridge was closed to traffic and made into a walkway to preserve it as a heritage landmark of the city.
Jet Airways flies to Ahmedabad
Natural Rock Bridge, Laxmanpur (Andamans)
Neil Island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, one of the 572 islands in the Andamans, is home to a unique geological marvel. On the scenic Laxmanpur-2 beach on the western edge of the island, lies a natural rock bridge fringed with tufts of green vegetation. In this wild untouched corner, the surf recedes during low tide to leave behind shallow pools teeming with marine creatures. A short slippery walk along the beach takes you closer to this rock bridge which arcs into the Andaman Sea like a thirsty dinosaur. Dubbed as “Howrah Bridge” by nostalgic Bengali refugees who were resettled here after the Bangladesh War, it is a photographer’s delight.
Jet Airways flies to Port Blair
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of JetWings magazine.