The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills by Patrick Rogers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Green Unknown is a travel memoir. Author Patrick Rogers takes us to the North East India state of Meghalaya, to the Riwar area. This is an area which is far removed from the politics, administrative controls and religion of the rest of India.
Patrick describes himself as a trekker and documenter of the living root bridges—bridges created from the roots of the living ficus elastica tree, a form of rubber tree. Over years of cultivation some of the tree roots have been guided over rivers and chasms to form much needed and eco-friendly bridges, leaving the tree alive to co-habit with man.
This part of India is full of steep rocky river gorges, hot humid jungle and diverse groups of people who speak a multitude of languages and dialects. Patrick found that just moving from one village to its nearest neighbour often resulted in a change of language, making communication a real challenge. Some of the villages were so remote that many of the inhabitants had never seen a white man.
As well as the root bridges, Rogers’ book also covers some of his jungle treks, the locals use of Kwai (a mild drug created from Areca nuts, betel leaves and lime) and local beliefs and myths. I was very interested in the root bridges and would have been happy with a larger part of the book being taken up with these, plus more details about the jungle flora and fauna, especially during the treks. Before reading this book I’d never heard of root bridges, so learning about the them and the eco-tourism plans of a young man named Morningglory had me making my own searches for more details.
The difficulty with any travel memoir is getting the balance right between a book which fills in the gaps for friends and family who all knew parts but not the whole of any trip, and making it appealing to a wider audience. This book was certainly interesting, but I think there needs to be more on the root bridges, giving them more prominence for this to grab the attention of readers.
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The Green Unknown is about walking, without a map or a plan, across the Khasi Hills in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya—a place of jungle canyons and thousand-foot waterfalls, where it rains more than any other inhabited place in the world, where each village has its own dialect or even its own language, and where the people grow living bridges from the roots of trees. The book is an attempt to express what it’s like trying to explore, mile by mile, village by village, valley by valley, a place that’s beautiful, complex, and fascinating, but most of all, unique.
Here are some of the root bridges by kind permission of the author.