Between the living root bridges of the state of Meghalaya and Tamil Nadu’s mighty Pamban, India’s first sea bridge, the nation has had a long, winding past with the structure, which speaks not only of important times in history, but also connects otherwise distant regions with one another.
Today the country boasts of exemplary engineering prowess that governs the construction of large bridges such as the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Mahatma Gandhi Setu. Here are eight iconic bridges that show us how we learned from ancient India in this regard, and how these structures have stood the test of time.
1. Pamban bridge, Tamil Nadu
The iconic Pamban bridge, which connects Rameswaram Island to the mainland, is nothing but a true engineering marvel. Built over a century ago, the bridge is 2.2 km long and was once India’s longest sea bridge till the construction of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai.
The construction of the bridge was initiated in 1911 during British rule in India, and it finally opened in 1914. A highlight of this historic bridge is the unique centre portion, which opens up to allow ferry movement. This double-leaf section located midway along the bridge and designed by German engineer Scherzer is called the Scherzer Span.
The century-old Pamban Bridge, which has survived several cyclones and calamities, will soon be replaced by a new bridge being constructed parallelly to the former. In a first in the country, the new bridge will have a panel that lifts up vertically to allow the cross-movement of trains and sea vessels.
2. Namdang Stone Bridge, Assam
Though worn down and not as aesthetic as other historic bridges, the Namdang Stone Bridge in Assam is known for the way in which it was constructed.
It was built by Ahom King Rudra Singha II in 1703 on the Namdang River and is made of a single piece of stone. It was constructed by craftsmen from Bengal who used materials like rice, eggs, black lentils and lime for construction.
The bridge has endured several natural calamities like earthquakes and floods for over three centuries, and still stands strong and operational. Currently, a road bridge on which NH 37 passes, it connects Sibsagar to Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.
3. Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge, Meghalaya
The famous Umshiang double-decker root bridge is located inside the thick tropical forest of Meghalaya. Created by the Khasi tribes, it doesn’t involve any construction labour or materials, but only the living roots of trees.
To construct such a bridge, the Khasis train the roots of a kind of Indian rubber tree, as well as a secondary root system, to form a path over the river.
Believed to be over 500 years old, there are several of these kinds of living-root bridges in Cherrapunji. Among them, Umshiang is popular for its double stacks of roots that form bridges one above the other, making it very unique from others.
4. Shahi Bridge, Uttar Pradesh
The Shahi Bridge, also known as the Mughal Bridge or the Munim Khan’s Bridge, was built during the reign of Akbar by Munim Khan, the governor of the state of Jaunpur.
The bridge was built over the river Gomati between 1568 and 1569 and is a beautiful remnant of the Mughal rule in Jaunpur.
Designed by Afghan architect Afzal Ali, the bridge’s carriageway is at ground level. It has ten gateways for the water to flow and umbrella-like pavilions erected upon the pillars.
The 16th-century bridge was once severely damaged in the 1934 earthquake, and seven of its arches were rebuilt. The architectural wonder is open to the public.
5. Howrah Bridge, West Bengal
Among the most popular and iconic bridges in India, the Howrah Bridge is located between the twin cities of Howrah and Kolkata.
Built-in 1943 over the Hooghly River, it is considered among the longest cantilever bridges in the world. A few years after its construction, it was renamed Rabindra Setu after the first Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It is a significant landmark in West Bengal that one must definitely not miss out on visiting.
It reportedly carries approximately 100,000 vehicles and countless pedestrians every day.
6. Bridges 226 and 541, Kalka-Shimla railway
The Kalka-Shimla Railway is a narrow-gauge railway between the mountainous route of Kalka and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. The railway was built under the order of Herbert Septimus Harington between 1898 and 1903 to connect Shimla, the summer capital of India under British rule.
This Kalka-Shimla railway was awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
The line has around 864 small and big bridges, among which bridge number 541 and 226 are most unique. Bridge no 541 has four storeys of arch galleries, situated between Kandaghat and Kanoh stations. Number 226 spans a deep valley and was constructed with five-tier arch galleries. It is situated between Sonwara and Dharampur.
7. Aryankavu bridge, Kerala
The Aryankavu Bridge in Thenmala, Kerala is a fine specimen of European architecture in India.
Built on 13 arches in 1904, a metre-gauge line operated on the bridge as part of the Kollam–Sengottai Railway line. The bridge connects two hillocks and stands on thirteen granite pillars, each almost a hundred feet tall.
It is sandwiched between the Kollam-Thirumangalam National Highway and the Kazhuthurutti river.
The bridge is over a century old but shows little sign of deterioration. The rail route has been completely converted to broad gauge.
8. Golden Bridge, Gujarat
The bridge connects Ankleshwar and Bharuch in Gujarat and was built in 1881 by the British over the Narmada River.
Also known as the Narmada Bridge, it was constructed by a team led by architect Sir John Hawkshaw. The bridge was called the Golden Bridge due to the heavy expenditure (Rs 45.65 lakh) the British government had incurred during its construction due to damage from heavy water flow.
It was originally designed for a single railway line but later converted to a narrow two-lane road bridge, and is said to have carried over 10,000 vehicles and over a lakh people every day. Though it still remains sturdy and strong, it retired from services in July 2021 when a new four-lane road bridge was built.
Pamban bridge: 10 awesome facts about India’s first sea bridge, published by The Economic Times on 13 November 2013.
Namdang Stone Bridge – Things to Know Before Visiting, published by Travalour.
Exploring Umshiang, Home To The Double Decker Living Roots Bridges, by Shuchita Joshi; published by Outlook Traveller on 26 September 2018.
Shahi Bridge by the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
Howrah bridge by India. com
Edited by Divya Sethu