South Asia

Campaign to save rare north Indian Himalayan bridges

Steve Berry on a Zanskar rope bridge

An English tour operator has launched an appeal to save what he says are the unique footbridges of the northern Indian area of Zanskar.

Steve Berry says that only three of the bridges, made out of specially woven twigs from trees, remain.

He says that as road connections improve to the remote mountainous area, the money and know-how to preserve such bridges has diminished.

The bridges only last 15-20 years before they need to be repaired.

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"These wonderful bridges - used to traverse icy rivers in steep Himalayan valleys - are an important part of India's heritage," Mr Berry told the BBC.

"They are important as objects of beauty, important because they are still regularly used and important because they reflect the Tibetan-Buddhist culture that is so evident in this part of the world.

"To my knowledge there are only three of them left."

Mr Berry - who frequently travels to India - says that the bridges have not been well maintained in recent years because modern steel bridges have built in the Zanskar region as this remote part of the country becomes more developed.

Zanskar is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The bridges are made out of treated tree twigs - usually from birch or willow trees - that are carefully woven together over a period of months to make a naturally strong cable.

"It is an amazingly skilful process," he said, "which has no doubt been passed down from generation to generation."

Mr Berry has won the support of local people in his campaign - including the former king of Zanskar.

He hopes not only to preserve those bridges that remain - but also to build a new one with a visitor centre in Padum, the main town of the region.

Mr Berry says that a total of $14,500 is needed for the complete project, of which $3,000 will fund the first bridge.

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