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Ready to put your best foot forward? From hiking through the clouds to walking across bridges made of grass, step up to see the most unforgettable footbridges on the planet.
River deep, mountain high
You have to be steady on your feet to make is across Pakistan's Hussaini Hanging Bridge. Traversing the Hunza River in the Karakorum mountains, the widely spaced, rather ramshackle collection of wooden strips that forms the bridge doesn't inspire confidence. However, if you need a distraction from the thought of all that icy water rushing past beneath you, just look up. The views across the Himalaya and Karakorum mountain ranges are simply stunning. One good thing about the bridge: its basic structure made it easy enough to rebuild after it was swept away by flood waters four years ago.
Here's a quick quiz: in which country would you find Europe's highest suspension bridge? If you said Switzerland, go to the top of the class. High in the Swiss Alps – atop Mount Titlis, to be precise, 3000 metres above sea level – this bridge has some of the best views in the world. On a clear day, those with a strong stomach are able to gaze down as far as 500 metres. A rotating cable car takes you up to the bridge, and if you want to make a day of it, other activities in the area include hiking through glaciers and strolling around a high-altitude lake. Remember to rug up: at this altitude, it is chilly even in summer.
Grow your own
Some people build bridges. Others grow them. In Maghalaya, India, one of the wettest places on the planet, villagers became tired of seeing their bridges being continually washed away. So they started making bridges from living trees, stretching the strong and flexible roots of the rubber fig tree, across the river using hollowed-out betel nut tree trunks. It is a slow process – the "construction" period is 15 to 20 years – but the resulting bridges can stretch more than 30 metres, and even get stronger as they grow older. The most spectacular is the two-storey Umshiang Bridge outside the village of Nongriat, about 10km south of the town of Cherrapun.
Do a few planks fastened to the side of a mountain even count as a bridge? Either way, we couldn't leave this amazing piece of infrastructure off the list. The Chang Kong Cliff Road, near the Chinese city of Xian, was crafted 700 years ago by hermits heading for the hills. They must have been hardy types; even with a safety harness on, the combination of a bunch of rickety wooden boards, a single chain and a sheer drop is pretty intimidating. Even more intimidating: plenty of people choose to do the climb in the dark, in order to watch the sun rise from a perch on a peak. Stupid or brave? Probably both.
A spiky story
There's more to Madagascar than lemurs. Take Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, known for its jagged rock formations, which resemble the sort of stone forest you would expect to find in a tale by Tolkien. This remarkable landscape has become a popular playground for adventurous travellers: to explore its clefts and fissures, you will need to climb up boulders and scramble through shallow rock tunnels. Perhaps the most breathtaking moment, however, comes when you reach this narrow hanging bridge, suspended 200 metres above the ground. Cross it if you dare.
Asia's mightiest rainforest, Taman Negara in Malaysia, is 130 million years old. Covering more than 4000 square kilometres, it is home to rare species including elephants, rhinos and even tigers. It also has the world's longest canopy walk, consisting of 10 linked footbridges swaying 45 metres above the forest floor. The walkway was initially built for researchers studying the forest's fauna and flora, which includes one of the highest diversity of tree species on the planet. As you walk through the treetops, keep an eye out for monkeys, giant squirrels or the park's most distinctive birds, the hornbills.
Parting the waters
Usually bridges go over water, rather than under it, but the Moses Bridge turns that idea on its head. This remarkable Dutch bridge is designed to let you feel the waters have parted for you, just like Moses crossing the Red Sea. The reality is a bit more prosaic: barriers and a pump system ensure that the water never washes over the sunken bridge, made of waterproofed wood. The bridge, designed by Dutch architects RO&AD, leads to the historic Fort Roovere, but we reckon the bridge itself is the real draw.
Stroll into the sunset
The U Bein Bridge may be the most photographed spot in Myanmar, and it's not hard to see why. The bridge, which stretches almost 200 metres across Taungthaman Lake outside Mandalay, is particularly busy at sunrise and sunset, when camera-toting tourists are joined by fishermen, crimson-clad monks and bicycle-riding villagers flocking across in droves. The bridge, made of teak logs, has been standing for around 200 years, thanks to a gentle curve that helps it withstand the effects of wind and water. In the dry season, the ground lies four metres below; in the rainy season, the waters may lap at the bridge itself.
You have to hand it to the fishermen of Northern Ireland's County Antrim. They were willing to do what it took to get the catch of the day, even if it meant shuffling across a narrow rope bridge to an island. Today, a slightly sturdier version of that rope bridge has become Carrick-a-Rede's biggest tourist attraction, as much for the thrill of the experience as for the lovely views of the Causeway Coast it offers. The bridge may be only 20 metres long, but with a surging ocean 30 metres beneath your feet, it offers a mighty adrenaline rush.
Cool as ice
The Swiss don't get fazed easily. A decade ago, when a retreating glacier meant visitors could no longer reach the scenic Trift Hut, they simply built a suspension bridge 100 metres up in the Alps – because that's what the Swiss do. When it transpired that some visitors were intimidated by the violent swaying of the bridge, they simply built a replacement, with higher handrails and stabilising cables. Some still find the new model hair-raising – at 170 metres long, it is the longest pedestrian-only suspension bridge in the world – but we think it's pretty cool.
All sewn up
Most bridges are built to last. Not the grass bridges of Peru, a tradition that dates back to the Incan Empire. Woven out of native grass, these bridges are cut down every year, to be replaced with a freshly woven version. Once, there were hundreds scattered across the country. Now there is just one, at Huinchiri, four hours south of Cusco. The structure may look flimsy – the surface consists of four parallel ropes covered with a mat of small twigs, with two thick cables as arm rails – but these bridges are surprisingly robust. The Spanish conquistadors not only rode their horses across, but also dragged cannons across the larger ones.
A walk in the clouds
The unrest in the Ukraine means the Crimean mountains are pretty much off-limits these days, but we wouldn't have been in a rush to visit the Ai-Petri mountain anyway. True, at a height of 1230 metres, its hanging bridges offers stunning views – on those days when the mountain top is not shrouded with fog and cloud, that is. That's not what put us off, however. No, the really bad news is that this area is also particularly breezy, with winds of up to 170km/h not uncommon. Feeling shaky yet?
Take the high road
Life in the Himalayas is not all that different from the life that we know. Take the Nepalese town of Ghasa, where the locals had something of a traffic problem, caused by farmers herding their flocks through the town's narrow streets. They did what most communities would do, and built a bypass. Their bypass just happens to be a bridge hanging high above a river valley. Although it looks a bit fragile, it is regularly used not just by herders and their flocks, but also by hikers following the popular Annapurna Circuit.
Remember Indiana Jones hacking away at the rope bridge he was standing on, sending the pursuing baddies tumbling into the crevasse below? It's a trick he picked up from Japan's Heike clan. They built several rudimentary bridges across Shikoku's Iya River, woven from wisteria wines with planks spaced every 20 to 30 centimetres, and without cushy extras such as hand rails. Should their enemies appear, they simply cut down the bridges, thereby cutting off access to their headquarters. The three remaining bridges are a lot more stable than their predecessors: rebuilt every three years, their rungs are only 18cm apart, and hidden steel cables offer extra support.
Into the blue
Standing atop the mighty peaks of the Italian Alps, it's easy to imagine you can touch the sky. This beautiful environment is also a particularly harsh one. Over the centuries, those who passed this way – from Arab invaders to Christian pilgrims – had to brave everything from freezing weather to ravenous wolves. These days, the biggest challenge facing visitors to the St Gervasio Gorge is the extraordinary 470-metre-long bridge. Even with a safety harness on, that 100-metre drop makes this a definite stomach-churner.
Cracks in the glass
You would think the people who built the Great Wall might have a way with bridges too, but the most recent attempt at a record-breaking footbridge left the Chinese with egg on their faces. In September, the opening of a 300-metre glass bridge in Pingjiang made headlines around the world. Through the 24mm-thick glass panels, visitors with nerves of steel could peer down 180 metres to the valley beneath. Just over a week later, the bridge was shut for repairs after cracks reportedly appeared in the glass floor. No word yet on when it reopens but don't expect to find us at the front of the queue when it does.
Riding the wave
Singapore shed its alarmingly straight reputation a while ago but, if you still need some convincing, this curvaceous footbridge should do the trick. It's hard to think of another bridge as distinctive as Singapore's Henderson Waves bridge, which connects two of the island state's green spaces, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park. Inspired by the shape of an unfurling wave, the bridge undulates all along its 274-metre length, curving up into shady niches where pedestrians can sit down for a rest. It is just as striking at night, illuminated by soft-hued LED lighting.
See also: Transparent glass hotel rooms hang of side of cliff
See also: World's scariest footpath reopens