Ladakh’s beautiful landscape and mountains might seem like a paradise for tourists, but only the people living there truly know the water crisis they face. It’s not a surprise, after all however beautiful Ladakh is, it is a cold, dry and infertile land at the end. However, you won’t believe how this 82 year old engineer managed to solve the water crisis.
Meet Chewang Norphel, an 82-year old retired civil engineer, who managed to solve the crisis of Ladakh by constructing Artificial Glaciers. Chewang, now known as ‘Ice man of India’ has created around 12 artificial glaciers in Ladakh to help people deal with water scarcity in this cold, mountainous region.
Born in 1935 to a middle-class family in Leh, he completed his engineering from Lucknow. Chewang worked for the rural development department of Jammu and Kashmir for 35 years, before he ‘officially’ retired in 1995 due to bad health conditions.
After retiring, he saw the problems that people faced. Now, Ladakh being a cold mountainous region experienced very low rainfall making people dependant on the water from glaciers as the primary water source. 80% of the villagers in Ladakh have a farming background, and the sowing season is during the Spring. But, the glaciers melted during the Summer and Autumn, where the water would flow away into the river. This would result in wastage of water as well as low water availability during the spring. Also, global warming was another backlash to the villagers. This forced many locals to leave their closely knit communities and go to cities in search for work.
While looking for solutions, Chewang, in 1987, spotted how a small stream of water had frozen solid under the shade of a group of poplar trees. The stream flowed normally elsewhere in the area. It struck him that the water that melts from natural glaciers due to high temperatures in summer goes to waste as it flows into the river. Instead, if this water could be stored, then it would freeze during winter thus forming an artificial glacier and permitting its use in the spring.
He then put all his engineering knowledge, field experience and passion in this idea. He started his first experiment in Phutse village. He made canals to divert the water from the main stream to small catchment areas located four kms away from the village. He also created a shaded area to keep the water frozen in winters. This project cost him around Rs. 90,000.
He has till date helped create around 12 artificial glaciers which have significantly recharged the ground water and are providing water to around 100 villages for irrigation. The length of the glaciers varies from 500 feet to 2 km. Chewang also won a Padma Shri in 2015 for his extraordinary efforts.