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He is well known as India’s ‘glacier man’, but for 74-year-old retired government civil engineer, Chewang Norphel, accolades have made little dent in his quiet determination to build more high-altitude water conservation systems, or ‘artificial glaciers’, to beat the lack of water from receding Himalayan glaciers.

Over 70 percent of water in Ladakh district, India’s northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, is sourced in springtime from the melting snows off glaciers, and is the sole source of water for irrigation for its remote mountain communities. But in recent years, climate change and rising temperatures have resulted in decreasing snowfall in the upper-reach ‘accumulation’ zones of these glaciers, leading to reduced waters in the springtime.

“I noticed from my garden tap that the water would freeze where it flowed, so that’s where I got the idea of designing artificial glaciers that would freeze extra water in winter, melting just in time for sowing crops in April and May,” says this unassuming, quiet man.

In November, trickling glacial streams are diverted and made to flow down nearby slopes through channels and outlets with 1.5-inch diameter pipes installed every five feet.

Stone embankments built at regular intervals impede the flow of this water, making shallow pools down the mountain slope, which fill up gradually and freeze almost instantly in winter, forming a thick glacier-like sheet of ice over the slope that Norphel calls “artificial glacier.”

So far, Norphel has helped build 10 artificial glaciers, all near villages whose communities have helped construct and maintain them. In Stakna village, some 35 kilometres from Leh, 60-year-old Tashi Tundup is happy with the ‘Stakna glacier’.

What an intriguing idea!

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