Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. When areas in and around Leh began to experience water shortages, life didn’t grind to a halt. Why? Because Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer in the Jammu and Kashmir government came up with the idea of artificial glaciers.
Ladakh, a cold desert at an altitude of 3,000-3,500 metres above sea level, has a low average annual rainfall rate of 50mm. Due to this, glaciers have always been the only source of water. Agriculture in particular is completely dependent on glacier melt unlike the rest of river/monsoon-fed India. But over the years with increasing effects of climate change, rainfall and snowfall patterns have been changing, resulting in severe shortage and drought situations. Given the severe winter conditions, the window for farming is usually limited to one harvest season.
It is located between the natural glacier above and the village below. The one closer to the village and lowest in altitude melts first, providing water during April/May, the crucial sowing season. Further layers of ice above melt with increasing temperature thus ensuring continuous supply to the fields. Thus farmers have been able to manage two crops instead of one. It costs about Rs.1,50,000 and above to create one depending on the size and location.
Fondly called the “glacier man”, Mr. Norphel has designed over 15 artificial glaciers in and around Leh since 1987. In recognition of his pioneering effort, he was conferred the Padma Shri by President Pranab Mukherjee, in 2015.
There are few basic steps followed in creating the artificial glacier.
River or stream water at higher altitude is diverted to a shaded area of the hill, facing north, where the winter sun is blocked by a ridge or a mountain range.
At the start of winter/November, the diverted water is made to flow onto sloping hill face through distribution channels.
Stone embankments are built at regular intervals which impede the flow of water, making shallow pools and freeze, forming a cascade of ice along the slope.
Ice formation continues for 3-4 months resulting in a large accumulation of ice which is referred to as an “artificial glacier”.