Ice stupa in Himalayan landscape.
Ice-melt from the ice stupa in Shara village of Ladakh forming a small stream.
Photo: Athar Parvaiz


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As glaciers way up in the mountains start supplying melt-water annually from July to early September, when the summer heat is at its peak, farmers in Ladakh Himalayas have traditionally struggled for enough supplies of water for irrigating their crops in the beginning of the farming season. Creating artificial glaciers could solve their problem.

Ladakh, some 1,250 km north-west of India’s capital, New Delhi, is a high-altitude desert in the western Himalayas, 4,450 metres above sea level. Blessed with a stunning landscape, the region is a hugely popular tourist destination. Adding to farmers’ worries, less snowfall and irregular ice-melting has become an almost permanent feature in the region in recent years, making the availability of water early in the season even more challenging. At best, average annual precipitation in Ladakh is four inches.  

The Indus River, which originates in south-western Tibet and passes through Ladakh before meandering into neighbouring Pakistan, flows way below the farmlands of the district of Leh – too far below for the farmers to rely on its water. But thanks to Chewant Norphel’s pioneering work in 1990s, Ladakhi farmers in some villages have been able to adapt to this climatic and geographical disadvantage in recent years.

Modelled on sacred buildings

Norphel, a retired civil engineer who is now 84, cracked a solution to farmers’ water woes in Ladakh years before world leaders assembled in Kyoto in 1997 to put in place the first treaty to address climate change.

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