Thrilling Story Explaining Why This 82-Yr-Old Built 12 Artificial Glaciers

The beauty of nature experienced in the Tibetan Himalayan peaks urge us to create our escapades, omitting our daily commute of the urban life. These peaks covered with white quilts are shared by the region of Ladakh, the best place to find peace and tranquility. The residents of Ladakh are a major reason to find nature in its indigenous form. But we never take into account the problems they face.

Apart from all the prevalent problems, water scarcity was the biggest one. However, it did not last for long as Chewang Norphel Came to rescue with an impulsive idea, earning him the title ofLadakh’s Ice Man.


Emphasizing the problem

Water scarcity is an acute problem in Ladakh, where 80 percent of the population relies on farming. The region receives very low rainfall (about 50 mm a year on average) and the locals have to seamlessly rely on the water from melting glaciers during the summers to irrigate their fields. However, global warming had led to the melting of glaciers.

On his way to work on a bitingly cold winter’s day, Chewang spotted a pipe of running water outside his home which had flown into a nearby pit and was frozen there. 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. Chewang, a civil engineer, realized that slowing down a stream could help diverting it into valleys, which will stay frozen for longer seasons of the year, thereby creating an artificial glacier.

Work of an artificial glacier

The artificial glacier, as conceptualized by Chewang, is an intricate network of water channels and dams along the upper slope of a valley. During the months of November and December, water is diverted towards the shady side of the mountain where it can slow down and freeze (in a way that quickly flowing water will not). At each dip in the terrain, retaining walls are built that further slows down the flow of water (acting like mini-dams) and facilitate its freezing in the form of steps. The entire mountain slope then becomes an artificial glacier, and efforts are made to trap every drop of water in the winter, which would otherwise be wasted. 

The artificial glacier is located between a village and a natural glacier at different altitudes to ensure that the water melts at different times. The artificial glacier located closest to the village or at the lowest altitude melts first, and provides irrigation water at the crucial sowing time in the months of April and May. As the temperature rises, the next glacier, which is located at a higher altitude, melts. Since this process of glaciers melting at different times continues, there is assured irrigation for the fields below. 

Scaled, Mapped and Achieved

After researching on the situation, Chewang was ready with the remedy. With his hard work and motivation, he built 12 artificial glaciers, along with his team of volunteers, which has now significantly recharged groundwater in that area alongside providing water to remote villages for irrigation. The distance spanned by these glaciers vary from 500 feet to two km, and serve over 100 villages in the region.

A simple and low-cost project, Chewang’s artificial glaciers have convinced even the most skeptical farmers in Ladakh. Looking back, he says that the most challenging part of his activity was to make people understand about the new concept. “Everybody would laugh at me and my purposes and the way I ventured this project with my speed and dedication. Thank God, in the end it was a big success, and people approved of it.”

Chewang has received many prestigious awards including the Padma Shri in 2015. In 2012, award-winning documentary filmmaker Aarti Shrivastava directed a short film on his life namedWhite Knight.The film was screened in many festivals in India and abroad, bringing recognition to the man who sees no divinity in his achievements and owes his acts for the betterment of the society. 

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