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Ice Stupas: Conserving Water In The Rancho Way!


The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato once quoted, Necessity is the mother of Invention; a need or issue encourages creative efforts to meet the need or solve the issue. And the same happened in Phyang; a remote village tucked at an elevation of 3,554 meters in Ladakh when to cope up with the acute problem arising due to water shortage is solved by erecting up some marvellous ice monuments known as Ice Stupas. These structures emerged as a relief for the locals of Phyang when climate change is causing the glaciers to melt at a rapid pace. And guess whose ingenious brain is behind the project? Sonam Wangchuk. The man who is the inspiration behind everyone’s favourite character Phunsuk Wangdu in the movie 3 Idiots, who came as a ray of hope for the youth advising to not to run after success instead chase excellence. Sonam is the native of Ladakh and the founder of Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh(SECMOL), which is an organisation founded in 1988 and aims at reforming the educational system of Ladakh.

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This region of the cold desert receives around 50 mm of annual rainfall, which is far less to quench the thirst of Ladakhis and their fields. In the last 50 years 14 per cent of the glaciers, are lost due to climate change, and at the end of the century, scientists have predicted much of the Him layers would dissipate. But Sonam came with this hilarious idea to hold and freeze the water that keeps flowing and wasting away down the streams and into the rivers throughout the winter, and when this winter water melts in spring, the problem is sorted.

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Sonam’s vision is to not only build few Stupas but hundreds of them, protecting the entire Himalayas and helping irrigate the lands and forests. The first Ice Stupa was constructed in the year 2015 when 5000 Poplar and Willow trees were planted on the outskirts of Phyang Monastery in the mountain deserts of Ladakh. When volunteers from SECMOL, Phyang monastery, and soldiers from Ladakh Scouts Regimental centre joined hands, they gave the much-required shape to the project which later became an absolute success. The volunteers helped in digging way for laying down pipes for the water that is to be transported to the site of Ice Stupa, and in monitoring the amount and rate of water that is freezing day and night to study the changes and improve the efficiency of the project. The first Stupa was approximately two-story tall, which is the highest height of Stupa recorded till date.

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The problem started arising when due to climate change Ladakhis began to face new challenges; erratic snowfall, decreasing rainfall, warm summers, and cold winters. In winters when there is no shortage of water, a lot of water escapes into the ocean, and in summers when there isn’t a single water source in sight the water from these Stupas melt slowly, helping locals irrigate their fields in the less privileged months of the year.

Ice Stupas: Conserving Water In The Rancho Way!-4 So, how does it work? The idea behind the project is to store water at a relative elevation without the help of pumps and power and letting the force of gravity do its work. The water head created allows the water to run at high speed through the pipe and get the desired shape he wanted. The educationist, engineer, and innovator at the SECMOL institute, Sonam, started working on this hypothesis in the winter of 2014-15 with a group of students and villagers. When his prototype became successful, Sonam got funding from Indiegogo, which is a US-based crowd funding website to mushroom the project.

Ice Stupas: Conserving Water In The Rancho Way!-5 Sonam has a dream of starting a university for mountain development and climate change adaptation. The university will host around 5000 students from Ladakh, and the entire Hindukush mountain ranges from Afghanistan to Arunachal Pradesh and help mountain youth in finding scientific solutions to the unique problems faced in the mountains.

We are living through uncertain times, and it’s easy to get depressed reading the news or scrolling through Social media. But the world is still an amazing place. With positive minds and intelligent solutions, there is still plenty of hope for a peaceful, sustainable future. We need more stories like this, which are bizarre but true.
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