New Delhi, April 13 (PTI): For those in the plains they may be just another of nature's wonders but for the people in Ladakh glaciers mean life as they are the only source of water for daily as well as farm use.
Now retired, 67 year-old civil engineer Chewang Norphel, always wanted to rid the people of nagging worries on scarce water supply.
"I realised that all the problems of the region were related to water, which was scarce in most areas," says Norphel who goes by the nickname "Glacier Man." He was recently in Delhi to accept an award from the Limca book of records for his achievements.
The idea of 'artificial glacier' came from the simple observation that in winter taps were left open to stop the water freezing in pipelines. The water flowed into the drains surrounding the taps and froze.
"And it is then that it occurred to me: why not try and make artificial glaciers in the vicinity of the village so that local farmers get a real headstart when they need it most," says Norphel.
Norphel now has been credited with building over 10 artificial glaciers in Ladakh which came as an blessing for the locals who rely on the natural glaciers for irrigation and other daily chores.
"Ladakh falls in the rain-shadow area of Himalayas, where the annual average rainfall seldom exceeds 50 mm", says Norphel adding that the only water source is that from the glaciers which melt in summer releasing only a little water that is used by locals for irrigating their crops.
For over 15 years, Norphel has been building 'artificial glaciers' to make life a little easier for the hard-working but terribly poverty-stricken farmers of Ladakh.
This water shortage is more acutely felt during the summer months, between March/April and June. Any delay in sowing the crop rules out an October harvest, as it does not mature in time to beat the harsh winter.
"The glaciers begin melting only after July so the short sowing season sometimes begins and ends before the bulk of water is made available through the melting of natural glaciers," says Norphel.
Norphel's technique uses a network of pipes to capture and channel precious snowmelt that would otherwise be wasted.
Using some local ingenuity, Norphel built his 'artificial glacier' from stone embankments and a few hundred metres of iron pipe. First, water from an existing stream was diverted through iron pipes to a shady area of the valley.
From there, the water was made to flow out onto a sloping hill at regular intervals along the mountain slope.
Small stone embankments impede the flow of water, creating shallow pools. During the winter, as temperatures drop steadily, the water in these small pools freezes. Once this cycle has been repeated over many weeks, a thick sheet of ice forms, resembling a long, thin glacier.
The glacier man says artificial glaciers score over a natural one in several ways. "It is closer to the village and at a comparatively lower altitude. Also, the early release of water comes as a bonus for farmers as they are able to get water a whole month before the snow starts melting," he says adding that this is particularly useful for them to start sowing.
The largest artificial glacier Norphel has so far built is near the village of Phuktsey.
Standing tall at 300 metres and with a width of 45 metres it goes one metre deep into the earth it supplies irrigation water to the entire village of around 700 people.
"The glacier was built at a cost of about Rs 90,000, which is about a tenth of what it would have cost to build a reservoir with similar storage capacity," he says.
The technology has gained popularity amongst the local populace as it is effective, simple, affordable and uses local resources and skills.
"The villagers can understand this," Norphel says. "This is optimum utilisation of water by using the simplest technique, at a low cost. It also helps recharge groundwater and nearby springs."
As more and more glaciers are being constructed all over Ladakh, the stretch of barren land under cultivation is shooting up providing better benefits for the region's communities.
Apart from glaciers solar buildings and green houses in the valley are other projects that have captured the intrest and involvemet of Norphel.