What do we know about Ladakh? A place somewhere in the Himalayas, known for its utter serenity, heavenly beauty and magical scenery. That is pretty much it. It’s always the natural exquisiteness of Ladakh which has attracted audience, the small bunch of people living in this region have hardly managed to draw the attention of the nation. And that is why their problems are also left unresolved on more occasions than not.
One such problem which they faced until a few years back was that of water scarcity. The only source of fresh water which the people had was glaciers. In summers everything used to go nicely but as soon as the winters came and the water running from the glaciers slowed down, people found it very hard to manage, specially the farmers. Almost 80% of the farmers are completely dependent on fresh water and due to its scarcity they had to migrate to other places and switch jobs to earn a living.
It was the Ice Man, Chewang Norphel, who came to their rescue, just like a superhero. He founded a brilliant yet simple alternative for natural glaciers. And that was artificial glaciers. At that time no one had even thought that a civil engineer from Lucknow could do away with their miseries with such simplicity.
The idea of creating artificial glaciers came to Mr. Norphel when he noticed that the stream of water slowed down to a great extent when flowing under a tree in comparison to flowing under direct sunlight. By using this concept he thought of creating a glacier in the shadow of a mountain, by channelizing the running glacier water into a depression. This depression would be located within the vicinity of a village, making it easier for the local farmers to access it.
Earlier what happened was, the stream would flow very slowly from the natural glaciers, which were generally located far away from the villages, and thus it took a lot of time for the water to reach the fields. This delay proved detrimental for the crops, and hence they couldn’t survive.
Now with the water available very nearby, this situation gets easily avoided. Till now Chewang Norphel has created 12 artificial glaciers near the villages of Ladakh, the biggest one having a length of 1000 ft, width of 150 ft and depth of 4 ft.
He has not only helped in getting the spring water rejuvenated but this method of his has also helped in recharging the water present in the ground. With an annual rainfall of just 50 mm, irrigation always was a monstrous task but now the work seems a bit cut out courtesy Mr. Chewang Norphel.
Many might not have heard the name of this man, but that doesn’t take anything away from the heroic thing which he did for the people of Ladakh. He showed us how only one guy can make a whole lot of difference if he/she really wishes to. We need real life heroes like him to inspire us to bring about a change, a change for the betterment of the society.
Chewang Norphel has come a long way since the first time he created an artificial glacier in the village Phuktse Phu, in 1987. He now has a Padma Shri to his name, he has been featured in several short films and documentaries, and most importantly he has the coolest nickname in the world, the Ice Man.