To the locals he is Mr. Glacier. Some call him the Ice-Man.
The Ice-Man of India! No, he doesn’t sells ice cream.
Chewang Norphel, born in 1935, is an Indian civil engineer from Ladakh, and has perhaps made the best use of his education.
In a land where agriculture is the principal occupation of the people, Norphel found it hard to ignore the dejected faces when glaciers froze even in the month of April.
Norphel devised a method to construct 12 artificial glaciers in the area.
This helped rejuvenate the ground water resources and provide water for irrigation of crops. Indeed a revolutionary thought!
A qualified civil engineer, Norphel served the J&K government for over 36 years before taking an early retirement due to bad health.
It is after his retirement that he joined the Leh Nutrition Project, an NGO, as project manager for watershed development and later as their director.
Ladakh’s scanty rainfall condition, extreme climate during winters made Norphel realise that all the problems in the region were related to water.
“I realised that all the problems in the region were related to water. In most areas, it was scarce. In others, it was being wasted.”
Norphel hit upon the idea of slowing the flow of water and creating artificial glaciers to aid farming.
He built artificial glaciers at lower elevations by diverting water, and ensured that they melt in the month of May instead of the normal June or July. This, in turn, provided enough water for irrigation and farming.
According to him, artificial glaciers are better alternatives to dams as dams lead to environmental and social problems as well as drain financial resources.
The largest artificial glacier he built is at the Phuktsey village which can supply enough water for the village of 700 people, and cost about INR 1,20,000.
His efforts, financed by the Indian Army, have brought water closer to the villages and helped the farmers to grow crops in proper seasons.
And he is proud to say, “There is scarcely a village in Ladakh where I have not made a road, a culvert, a bridge, a building or an irrigation system.”
He has been felicitated with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India, in 2015. Also, a short film titled ‘White Knight’ has been made on his life.