Engineering with a Noble Cause – Chewang Norphel, Ladakh [Inspiration]

One would draw inspiration from people who are designing cool gadgets, flying out to space or are working out compelling applications for the Internet. Yet there are other inspirational people too, from a different world, who are beating out even the simplest of problems like ‘storage of water’ in a special innovative way. And storing it at place where water is considered gold.

Meet Chaweng Norphel – better known as the Glacier Man of India, who has developed a simple technique to harvest water into an “Artificial Glacier” using simplest of locally found materials and pipes.

In Ladakh, the annual average rainfall is 50 mm. The only source of water are glaciers, which melt in summer. This water reaches the villages late in the season. The locals manage this water carefully and store it for the year.


74 year old, Norphel proposes that artificial glaciers be built as a substitute for dams. He believes that dams are an enormous financial burden and they bring about environmental and social hazards.

Artificial Glaciers or Government Funded Dam(n)?

Artificial glaciers are easy to build. First, Norphel channelises glacier water into a depression lying in the shadow area of a mountain, hidden from sunlight. He places half-inch-wide iron pipes at the edge of the depression.In 1996, a year after retirement, Norphel joined the Leh Nutrition Project, a non-governmental organisation, as project manager for watershed development.

“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,” he says. “The best way to deal with this is the construction of clean, efficient channels.” The channels he makes bring water from distant areas with minimal losses. I noticed in Leh that water did not freeze in the channels but did so in the thin iron pipes. As the pipes are made of metal and are very thin, they lose heat quite rapidly,”

As the water keeps collecting in the pipes, it freezes. As more water seeps in, it pushes out the frozen blocks, and in turn, itself gets frozen. This keeps happening in a continuos cycle, and these frozen blocks create a clean, artificial glacier. (source: 1, 2)

Norphel has made seven such glaciers. One artificial glacier costs just $7,000, compared to $34,000 for a cement water reservoir!

Inspirational? One’s attempt to solve a personal itch that challenges norms!

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