Sonam Wangchuk says all is not well in Ladakh, village says all is not well with his Ice Stupas

DailyBiteFeb 01, 2023 | 10:17

Sonam Wangchuk says all is not well in Ladakh, village says all is not well with his Ice Stupas

All is not well with Sonam Wangchuk and his ice stupas. Photo: Twitter

The real-life Phunsuk Wangdu from 3 Idiots, Sonam Wangchuk, is making headlines again. This time because of his climate fast that he started on January 26 pleading to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that "All is not well in Ladakh". The hunger strike ended on January 30. But reports say all is not well between some villagers and Wangchuk as well. 

First, let's answer a few questions:


What is Sonam Wangchuk protesting about? Wangchuk went on a hunger strike at the campus of his school, the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives Ladakh (HIAL), where temperatures drop to -20 degree Celsius.

  • He was earlier scheduled to hold his protest at Khardung La pass at 18,000 ft where temperatures drop -40 degrees Celsius. However, he was denied permission by the police citing a threat to his life. 
  • Wangchuk was protesting demanding the 6th schedule for Ladakh, which would give it autonomy. He accused the current UT administration of trying to sow the seeds of militancy in Ladakh.
  • A once-staunch supporter of PM Modi and the abrogation of Article 375, he had a change in opinion when he said that Ladakh was perhaps better off while being in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Why is Sonam Wangchuk famous? The engineer-innovator shot to global fame with his ice stupas concept to provide water to agricultural land during the summer months in the dry and arid Ladakh region. 


  • Wangchuk has been working on Ice Stupa Artificial Glacier Project to solve the water crisis in the mountain region.
  • The ice stupa project is based on fellow Ladakhi engineer, 83-year-old Chewang Norphel. 
  • However, while Norphel's artificial glaciers were created at heights of more than 4,000 metres, which were hard for villagers to reach; Wangchuk brought the glaciers right next to the agricultural land.

What are ice stupas? Ice stupas look like glacier pyramids or stupas that are created during the biting cold winter months in Ladakh. 

  • Water is diverted from glacial streams from the higher ground with buried pipes, with the final section rising vertically. 
  • Due to the difference in height, pressure builds up and the water flows up and out of the pipe into sub-zero air temperatures. The water then freezes as it falls to gradually form a stupa. 
  • In the early summers, the glacier starts to melt little by little, providing agricultural land with water. Under normal circumstances, there would be no water during early summer months. 
  • This in turn extends the farming time in Ladakh by a few weeks which makes all the difference. 

Not everyone is happy with ice stupas: India Today reported that some villagers are unhappy with Sonam Wangchuk and the team due to the plastic waste left behind by them while creating the ice stupas in Phyang village. 

There is a lot of plastic in the areas where he worked. Now no one is cleaning the mess.
- A source told India Today
  • The alleged plastic pollution is not the only issue. Earlier too conflict between villages in Ladakh was reported over the ice stupas. 
  • In 2018, the farmers of Phey village downstream claimed that the water used to make the glaciers are diverted from the water they would use to recharge the water table at their farms. 
  • With the water being diverted, they are not left with any water to recharge the water table. At the time, Wangchuk had claimed that the villagers are only resisting because it is a new concept. 
Last updated: February 01, 2023 | 10:17
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