Film’s success in reality. Just like the film. I repeatedly remember Aamir Khan’s character in ‘3 idiots’. Do you remember the name of his character? Phunsukh Wangdu. By the end of study, he appeared in mountains, where he built a school on his own. He used to do science research in his own initiative.
Why am I saying that you have already known? Well, there’s a reason obviously!
The character was based on a real person, Sonam Wangchuk (50), who has gained further global recognition bagging the prestigious Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2016. Wangchuk was chosen for his work on building artificial glaciers that supply irrigation water during the times of drought. The awards were presented on Tuesday in Los Angeles to those “who have reshaped the world with their innovative thinking and dynamism”. Sonam’s “Ice Stupas” project is among the five winners this year at the awards.
The other four laureates include an eye specialist who has devised a smart-phone based portable eye examination system for use in resource-poor settings, a conservation biologist who is working with giant manta rays in Peru, another biologist who works with fjords in Patagonia and a bio-medical engineer who is developing soft robotic suits to help stroke victims walk again.
The Ladakh region, at roughly 3500 meter altitude between the Kunlun and Great Himalayan Mountain ranges, faces acute water shortage during the April-May early crop-growing period. Wangchuk was certain that access to water in the desert landscapes around many high altitude towns and villages of Ladakh could be improved if the huge seasonal outflow of glacial water could be frozen.
Inspired by the experimental work of a fellow Ladakhi engineer, Chewang Norphel, Mr Wangchuk developed a simple and effective system, creating what he calls “ice stupas” – conical ice mounds that behave like mini-glaciers, slowly releasing water for the growing season.
Wangchuk intends to build up to 20 such ice stupas, each 30 meter high and capable of supplying millions of liters of water. The long-term aim is to build an alternative university and engage youth in the environment.
Collaborating with the government of Jammu and Kashmir, he has changed textbooks for state-run schools in Ladakh, making them accessible to students in their language. In 1994, he created an alternative, solar powered, student-built, student-run school for failures, for those rejected by the system, and gave them an opportunity to make something of themselves, creating a vast alumni network of over 1,000 youngsters. All are part of his extended volunteer network which has helped him create ice stupas, or artificial glaciers, which freeze water in winter so it melts in summer and lasts till spring, in the cold desert of Ladakh.
He has battled tremendous odds to get to being a globally acclaimed innovator-being cheated by pipe suppliers while building his stupas, being accused of being a Chinese agent, even being denied his claim on the movie character.
He is now working on establishing an alternative universe on the 65-hectare land donated by the village that will engage youth from Ladakh, the Himalayas and other mountain regions of the world in finding their own solutions to the challenges facing them.