Photographer: Ciril Jazbec
Title: The Ice Stupas
Location: Ladakh, India
Period: 03/2019 - 03/2020
Category: Solutions

As snows dwindle and glaciers recede, people in the mountains of northern India are building huge ice cones that provide water into summer.

In the last decades the communities in the Himalayan mountains of the Ladakh region in India have started to become climate refugees forced to abandon their valleys due to water issues. The Himalayan glaciers have been receding and water scarcity has never been so dire.

A few years ago, the ingenuity of Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi engineer and innovator, brought about a beacon of hope. In 2015, he prototyped ice stupas, artificial glaciers resembling Tibetan religious stupas that store winter meltwater and slowly release it for the growing season in spring, when water is most needed.

At the inauguration of the project in 2015, roughly 1,000 villagers planted 5,300 saplings of willow and poplar trees using melted water from the ice stupas. The desert became cultivated land. In the years that followed numerous villages in Ladakhi region started to build ice stupas every winter. In winter in 2019 several valleys built their own ice stupas.

In the eyes of Wangchuk, the founder of the Ice Stupa International, the ice stupas should not be considered as a solution to the challenge. In his view, they stand for a final attempt of the Himalayan mountain communities to fight climate change. The real solution, in his opinion, lies in the responsibility of the nations’ governments and people living in urban areas that should adopt environmentally-friendly lifestyles to reduce emissions.



This 33 5m high ice stupa near the village of Shara Phuktsey won first prize for the largest ice stupa in a 2019 competition Its nearly two million gallons of stored water helped irrigate fields in four villages The stupa also drew tourists Ice climbers came to scale its steep flanks br

Conical ice stupas serve as water towers storing winter meltwater for spring planting The youth group that built this one in the northern Indian village of Gya also installed a cafe in its base They used the proceeds to take village elders on a pilgrimage No one takes them anywhere one of the youths said

Tsering Angchuk is 53 years old farmer from the village of Stase-Dho in Ladakh He helped built an ice stupa with 73 feet of height He decided to join to battle the water shortage They are hoping an ice stupa will solve their problem and if necessary they will built a few more and hopefully more villagers will join them br

Farida Batool is a student at the middle school in the village of Karith high in the mountains on the Pakistani border Led by their headmaster Mohammad Ali the students have helped build several ice stupas

Ice Stupas are built in winter by channeling water from a mountain stream into a vertical pipe Gravity drives the water out a nozzle at the top and as cold air freezes the falling spray a cone of ice rises around the pipe This 80-foot-high stupa is in Gangles near Leh

Builders of the Shara Phuktsey stupa celebrate after their 110-foot tower was declared the tallest stupa in Ladakh in 2019 Braving subzero temperatures they had to climb the tower often to fix nozzles that had frozen and stopped spraying water

This ice stupa near the village of Shara Phuktsey won first prize for largest stupa in a 2019 competition Its nearly two million gallons of stored water helped irrigate fields in four villages The stupa also drew tourists Ice climbers came to scale its steep flanks

Visitors and locals enjoy the interaction with the artificial ice by the Shara Ice Stupa br To resolve the shortage of water faced by the villages of Shara the Sharnos and Phuktse the team came up with this Ice Stupa One of the team members shares his experience of building the stupa One night the pipe got frozen When I tried to open it all the water spilled on me I was all wet and then soon almost frozen in the midnight cold I thought of giving up on the project but the next day we managed to fix the pipe br

A member of the Shara Phuktse team stands on the Giant Shara Ice Stupa that he helped to construct The stupa is located 80km from Leh towards east In Ladakh India br

Phuntsok Paldan a carpenter built this stupa with his neighbor in the village of Tak-machik on the banks of the Indus River The stupa enables local farmers to irrigate their wheat barley and apricots br br

Members of the Shara Phuktse team climb the Giant Shara Ice Stupa that they helped to construct

Shara team poses in front of the Giant Shara Ice Stupa The 33 5m Shara Ice Stupa is the highest recorded so far The Ice Stupas solved a water problem for the mountain communities in Ladakh in India They plan to invest the awarded money in building a new Ice Stupa next year and construction of other solutions to tackle the water shortage in the region br