Dalai Lama gets block of glacial ice

Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk presents Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama with with a block of ice cut out from a glacier in Ladakh’s Khardung La pass. All photos: TENZIN CHOEJOR

In a symbolic commemoration of Earth Day on 22 April, Indian environmentalists from Ladakh brought down a block of glacial ice and presented it to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

The ice was cut out from a glacier at 6,000m in Khardung La, and carried down in bicycles, public transport and electric vehicles in a journey that took four days.

To prevent the ice from melting quickly, it was packed in an insulated drum lined with locally produced pashmina fibre, and presented to the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile in the presence of delegates to an international conference on climate change in Dharamsala.

“This is more than a piece of ice , it is a message that the Himalaya is facing an unprecedented emergency because of climate change," said Ladkah-based activist Sonam Wangchuk, as the ice melted and dripped on a table in front of the Dalai Lama.

Climate scientists at the conference said that the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau are melting even faster than the global average, and predicted that most glaciers would be gone by the turn of the century unless fossil fuel use is drastically cut.

Read also: Himalayans on the frontlines, Ang Tshering Sherpa

The Dalai Lama interacts with participants of the climate action conference at his residence in Dharmashala.

“Water is going to be very precious commodity because of climate change , and as we know water is needed by every living being,” the Dalai Lama said. “And the Tibetan plateau is the source of water for many rivers downstream.”

“I am 87 years old, and this piece of melting ice reminds us that time is running out,” he added.

The Himalaya is known as the ‘Third Pole’ because it is the largest repository of fresh water stored as ice outside of the polar regions. The mountains are warming up to 0.7 Celsius faster than the global average, and if current trends continue, two-thirds of its permanent ice cover will have melted, reducing the flow of rivers that start here. 

Sonam Wangchuk is the developer of the ‘ice stupa’ in Ladakh where he has found a way to freeze water and release its melt in the dry season for irrigation.

Read also: Living below Nepal’s melting mountains, Alton C Byers

“What we do in Ladakh is not going to make a big difference to the planet, but it can serve as an example for others,” says the engineer, educationist and climate activist. “People in Ladakh are suffering from a problem they did not create.”

Wangchuk said the glacier from which his ice block was taken has receded 300m up the mountain in the past 20 years.

“We used to drive across the Khardung La pass in a bridge when it was all ice, now there is an asphalt road,” he said.

He has set up the ‘Live Simply’ initiative to spread the word about consuming less, and switching to renewable energy. He says: “The world has to learn to live simply so that we in the mountains can simply live.”

Read also: The great Himalayan thaw, Ajaya Dixit

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