The Ice Stupa Project

A peek inside a solar house by an ice-stupa

Words: Athulya Pillai and TLJ
Illustrations: Athulya Pillai


Cold and arid Ladakh, the land of high passes, rests approximately 11,000 feet above sea level and receives only 100mm of rainfall every year.

Over the past few years, with decreased snowfall and glaciers, this source of water is becoming scarce.

The Ice Stupa (a type of artificial glacier) project , pioneered by Mr. Sonam Wangchuk, in one of the solutions to combat the scarcity of water in the region. These cone-shaped structures are made from the unused water in the winter. They remain frozen until late spring and early summer, when the farmer needs water the most. Since there is no water that is being pumped to make these structures, there are no electricity bills.

Designer Athulya Pillai, who comes from Kerala, was with the Ice Stupa project during the winter of 2017-2018. She's the lead designer for informational exhibition displays with the project. The region, especially characterised by a lack of rainfall and scarcity of water, is in stark contrast to the climate she's known in the 22 years of her life so far. "Living in Ladakh made me realise something as simple as the value of a bucket of water and how much effort goes into fetching it", Athulya says.

Meet the engineers who build glaciers from scratch to help isolated villages in Ladakh, the northern most province of India. Sonam Wangchuk's team hope that when the man-made sculptures melt, they will provide water in times of need. | Video courtesy: BBC Youtube; no copyright infringement intended.

In the following short, illustrative essay, she takes us through life at her Ice Stupa "base camp", located in Phyang village, Ladakh. She spends her time here with a team of fourteen people, known as the Winter Soliders, monitoring the year's project and its progress.

Athulya told us that even in peak winter, when the temperature is -25° C outside, the passive solar house in which they stayed remained above 12°C, thanks to the greenhouse effect being caused by the plastic sheet and the insulating south-facing double wall. 


Athulya Pillai is a designer from Kochi, Kerala. She is the Design Executive at HIAL (Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh) an upcoming university for mountain development. She loves to explore different fields and to apply her skill-sets for something useful and meaningful.

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