Sonam Wangchuk, labelled as ‘The Real Phunsuk Wangdu of Ladakh’, announced here his ambitious project of opening a university in the cold desert of the Himalayan region, to be known as Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL).
The Rolex Award Winner 2016 spoke here at the first edition of Future Talk series organised by the Future Institute, and emphasised that the problems of mountain people are peculiar to their region and their solutions must be sought locally.
“We are preparing to launch our most ambitious project till date — Himalayan Institute of Alternatives in Ladakh, an alternative university for mountain development. It will use our 25 years of experience of hands-on practical education at SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) school and scale it up for higher education at international level,” he said at the talk.
He said he will use his Rs one crore reward amount from Rolex Award as seed money for the project.
“I have decided to donate the award money of roughly one crore rupees towards this university, to quickly begin the greening of desert while funds for construction, etc. start flowing in,” he said.
He also launched a global crowdfunding campaign to seek potential donors who might interest themselves in the building of the learning centre, at a place where no one stood ever, while the local government has donated 200 acres of land for establishing the university.
Wangchuk also hoped to generate revenue from the use of his innovation — ice towers — which won him the coveted award.
Ice Towers, or ‘Ice- Stupas’, as he preferred to call them, are a form of artificial glaciers formed in a conical shape, innovated by Wangchuk to overcome the irrigation problem in the rain-deficient region.
“In summers, the glaciers melt late in June, whereas the sowing starts in April and May. To make water available in the required months, I thought of channelling the water downwards from the melting glaciers during winter in a pipe, which then because of gravity comes out with such a force that it spouts the water in the form of a fountain jet,” he told IANS.
Such expansion then makes the water lose its latent heat and the minus 20 degree celsius forces it to freeze as it falls, giving it a conical form, said Wangchuk, who is a trained mechanical engineer.
“We are also planning to generate revenue by turning the ‘ice-stupas’ into tourist spots and use the money to sustain the university,” he said.
The same technique of forming artificial glaciers vertically is also being sought by the Swiss, but for the special purpose of tourism only, and turning them into holiday rooms.
“Instead of going for conical shape, they experimented with the dome-shaped glacier, supporting the ice with a skeletal structure made up of bamboo-sticks in the desired shape,” Wangchuk explained.
Wangchuk started his SECMOL school in 1988 when he realised that the local kids were losing interest in the conventional methods of learning, manifested in high number of students failing. But the situation improved as the school gained its ground and word spread of its fame.
“Together we can change the face of higher learning in both mountains and plains,” he said.