Go Green Go Organic and Ice Stupas in Ladakh, India

Written by Dr. Steven Ngan Kwai Foo
March 24, 2021

In recent years, as a result of climate change, the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir in India has experienced water stress conditions, decreased soil moisture, and expanding desert areas. Rainfall patterns have been changing, small glaciers and permanent snowfields are melting, and increasing temperature has been affecting water runoff in the rivers. Climate change has forced the people in Ladakh to adopt a new lifestyle in order to survive.

Realising this, His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche has initiated a Project named Go Green Go Organic. Chetsang Rinpoche’s interest in environmental protection began during his childhood and young adult life, while working on communal farms in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. In more recent years, besides being a staunch advocate of vegetarianism, organic farming, and environmental and cultural protection, he has become an increasingly vocal promoter of sustainable development and the need to address the localized impacts of climate change. He stresses the need for everyone to take whatever small steps they are able to in order to help combat climate change globally, as well as to be proactive in adapting to its anticipated effects in their local settings.

Chetsang Rinpoche says that religious leaders like himself can no longer just stay in the monastery and pray for a better world, but rather must also “go out into society and help people according to the needs of the twenty-first century.” Although his monastic and lay students in the Indian alpine desert region of Ladakh are neither numerous nor affluent, a large number have followed his call and become very active in local efforts to protect their environment and adapt to the localized impacts of the climate crisis.

With the support of residents, local engineers, environmental experts, and monastic and lay leaders, Chetsang Rinpoche and Go Green Organic have begun a number of projects in northeastern Ladakh. Since 2014, several hundred thousand native species of trees and shrubs have been planted in low-lying areas and along river banks in Ladakh. This effort began with the first large-scale tree plantation in the village of Shayok in 2014. The project has also provided fodder for villagers’ animals and reduced the carbon costs involved with importing lumber to the region. The project hopes that these high-altitude afforestation efforts will slow run-off, retain water locally, and transform villages into carbon-negative communities. Go Green Go Organic has also worked to support the adoption of 100% organic agriculture in villages across Ladakh.

Chetsang Rinpoche and monastic leaders have partnered with both Buddhist and Muslim villagers to construct various ice reservoir projects, called Ice Stupas, in Ladakh’s Sham region, led by Ladkah environmental conservationist Sonam Wangchuk. Although constructed in different forms, all of these projects essentially work on the same principle of diverting water from springs and streams into catchments through the winter season, when there is no agriculture and limited domestic use of local water resources. In doing so, these structures store water as ice in artificial glaciers above a village, preventing water from running downstream and thereby bolstering springtime water resources critical to the farming livelihoods of many Ladakhis.

In 2016, the first artificial glacier was completed in Kukshow village. Over the course of the winter it formed a 300-foot tall ice-waterfall that flowed down a shaded cliff-face above the village and provided additional water for farmers into early summer. Since then, monastic leaders have organized and assisted with the installation of similar ice stupas in a number of other villages.

Youtube videos about the Ice Stupa project are available at:

Today, Go Green Go Organic is still going strong. More trees are planted in Ladakh under this initiative and every year artificial glaciers are built to combat the water problems brought on by climate change. More young people are becoming involved and educated in the issues of climate change. Hopefully the Go Green Go Organic concept will also inspire people in other mountain regions in the world to combat climate change.

Visit Go Green Go Organic’s Facebook page for updates from the leading Go Green Go Organic contributors in Ladakh.

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