Environmental activist and 'Ice Stupa' innovator Sonam Wangchuk participates in third week of climate fasting in Ladakh

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Sonam Wangchuk has been holding a rapid protest for three weeks in sub-zero temperatures in Leh, Ladakh. From twitter.com

Renowned Ladakhi climate activist and environmental innovator Sonam Wangchuk, who helped develop and popularize a new solution to regional water shortages in the form of artificial glaciers known as "ice stupas", entered today Today in the 20th day of a three-week protest fast. supported solely by water and salt – aimed at raising awareness of the environmental damage caused in the Himalayan region of far north India in the name of industrialization and calling for greater regional autonomy.

Wangchuk is protesting in the city of Leh alongside thousands of Ladakhis, who are demanding measures to protect Ladakh's fragile ecosystems, its territorial integrity from warring neighbors and a separate state for Ladakh, currently classified by the Indian government as a state union territory.

In 2019, the national government, led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed a controversial bill that revised the status of the far northern state of Jammu and Kashmir into dividing it into two Union Territories: Ladakh and Jammu. and Kashmir. While the move has drawn widespread criticism, it also appears to give Ladakh a new identity that sets it apart geographically, administratively and demographically from neighboring regions as India's first Buddhist-majority union territory.

At first, Buddhists in Ladakh celebrated the change, hoping it would lead to greater autonomy. However, the measures taken by the Indian government quickly caused concern. In 2020, Chering Dorge, former president of the BJP in Ladakh, told reporters that almost immediately, control of local affairs was taken away from the locally elected council. He also expressed concern that "state land could be transferred to industrialists or the military without the consent of the council."

Wangchuk, who has gained international fame for his sustainability initiatives for Ladakh's high-altitude Himalayan environment, endured subzero temperatures during his three-week protest, which began on March 6. He is probably best known for popularizing "ice stupas" as a means of conserving winter water for local communities to use during the region's arid spring months, becoming a sort of Buddhist symbol of global fight against climate change.

One of Sonam Wangchuk’s “ice stupas”. From theguardian.com

The high-altitude glaciers of the Himalayas, sometimes called Earth's "third pole," contain the largest concentration of frozen water outside of the planet's two polar regions. These glaciers feed many of the region's major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus, helping to provide water to almost half of the world's population, who use it for human consumption, l agriculture and hydroenergy. These vital glaciers have been disproportionately affected by warming global temperatures, which have impacted not only the glaciers themselves but, by extension, life-sustaining precipitation patterns across the vast Tibetan Plateau.

“We are already facing a climate disaster and these glaciers and mountains will be destroyed if rampant industrial development and military maneuvers go unchecked” in the region, Wangchuk said in an interview Sunday. (VOA) Wangchuk criticized the national government for, among other projects, approving a giant 13 gigawatt solar power project without local consultation.

“Ladakh has become like a colony,” lamented Wangchuk. “Commissioners from elsewhere, without any connection with the local population or with ecology, are trying to run this place. Ladakh is actually like Mars. Imagine someone, say from Lucknow, trying to develop policies for the region. They would not understand and would end up making big mistakes, causing irreparable damage to our valleys and mountains.” (Hindustan time)

Sandwiched between India, Pakistan and China, Ladakh also faces territorial uncertainties amid political impasses and military standoff with China since 2020, in addition to erratic disruptions caused by the change climatic.

Wangchuk observed that Ladakh's nomads were also losing access to prime grazing lands due to India's huge industrial development projects as well as territorial encroachments by the Chinese military. The VOA news site reported that shepherds in the area complained that Chinese troops had seized several pastures and prevented them from grazing their flocks.

In Ladakh, thousands of people joined the Wangchuk protest in Leh on March 24. Taken from voanews.com

Wangchuk stressed that these aggravating factors amounted to "not only a local disaster in the making, but also an international disaster, because these mountains are part of the Great Himalayas, closely linked to more than two billion people and several countries." (VOA)

Ladakh's status as a haven for endangered wildlife is also under threat. The Trans-Himalayan biogeographic zone of India is populated by many rare and endangered species, including wild yaks, snow leopards and black-necked cranes. These and other fragile wildlife populations form an interconnected ecosystem that has been instrumental in sustaining indigenous communities for centuries.

Wangchuk warned that his 21-day fast, which is expected to end tomorrow, will be continued with a relay fast: "Women will fast for 10 days, then young people, then bhikshus, (then) nomads,” he said. “Saving Ladakh is important for the country. On one side there is Pakistan and on the other China. People’s trust is important because it’s a sensitive region.” (Hindustan time)

The activist vowed to stage a protest march to the border with China after the end of his 21-day fast to bear witness to territorial encroachments.

“If we go to the Changthang plains, bordering Tibet or China, you will see how much land the nomadic tribes known for producing pashmina fiber are losing,” Wangchuk noted. “On the one hand, they are losing land to Indian companies, which are moving there to set up their factories, their industry, and perhaps even their mining in the future. There is already a huge 13 gigawatt solar power plant and it is losing around 150 square kilometers of prime pastureland. . . . On the other hand, they are losing land to the Chinese army, which is encroaching from the north.” (Thread)

Predicting that internal security forces might decide to stop the march, Wangchuk added that this would be proof that "there is a lot to cover up." (Thread)

Earlier today, Wangchuk shared a video on social media in which he expressed his unwavering commitment and belief in his cause.

“Hello and greetings from the high Himalayas,” Wangchuk said, his voice weakened by three weeks of fasting. “This is my 20th day of fasting with water and salt, and today, some 3 people are fasting with me in this Martyrs' Memorial Park.

“Today, unfortunately, I don't feel energetic. (I) feel very tired and my whole body hurts. This may be partly due to the overwork yesterday, as I have been feeling well the last two days and made a few speeches, etc., yesterday. And partly because of 20 days of hunger; it's natural to feel weak. So I won't be able to talk much. But I just want to say that I have not lost confidence in this nation, this great nation, and in its leaders as well, (and) especially in its people, the ordinary citizens. As for the leaders – and the big media, which are like a pillar of democracy – I am sure that their conscience will not let them sleep at night; will make them realize what they are doing in Ladakh so blatantly.

“I will just thank you all the citizens, the ordinary and helpless citizens, who became such a support for Ladakh, who became the media and carried our words everywhere to all the citizens of the country. I am sure this will reach our Prime Minister, Home Minister and the honorable President as well. And I'm sure I still have faith that they will soon realize, do justice, and prove themselves respectable.

“That’s all I can say today, thank you very much and Jai Hind. »

Ice chorten in Ladakh becomes Buddhist symbol of climate change crisis (BDG)

Ladakh becomes India's first Buddhist-majority Union Territory after bifurcation of Kashmir (BDG)

Buddhists unite with interfaith leaders to demand statehood and ecological protections in northern India (BDG)

Work, walk and pray for peace: Bhikkhu Sanghasena undertakes peace pilgrimage to Ladakh (BDG)

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

Leave comments