Art of glacier growing in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Gomal Amin

The practice of growing glacier in Gilgit Baltistan is an old practise. It is a technique used to sustain and encourage the growth of ice patches in high altitude water catchment areas. The main reason of glacier growing is the development of new glaciers in order to increase the availability of water for agriculture purposes.

Glaciers play vital role on people living around the glacierized basin. Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) hosts the triple point (junction) of three world famous mountain rages which are Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush. A range of over 5000 glaciers feeding the Indus from 10 sub-basins through different tributaries ranging from few tens of meters to more than 70 km long (Rasul, 2015). Himalaya-Karakorum-Hindukush together makes the largest mountain chain over the earth, upholding firmly the third largest ice reserves after the Polar Regions. Apart from some of world largest glaciers in GB, the availability of water is big concern for local communities.

Local people in past practised to grow or graft the glacier to cope with the water scarcity and availability for agricultural activities. The main factors responsible for water shortage were the harsh climatic conditions (less snow-melt water), damaged water channels due to landslide and rock fall.

In Gilgit and Baltistan, glacier growing is mentioned in a number of local stories and narratives. These stories are full of myths and lore. The practitioners and specialists said that they had learnt to grow glaciers from their fathers and forefathers, hence indicating that these stories serves as vehicles for transmission of knowledge on how to carry out glacier growing.

AKRSP has aided and assisted 15 artificial glacier projects in Baltistan during last two decades. It should be noted that the glacier growing is of an unknown origin and receives its credibility as a sound practice by reference to myths of big glaciers grown in a timeless past.
According to local understanding of ice and glaciers, there are the categories of “female ice” and “male ice”. In order to grow a glacier in any high altitude area, one needs to ‘marry’ a female and a male glacier. The characteristics which differentiate a male and female glacier are the colour of ice/glacier, water providing capacity and surging activity. The belief about the “female glacier” is that it has ability to grow and giving off a lot of water. The colour of female glacier is white or bluish colour. A ‘male glacier’, on the other hand, is characterized as giving little water, moving slowly; and was by some referred to as being black, covered in soil and rocks (also known as till/debris). According to the local specialists, female glacier has an ability to give birth, thus one should have to add female glacier with male glacier to make the glacier growing.

The utmost concern for the grafting of glacier is the selection of place. The professional practitioners and specialists select the site by considering some geomorphological elements such as aspect, relief, shadowing, altitude, and presence of permafrost. After the site selection the ice is transported to grafting site. The ice is collected by young men’s who walked all the way to site. They haul with them baskets of ice, each weighing 30-35 kg through rocky and steep terrain. Glacier from 2000 – 3000 m A.S.L. elevation is collected and moved up to altitudes between 4000 – 5000 m A.S.L.

It should be noted that the transportation of ice from lower lying valley is carried out during the months of October and November, when the weather is becoming cooler, dropping below zero in the night, as there will be more chances that the ice survive after grafting.
During the glacier grafting other important components are charcoal, sawdust, wheat husk, nutshells and branches which are used to cover the ice after it had been brought to its place. The Common property in all of these ingredients is their ability to insulate the ice. Ingredients are usually put underneath one or several large boulders, and then walled in by smaller rocks. The water gourds are placed with the lumps of the ice. During the winters the gourds break down as the water is frozen and become part of Ice. The water become part of ice and the permafrost will developed into large mass of ice (glacier).

AKRSP played a major role in Gilgit and Baltistan to grow glacier in different high altitude valleys where water scarcity was big concern. The organization has provided both technical and financial support to different Village Organizations (VO) to cope the water availability issue. Scientific study on glacier growing should be new concern for researchers, government and non-government organizations working in water related sectors. Pakistan, in coming future will become water stress country, from the northern areas to the southern extremes. In such case construction of new dams and development of new artificial glaciers can overcome the water scarcity problem of the country.

Acknowledgment: Literature on the glacier growing in northern areas was documented by Ingvar Nørstegård Tveiten. Literature review for this article was done from her final year thesis.

The contributor is Graduate student of Remote Sensing and GIS at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad. He can be reached via gomalhunzai@gmail.com. He writes a blog http://www.gripenvironment.blogspot.com and tweet as @gomalhunzai.


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