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The glacier ‘marriages’ in Pakistan’s high Himalayas

Glacier in Pakistan; Haider Zaidi and his villagers claim that the glacier fruit blooming above the valley was planted by their ancestors

By Ground report
New Update
The glacier ‘marriages’ in Pakistan’s high Himalayas

Haider Zaidi and his villagers claim that the glacier fruit blooming above the valley was planted by their ancestors about 150 years ago. Manawar village is located near Skardu at an altitude of 2,228 above sea level. Manawar is a big village with about 500 families. 

All of them are employed in agriculture. Haider is a 50-year-old middle-aged man, his family consists of ten members. He grows wheat, potatoes and vegetables on his land. He is considered one of the luckiest people in the village and credits his good fortune to the elders who solved the water shortage problem by grafting a glacier over the valley. Now the land of his village was inhabited.

Although the Gilgit-Baltistan area is considered the headland of glaciers and there are more than 7,000 small and big glaciers, there are many areas that are located above the river where water does not reach and there are no glaciers naturally. Glaciers have been artificially planted in areas for centuries to solve the problem of water scarcity. This is also called glacier grafting. This procedure is done on the basis of centuries of tradition as well as technical grounds which are however recognized by science.

Apart from this, as a result of climate change, water resources are also affected, so the trend of glacier grafting has been increasing over the last decade.

The most important thing for installing a glacier is choosing a place that is at least four to five thousand meters above sea level and where the temperature remains negative throughout the year. Snowfall and avalanches are common there and direct sunlight does not reach. This place can be a cave in a rock or a deep pit lost.

Male and female glaciers

There are also some interesting traditions associated with this process, for example, according to local traditions, some glaciers are male and some are female. While the female glacier is bright milky or bluish in colour. Stories of female and male glaciers are common in Gilgit-Baltistan. Similar traditions are also seen in other countries, for example at the Punakha Dzong, a sacred Buddhist site in Bhutan, where the two rivers meet, the calmly flowing river is called the Mochu (Woman River) and the raging river. It is called Pochu (Male River).

Local people carrying pieces of glaciers to specific glacier grafting sites.  (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)

Liaqat Ali Balti, is a young resident of Skardu who makes documentaries by profession. He says, "The people of Gilgit-Baltistan consider glaciers as living bodies, that's why they equate them with male and female glaciers." According to them, new glaciers are created by the fusion of male and female glaciers. Male glaciers are called "Po gang" and female glaciers are called "Mo gang". According to them, male glaciers receive less water and are slow-moving, while female glaciers are growing glaciers that receive a lot of water.

For grafting, two different pieces (about 35 kg) are taken from these male and female glaciers and placed in this specific place. According to the local tradition, people wrap these pieces of ice in a wicker basket and carry them on their shoulders without stopping. They don't stop on the way, don't talk, and don't put these pieces of ice on the ground. Placed in a pre-selected specific place, the pieces are covered with mud, ash and charcoal etc. and the pit or cave is closed with large stones. Collective prayers and animals are also slaughtered on this occasion for blessings and success. Locally this process is also known as the wedding of glaciers.

According to experts, after at least 10-12 years, these pieces of ice become mature glaciers and start receiving water from them. Everyone in Gilgit-Baltistan can talk about glacier grafting, everyone has a story, mostly hearsay that is passed down from generation to generation, but there are very few people who have been involved in the process themselves. Have participated.

Shamsher Ali of Kharmang Wah is also one of them who participated in this process on behalf of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program.

A growing glacier.  (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)
A growing glacier. (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)

He says that it was twelve years ago, I was also a part of the glacier grafting team of AKRSP who were doing glacier grafting in Kharming. Our team consisted of young people. Young people are needed in this work because pieces of glaciers have to be lifted from several kilometres away and carried to very high altitudes to be grafted. We brought pieces of glaciers from Arundu village near Shagar and we continued carrying these pieces for two consecutive days and nights. If one was tired, the other would pick him up and put him on his shoulder. Thus it took two days to arrive."

Shamsher further said that "I went there 5 years ago and saw that the glacier had grown and spread out of the cave." He says that before this glacier there was a shortage of water in our village but now there is water in our rivers and canals. The amount has increased by fifty per cent and now the wheat, barley, millet and vegetables are being cultivated regularly in our village. Earlier, water was not available regularly, so the crops usually failed.

Nazir Ahmed, who is associated with the Aga Khan Rural Support Program as a manager, says that his organization has so far transplanted glaciers at nineteen different locations and we have achieved 80% success.

Although the Aga Khan program does not only cover folk traditions, an example of this can be seen in the cross-border region of Ladakh, where a retired engineer, Chhewang Norphel, diverted a mountain river in 1987 to slow its flow so that the water would flow slowly. Later, another engineer, Sonam Wangchuk, advanced this technique to create ice stupas.

History of Glacier Transplantation

According to Ishtiaq Ali of the University of Baltistan, the earliest traditions date back to the period when the famous preacher and religious leader Amir Kabir Syed Ali Hamdani (1314-1384 AD) came here and people complained to him that the people of Tibet and Kashgar We should be protected from the attackers. The first glaciers were deposited during this period to close the mountain passes through which invaders came into these regions. Further evidence comes from the colonial period,

According to Inayatullah Faizi, Assistant Professor, Government Degree College, Chitral, though it is difficult to say when the first glacier was planted in the area, there is evidence that a glacier was planted in 1812 for irrigation. Further documentary evidence comes from DLR Lorimer, a British administrator in the 1920s who, although he considered the technique of glacier grafting obsolete, was grateful that these same glaciers had made it possible for the British Raj to have a continuous supply of food. -

Glaciers and women

Although glacier grafting is considered a purely male activity, it also directly benefits women. Grafting glaciers increase the water supply for agriculture and domestic use and make women's lives a little easier.

Tehzeeb Bano from Gilgit is doing MPhil in Climate Change and Development from the National University of Science and Technology Islamabad. Her thesis topic is "Glacier Grafting: A Community-Based Adaptation to the Climate Induced Food Insecurity in the Himalayan Ranges of Pakistan"

The culture says that although women do not directly participate in this activity, access to water near home makes their lives easier. For her thesis, Tehzeeb researched the artificial glaciers of Gole, Kharmang and Machlu (Ghanche) and she says that the amount of water in these areas has increased by 50% and successfully cultivated wheat, Maize, millet and vegetables are being cultivated.

A growing glacier.  (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)
A growing glacier. (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)

Rashiduddin, the field officer of the project associated with GLOPH 2 (GLOG2), which is a joint project of the Ministry of Climate Change and UNDP, which is financially supported by the Green Climate Fund, said that we have done glacier grafting in the upper area of ​​Kawardo village. Has been active and tried to keep women together through counselling and practice. Rashiduddin said that water has become precious for them and sex has become rare. Although the river Indus passes at some distance from Kawardo village, it is not easy to walk on this sandy path carrying heavy loads. During this glacier grafting, it started snowing which was considered a "good omen". Also, there has been a lot of snow this year and the temperature at the altitude where the glacier is grafted will surely be minus forty. We hope this process will be successful with so much snow.

It is hoped that the water that will be obtained from this glacier will be able to cultivate more than two thousand kanals of land. 4 more glaciers will be grafted this year, which is expected to fertilize 8 to 10 thousand kanals of land in the future.

Zakir Hussain, during research at a very high place.  (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)
Zakir Hussain, during research at a very high place. (Photo courtesy of Zakir Hussain Zakir)

Baltistan University Director of Academic and Linkages Dr. Zakir Hussain says that the science in this regard is still in its evolutionary stages, but we can say that "when pieces of the ice surface are preserved for a long time in a place where certain temperature If humidity, humidity, rains and snowfall continue, after a certain time when the process of melting and growth becomes uniform, these pieces of ice start growing and thus new glaciers come into existence.

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