In view of the global issues of water scarcity, melting glaciers and sustainable conservation of water resources, University of Baltistan, Skardu (UoBS) carried out a pilot project i.e., ‘Indigenous Technology of Glacier Grafting: Documentation and Preservation Project’.
Being a higher institution of learning, research and development in Baltistan, UoBS feels its responsibility of knowledge generation, particularly the centuries old indigenous technologies and traditions.
‘Glacier grafting’ or ‘glacier farming’ is an old, established indigenous technology, however, due to lack of literature, primary data and systematic studies, the whole process is covered with stories, oral narrations and myths. Due to lack of observational data and longitudinal records, at times glacier grafting is considered a pseudo-science.
As there are several consistent ethnographic stories of successful glacier planting, this pilot project was planned to document the whole process in the form of narratives and stories. For this purpose, the project team selected a community planted glacier reported to be successful in the Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan. This glacier was grafted/planted in 1995. Similar projects of glacier grafting were carried out by Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) at other sites during 2004-2005.
With the ethnographic data from the first-hand informants who have been involved in the glacier planting/grafting process, the observational data of the physical site has been recorded in the form of photographs, videos and measurement data. The project used drone camera to record aerial view of the site and its ecology. A brief documentary film has also been released to preserve and disseminate this technology in terms of knowledge and processes.
In my role as the Principal Investigator (PI) I took the lead of this study expedition. The study visit was planned quickly keeping in view the weather conditions and suitable time. The team visited the human planted glacier site at an elevation of 4800 m in Machulo Broq on July 22, 2018. Observations were recorded as per planned protocols. The team also interviewed four first-hand informants and collected ethnographic accounts of the process of glacier grafting, its history, success, hopes and fears of the community.
The findings reveal that though sophisticated and challenging, ‘glacier grafting’ is an established indigenous technology of Baltistan used to get continued water flow in villages situated high above the rivers and there are no natural glaciers upside on mountains.
The success of the studied planted glacier had involvement of the whole community to select the right site and sincerely follow all the protocols of the indigenous technology as per tradition. As the study was time sensitive in terms of seasonal timing, the proposal was approved by the Vice Chancellor for timely execution.
Gilgit-Baltistan has the largest solid water reservoir after poles. The cluster of great glaciers range from: Baltoro 72 km, Siachen 70 km, Biafo 63 km, Batura 57 km and Hispar 49 km. Being the home of glaciers, the people of Baltistan have great wealth of knowledge about these glaciers. ‘Glacier grafting’ or ‘glacier farming’ is an established indigenous technology of growing glaciers and has been successfully experimented on several sites.
In 2007, in his MS thesis titled “Glacier Growing – A Local Response to Water Scarcity in Baltistan and Gilgit, Pakistan” Ingvar Nørstegård Tveiten found:
“Glacier growing is interpreted in context of findings on glacial and periglacial phenomena within the scientific discipline of glaciology, in order to account for how natural processes affect the sites of glacier growing. The locations where glacier growing was conducted are prone to snow accumulations by snowdrift and avalanche activity. At these sites the ground is perennially frozen, which provide conditions conducive to the formation of ice-accumulation in boulder areas, and, in some cases; the formation of rock glaciers.
Glacier growing is also explored as a local knowledge embedded in cultural patterns and values among the people of this area.”
Due to lack of reported evidence and scientifically investigated studies, glacier farming/planting has been considered a myth and fiction. Although there are myths associated with the process of glacier grafting, people have successfully grown glaciers following those myths. This technology is endangered as there are a very few people who know the detailed process and who themselves have been involved in the process. After a lapse of considerable time, AKRSP experimented with glacier grafting on a few sites of Baltistan in 2004-2005. After project completion, there has been no follow-up longitudinal study on progress of these sites. As the World Bank report (No. 67668-SAS) on ‘Monitoring of Glaciers, Climate, and Runoff in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya Mountains’ mentions that the ‘problems of accessibility, the complex nature of the mountain environment, lack of conceptual models of the mountain hydrometeorological environment’ have been the reasons behind the lack of progress on the data of grafted glaciers.
AKRSP experimented glacier grafting during 2004-2005 with community participation on several sites of Baltistan including Machulo. No systematic follow-up and longitudinal data collection has been done during the last 15 years, however, verbal reports are encouraging.
Syed Abbas Kazmi has given a comprehensive account of the whole process involved in glacier grafting. According to Kazmi:
Since times unknown, Baltis had invented or learned a method to rear a new glacier. To achieve it, they used to first select a place, a ditch or a cavity in the high mountain above their village which was not in direct sunlight and where temperature always remained lower than snow melting level. It was also believed by the people that many glaciers in their area belong to either a male or female gender and qualities. The sign of a male glacier was that the glacier should be permanent and a big one mixed with boulders and small stones having a dusty or grey color, whereas the female glacier is also a permanent one but without any debris and also has a shining white or bluish luster. To rear a new glacier, it was necessary to collect a considerable quantity of ice from the respective (male and female) glaciers which could be carried by a man in a Chorong (a conical basket made of willow twigs, commonly used by the people of Karakoram and Himalaya ranges), carefully packed in some coal and barley hay to keep it safe from warmer temperature while carrying to the rearing site. It was necessary for both parties of young men to arrive at the rearing site on a fixed date. One or two days before that date, a few elders used to go to the selected site with a goat to slaughter as an offering to the Lhas (in pre-Islamic days) and (certainly) as alms in the name of God (since becoming Muslim).
The concept of male and female glacier is so common here in Baltistan that anyone having know-how of glacier growing will tell the same story.
There are many interesting and unexplored areas of glacier studies particularly the phenomenon of ‘glacier grafting’ and the traditions/myths associated with this indigenous technology. For example, there is a need to confirm the phenomena of ‘Karakoram anomaly’ and its possible link with grafted or man-made glaciers. Ecological impact of grafted glaciers would be another domain of urgently needed climate change studies. The nature and formation of permafrost in case of grafted glaciers would be yet another hi-tech scientific study that can reveal many answers to several key questions in glaciology and climate change. UoBS, having the basic data, can become partner of any such study by any national organization which may prove to be of global significance.
The writer is Director Academics and External Linkages, UoBS, Skardu.
E-mail: [email protected]
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