Early life and career
Coming from a middle-class family of Leh, Norphel went to Amar Singh College in Srinagar as a student of science. He completed a diploma course in civil engineering from Lucknow in 1960. In June 1960, he joined the rural development department of Jammu and Kashmir in Ladakh as a civil engineer. He retired in 1995.
Norphel noticed a small stream had frozen solid under the shade of a group of poplar trees, though it flowed freely elsewhere in his yard. He realized the reason for this phenomenon: the flowing water was moving too quickly to freeze, while the sluggish trickle of water beneath the trees was slow enough to freeze. Based on this, he created artificial glaciers by diverting a river into a valley, slowing the stream by constructing checks. The artificial glaciers increase the ground-water recharge, rejuvenating the spring and providing water for irrigation. He constructed them at lower elevations, so that they melt earlier, expanding the growing season.
By 2012, Norphel had built 12 artificial glaciers. Norphel’s largest glacier is the one at the Phuktsey village. It is 1,000 ft long, 150 ft wide and 4 ft in depth. It can supply water for the entire village of 700 people and cost Rs 90,000 to make.