He became fascinated by mirrors and lenses after reading about them in his school textbooks, and then took a solar-energy study option during his engineering studies – which, in turn, triggered his interest in renewable energy. “And from there, I was completely into environmental issues,” he recalls. He later did a two-year specialization in Grenoble, France, studying earthen architecture.
Much of his career has focused on developing solutions to problems encountered by communities living at high altitudes such as education, climate-responsive housing and now access to water.
His journey into education reform began when he had to find a way to finance his engineering course and started teaching during his college holidays. “I started thinking about things that could make a real impact on people’s lives, mainly through meaningful education,” he says. “All these young Ladakhis – 95 per cent of them – were failing in the educational system owing mainly to their being a cultural and linguistic minority.”
In 1988, he co-founded SECMOL, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, and slowly reduced the failure rate to 25 per cent; and then, in 1994, he led the establishment of a solar-powered, student-built, student-run alternative school where teenagers who still fail in the conventional education system get a second chance. It was at this school that the ice stupa and many such innovations were born.
Wangchuk’s interest in educational reform has resulted in his appointment to the Jammu and Kashmir State Education Advisory Committee, the Indian government’s National Governing Council for Elementary Education and several other similar assignments across South Asia.