The Real-Life 3 Idiots ‘Phunsukh Wangdu’ – Sonam Wangchuk

The innovator Sonam Wangchuk, has recently been awarded the Honorary D.Litt DegreeSonam Wangchuk, famous for his innovations of SEMCOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) and the Ice Stupa has been awarded the Honorary D.Litt Degree by the by the Symbiosis International (Deemed University).

With President Ram Nath Kovind as the chief guest on the occasion, Wangchuk was awarded in recognition of his works as an innovator, inventor, engineer, and educationist. After accepting the degree, the Ladakh-based engineer and the real-life ‘Phunsukh Wangdu‘ of the Aamir Khan-starrer film ‘3 idiots’, stated, “I did what humanity demands people to do”. He said that that he had not done anything out of the box… just what he was supposed to do.

Mr. Wangchuk has not only set up SEMCOL or the Ice Stupa but has also worked very hard to make the best use of solar energy and has created artificial glaciers in order to focus on the major issues of water scarcity. He certainly has put in his vigorous efforts and has made headway for everything with the feeling of humanity in his heart.

Early Years:Sonam Wangchuk, the education reformist was born in 1966 in Uleytokpo in the Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir. In the very early years of Wangchuk, his education was not very progressive. Being not many schools in his village, he was taught all the basics in the native language by his mother, until the age of nine.

The Darkest period: At the age of nine, he along with his family shifted to Srinagar and was enrolled in a school there. Certainly, his appearance was different from the rest of the students; it was quite difficult for him to adjust to the new environment… the different language being the major issue. He was rather taken erroneously to be dumb for the lack of communication and responsiveness.

As he was unable to adapt to the environment of the place and the way he was treated, he ran away alone to Delhi. He pleaded his entire situation to the school principal at Vishesh Kendriya Vidyala. Wangchuk, still believes it to be the darkest part of his life. Career Surges: After some time, in 1987, he came back to Srinagar although and did his B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar.

He had to finance his own education because of the disagreement of his father over the choice of engineering stream. In 2011, he went to Grenoble (France) for his higher studies in Earthen Architecture at Craterre SCHOOL of Architecture for two years. After completing his graduation, his career took a huge turn as he began to explore, learn, and grow with his great intelligence, innovative ideas and, hard work.

  • In 1988, Wangchuk started SEMCOL, along with his brother and his companions.
  • He worked for 12 years (from 1993-2005) as the editor, for Ladags Melong- the only print magazine of Ladakh.
  • In 2001, he was appointed as an Educational Advisor, in the Hill Council Government.
  • In 2002, he founded LVN (Ladakh Voluntary Network) and worked there as the Secretary in its Executive committee up till 2005.
  • He was entrusted with the formulation of the policy on Education and Tourism in 2004, after being appointed to the Drafting Committee of the Ladakh Hill Council Government’s Vision Document Ladakh 2025.
  • By 2005, he was appointed as a member of the National Governing Council for Elementary Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
  • He also worked for Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS) as an Education Advisor for three years (2007-2010) to support the Ministry of Education (Nepal) for education reforms.
  • By the end of 2013, Wangchuk invented and built a prototype of the Ice Stupa.
  • In 2014, for framing the J&K State Education Policy and Vision Document, he was appointed to the Expert Panel.
  • Since 2015, the real-life ‘Phunsukh Wangdu’; has been working on establishing Himalayan Institute of Alternatives. The movie justified his character as, in real life also, he is concerned about how maximum Universities; especially those in the mountains have become irrelevant to the realities of life.
  • The initiation of a project named, farmstays Ladakh, was done in 2016; which was very unique and thoughtful in its own as it provides the tourists to stay with the local families of Ladakh, run by mothers and middle-aged women. The official inaugurated was done by His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche on 18 June 2016.

Achievements and Innovations:The list of Wangchuk’s achievements is endless but the ones which have deepened their roots in the past years have proved out to be of great inspiration to all of us.

 Prof. Dr.S.B. Siwach
 Prof. Dr.S.B. Siwach
  • SEMCOL and its Campus: 

The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh orSEMCOL is a non-traditional school which brought in a huge educational reform in Ladakh. For those circumstances, he usually says, “For me, my house was on fire and young brothers and sisters were in distress.

So when your house is on fire, there is nothing special in throwing water on it, it is your duty, and if you don’t do it, that is surprising.” The infrastructure of SEMCOL is such that even in -30 Celsius winters, his solar-powered school, built with the rammed earth, keeps the students warm. SEMCO has won the International Terra Award for the best building in July 2016at the 12th World Congress on Earthen Architecture in Lyon, France. However, the campus was built by using the very simple, low-cost traditional techniques on the principles of passive solar architecture.

  • Ice Stupa:

Back in 2014, Wangchuk started a project named the Ice Stupa with the aim of finding a solid solution to the water crisis being faced by the farmers in Ladakh, especially in the planting months of April and May. They successfully built a two-story prototype of an ice stupa, which could possibly store roughly 150,000 liters of winter stream water. In 2016, Wangchuk started applying the Ice Stupa technique for disaster mitigation at high altitude glacier lakes.

This although gained much attention and in October 2016, Wangchuk and his team went to the Swiss Alps and started building the first Ice Stupa of Europe, together with the Swiss partners.

The Popularity Quotient: Sonam Wangchuk is the person who is truly responsible and has worked very hard for the growth and upliftment of various aspects of society… especially education, for the land of high passes – Ladakh and its people. Apart from his work and assistance in politics; there were several other reasons for him to gain attention and respect worldwide. One of the major reasons for his popularity was in 2009.

He came into accentuation when the movie ‘3 Idiots’ was released. The movie was totally inspired by Wangchuk’s life story. His character was played by Aamir Khan as Phunsukh Wangdu or Rancchoddas Shyamaldas Chanchad (Rancho).

The character and the movie gained so much appreciation that Wangchuk has been referred to as ‘The real-life Phunsukh Wangdu’. However, he always states that he is not Phunsukh Wangdu. Wangchuk has received and has been honored with various Awards and tiles, which is yet another reason for him to be popular.

  • Recently in 2018, he has been given the Ramon Magsaysay Award and
  • Back in 2017, he was awarded the Indians for Collective Action (ICA) Honor Award, San Francisco. He has also received the GQ Men of the Year Awards, Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2017; the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, 2017; and the State Award for outstanding environmentalist by J&K Govt., 2017.

The Governor’s Medal for educational reform in Jammu & Kashmir in 1996.

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