The greening of the Garchen



December 18th, 2012

2012.12.18 30th Kagyu Monalm - The greening of the Garchen

How do you implement  cost-effective environmental  protection initiatives  on a site which is temporary, only operates at full capacity for approximately two weeks each year, and yet has to cater during that time for more than 4000 people?


This is the challenge which faced engineer and architect  Choekyi Gyamtso  when designing the temporary encampment for monks and nuns, and the kitchen facilities which provide food not just for the sangha but also for the hundreds of  volunteers during the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo.

His solution  has been to incorporate effective systems built at mimimum cost which use natural features in the environment wherever possible. These systems are pilots and it is hoped to improve on them next year.

Grey water from the two massive kitchens is first collected in a tank where it is filtered for solid kitchen waste and cooled. The water  then  flows along zigzagging channels  through a bed of broken bricks and reeds  to remove chemicals such as salt and chilli. The outflow from the reed bed is  pumped into a nearby lake.

There is no mains sewage system in the area,  a common situation in rural India, so black water constitutes a real hazard to the environment.  The Garchen - the great encampment for the monks and nuns - has about 150 toilets, and the waste from the toilets flows into septic tanks.  A  chambered filter bed of broken bricks and gravel was constructed  to take the overflow from these tanks. This filter bed removes  any remaining solid waste. The water then  flows under the boundary wall  through a large pipe into the first of three  natural  ponds,  connected by  meandering reeded water course. These ponds and water courses already existed but have been enhanced by planting grasses, reeds, and  local water plants such as lotuses, elephant ears, water hyacinth, and so forth. This has transformed them   into wetlands which not only process the black water but are also so healthy that frogs and fish flourish in them.

Such a huge  temporary encampment would normally require a massive input of power. However, each tent has come supplied with a voltaic solar panel which produces enough electricity to power an interior LED light.  In addition, the walkways are lit by solar-powered, low-energy striplights.  Each light is connected  to an  80 watt voltaic panel with its own storage battery.

Much effort has gone into greening the environment.  Early on in its development, a  nursery was set up so that young plants could be nurtured and acclimatized before they were planted out. 

The walkways  between the tents are lined with potted plants, mostly green-leaved, but including some huge, colourful flowers. The perimeter is planted with a variety of trees. Square plots of  bamboo and palm trees have also been established, and there are even mango and guava trees.

The previously cracked and dusty earth has been transformed into  a tented garden city, pleasing to the eye, which will continue to flourish as the trees take firm root and the plants mature.

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