It is a fact that there are more people living in India and China than rest of the world combined. If we scale all of the country’s maps based on the population. India will be the largest visible state on the globe.  With the population of more than 1.2 billion, India is projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2025. By 2050, it is estimated that India’s urban population will constitute nearly half of country’s total population, straining at an already stressed infrastructure. In 20 years, India’s cities will have to accommodate 250 million to 300 million more people than they do today.

More Delhi's Needed by 2050

Separating population into two halves. Himalayas with such a less density are surrounded by a huge population explosion.

Of the 1.4 billion of people of the world who do not have access to electricity, India accounts for over 300 million. Piped water supply reaches only 74% of urban households. No Indian city has piped water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 4-5 hours of supply is average. This country also lies on the water crisis band of the globe.

Water Crisis Situation, Himalayas are major resource to India for water

To this bewildering array of sects, religions, traditions. And more chaos per square kilometer than the rest of the world, Hills are such sustained patches, still generating the resource for this giant population. Geological studies clearly confirm that north-eastern cover of Himalayan range is responsible for the existence of habitable biosphere; this country may have been turned into a desert otherwise. From the very prehistoric times, these hills have sustained themselves, being difficult for habitation by migrants from the either side of the chain. Though we have traces of prehistoric settlements here. Stats speak that there are more than 215 existing tribes till the last decade of 20th century. 110 in Arunachal, 23 in Assam, 28 in Manipur, 18 in Tripura, 12 in Meghalaya and Mizoram, Only five were left in Uttrakhand and 7 in Himachal.  These hills mark the north-eastern political boundary of India, thus, there is no upcoming habitation from the northern side, there had been Tibetan migration lately, through various hill passes, some of which are just used for trade now.  A plague of habitation, climbing up the hills is clearly visible on the satellite imagery, only few breathing patches are left in the Shivaliks. We have almost lost tribes and culture of low-lying hills to globalization.

Map zoomed at various stages, clearly demonstrates how urban plague is eating up buffer spaces near to hills. The southern parts have already been habited into a chaos by largest population.

Addressing hill development issues does not have a specific path on which one can stick. Understanding of type of problem that persists is necessary to understand. We should pave the path to sustainable development and habitats in mountainous areas in a holistic, all-encompassing manner with a starting point (focusing on a single habitat or settlement). There is a need to look beyond just physical issues and to map systems that include socio-cultural and economic aspects as well. Investigation of linkages within urbanization & development, water and waste management, livelihoods, heritage conservation etc. within a broader framework of sustainability and development. We divide problems into three different categories i.e. Simple, Complex and Wicked. A simple problem is the one which is easy to solve. It is a clear problem with a clear solution. We may say that its properties are that it is obvious, straightforward and predictable. The second type is a complex problem, which ‘resists solving’. The problem and solution aren’t clear but they can be understood with time. It has many elements, although the elements themselves are familiar. It has hidden root causes, it is non-linear and inter-operating parts affect each other.

Dehradun and Mussoorie are two different settlements. Soon we will not be able to differentiate between the two in nightscape. Plague of habitation is eating up breathing areas.

The third problem and most important problem, related to hill development issues is ‘wicked problem’. It’s one which ‘resists defining’. Here, problem and solution are not understood and it keeps shifting when we try to define them. It has the number of properties: a Wicked problem is Ambiguous, chaotic, having many stakeholders with conflicting perspectives, many elements, many hidden and some hitherto unknown, having strong social aspects, involves changes in belief, behavior and/or identity, having no right/wrong solution, non-quantifiable and with no precedent.

  • A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.
  • The use of term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil.
  • Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.
  • The phrase was originally used in social planning. Its modern sense was introduced in 1967 by C. West Churchman.


Migration has been the major factor which was majorly seen as the factor of loss to the social character of the hills. We cannot call migration alone as wicked problem as the definition of this problem is much clear on this chart on the right. If we talk about the hills, physiological needs are readily available. And there is automated fulfillment of safety needs. This can also be seen clearly on the extended version of this chart.  The problem, which we can call as complex, starts with respect to the hill people when we come up to ‘psychological needs’. Lower zones may be fulfilled here but esteem desires are not fulfilled. Maybe due to lack of busy/monetary economy. This is where these hill people tend to move into urban spaces. Now, this chart has an interesting thing, which is not explained anywhere before. This chart is in the shape of triangle, of which the base is made up by basic needs. Now, the basic need scenario is chopped off in urban scene, so the whole chart collapses, and new race towards self-actualization instigates. And these people end up rearing goats in urban scapes. Every human on the earth are running for self-actualization. Self-actualization does not have a specific need, but the less of basic and psychological needs you have, more early you can achieve actualization. This chart is similarly applicable to reverse migrators. The only difference is that they acquire self-fulfillment needs more easily. They do have psychological needs already fulfilled, they just come in search of better basic needs. And the top of triangle attaches automatically. Since these reverse migrators carry no understanding of built environment and hill topography, they end up like a termite. Architects, Planners and Everyone. The only sufferers in this whole process are the gears of biosphere and the built-environment of hills.

Definition from Wiki: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. Maslow used this chart to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through.


“As designers, are we unwittingly feeding into a destructive cycle?” This was the question, I asked myself. Studying Architecture generated this feeling of culpability inside me. In college we were placing these matchboxes on paper to get marks, now we have to repeat the same on earth to make money, throughout our lifetime. Or can we intervene more effectively, as visionaries? Not just physical; understanding of psychological aspects is also necessary for a holistic outcome. Migration of youth is a major issue conflicting hill development. Who will you develop for if there is no one dwelling around, that too your future generations. This had led to major decline in local crafts, agro interventions, Ayurvedic developments etc. and many more fields. Long time back, old people used to say that ‘money order economy’ is the reason for which hill development is not taking place. It is an old saying in the hills that a river starts to vanish from its source. They say that even the largest of settlements start vanish with the river altogether. This is situation of Uttarakhand, rivers are drying up and people are migrating. If we look into these conditions, from security strategic point of view, culturally, or economically; neighboring country have already constructed roads till perimeter and strengthened up rail connectivity as well. They have number of air bases on the other side. We know that it’s not very much likely that history of 1962 will be repeated, but hill people have started to generate economy from other side through various passes. The ones restrained by ITBP officials prefer to migrate. From the cultural point of view, Uttarakhand is known as ‘Devbhoomi’ i.e land of god. Even economic support is generated through this background in various places. These cultural magnets also hold back villages and villagers together. These were major resistance to migration. People replace self-actualization here with self-transcendence (generated spiritually with altruism). Even the kids looking forward to promote these cultural activities come down to Haridwar or Rishikesh. Its common belief that reputed education on ‘Sanskrit’ is provided here.

Now these ashrams have good worldwide opportunities for these kids thus they themselves end up staying back in most of the cases. Previously even a poor Brahmin in these villages used to stay with self-fulfillment (though he was economically weak) because he was respected in the society. Since economy has grown up quite a bit, segregation of respect is also done on economic criteria. No one wants to return back to hills. As the result even cultural strings are losing up. We have sidelined major factors like the advent of media and IT into hills. Gleaming lifestyle of tourists, their shining cars become the major center of fascination here. It is not expected at all that current generation, for the development of hills, is going to inhabit here at this very point. Tourism is also the factor seeing major decline due to disasters now.

Initial development sketch of what I call: ‘Wicked Face of Hill Development’. Hills are the center of nose tip; two nostrils are migration and situation. On the top of nose comes the undefined development. Next to which lie the eyes looking into outsourcing and disasters. Biosphere is top of this head and under the chin lies the generation. This helps in clear understanding of wicked problems of hill development. This paper is majorly based on this diagram.

A dome near Myunsyari (maybe for a poly-house) looked up as a sign of positive development.  Currently corroding due to migration.

Looking into, 2011 Census data, between 2001 and 2011, the hill districts of Almora and Pauri showed a negative population growth of – 1.73 and – 1.51 per cent respectively. These are ones chased. A major political barrier in hill development is the number of seats foreseen in the assembly.

An abandoned hamlet in Gharwal dropping built establishment gradually.

Poll percentage according to the data of state assembly elections of 2012


Plain district Rudrapur


Haridwar and other plain districts.


Almora (Hill Distt.)


Pauri (Hill Distt.)


is the gap between the two extreme percentages in the hill and the plain districts

Lowest poll percentages were seen in hill districts only. 

Hill districts are thus suppressed in assembly and development strategies are prepared in cognizance of and according to plain districts only. This had failed the very revolutionary idea of separating the Hill state ‘Uttarakhand’ from plain areas. For holistic development, at least planar satellite area should be the criteria even if we disregard slopes, for representation in state assembly. Simply, as this system running, we are giving priority to those, who are part of population explosion, and ones who have controlled the population growth and concern for their biosphere aren’t given any significance.

On to the left are two hill schools while the one on the right is a school in Gorakhpur, UP. We cannot distinguish the two in terms of their architecture. Prominent problem in hill development is that we have separated it as a state, but in terms of adaptation of technologies and techniques we have failed. Architecture of plain districts cannot be sustained here because there is no acceptance if we look in topographical terms. It is an ignominy that we have lost our architecture to the development policy’s which were created by DDA for UP’s urban and rural development.

Definition of development’ is much misconstrued among the political stakeholders and societies. A common opinion exists, in which the very first steps of development are accomplished if the road reaches to a community, along with electricity. A place is said to be developed only if it has ‘Bijli, Paani aur Sadak’. Is it defensible to call this growth? Tushar Rajkumar, from Manipur, remembers those self-sustained ponds they had alongside every house before. Freshwater, fish and whole cycle of every household were maintained from those. These started to vanish once road reached these settlements, numerous pipes supply water here now. A number of systems will detect leakages in them.  Urban centers are being built instead of holistic habitats. People of ‘Malana’ in Himachal did not allow authorities to build road access to their village. It has got the most sustained economy and livelihood than any other village in India.

Outsourcing of built environment to those who are not cognizant of the topography and have sole interest only in the business is also the factor responsible for unsustainable hill development. With no understanding of the materials and their geological impacts, construction is done up to the scales unbearable by the strata of slopes.  This is the part of situation which needs to be handled under human interaction zone in the ‘wicked face of hill development’. This is how human interaction directly relates to natural interaction.

Construction was done in Almora where slopes are neglected and immediate loads are transferred to the ground vertically through foundations.

Many of these structures are built up to even six stories. Height is never the factor but loads of so many sandwiched RCC slabs in a single point disturb the topographically adjusted forces. Hills bear mostly arched forces instead of direct vertical force. This kind of distribution is responsible for the sloping and conical character of hills.

Sometimes we miss out many perspectives while talking about a development plan. Removal of perspectives from the ‘wicked face’ increases the strength of this wicked thing. There are a number of considerations one should observe while dealing with a natural scene or any ‘development’ plan. Benefits and losses can’t be just understood with just mere statistics or emotional understanding.

Protest against Tehri Dam. This image is displayed on Wikipedia page. In divergence, a locked door is visible signifying forced migration.

Sometimes we miss out many perspectives while talking about a development plan. Removal of perspectives from the ‘wicked face’ increases the strength of this wicked thing. There are a number of considerations one should observe while dealing with a natural scene or any ‘development’ plan. Benefits and losses can’t be just understood with just mere statistics or emotional understanding. In the lower Himalayas, on the river ‘Bhagirathi’ stands a 260.5-meter high rock-supported dam is capable of producing 2000 MW of electricity and irrigating 270,000 hectares of land. Unfortunately, this stands up in a zone which is most sensitive to earthquakes.

Tehri dam is situated on the newly formed perforated mountains. Kind of agro activities that used to be carried around here are proof of this. This was one of the most fertile hill soils now converting into most toxic.

This whole tectonic plate is shifting continuously towards south. For many generations now, every 300 years, Himalayas witness a heavy vibration. Kangra (Himanchal) earthquake of 1905 was a heavy shake of 7.8 but no ruptures of tectonic were reported. This earthquake never had a single epicenter, instead a number of landmass chunks moved; this signifies the insubstantiality of Himalayan landmasses. The situation here is not like some volcanically formed mountains that have a much stronger binding and heavy earthquake bearing capacity with the overlapping layers of lava. Himalayas are formed by this huge South Asian chunk pressing in the central ridgeline where many non-monolithic landmass chunks are sandwiched in numerous layers for the past 40 million years. This is the main reason for such rich flora/fauna, diversity in soil/rock patterns along with the 8 huge and many small vibrations that Himalayas witnessed  ever since the happening of 1897 earthquake in Assam. The plate on which Tehri Dam is built is reasonably damaged. We have to understand this project specifically in detail to understand hill development issues in wider perspective. It has already been calculated that age of this dam will reduce up to one-fourth due to deposition of silt. Landslides/land shifts due to overflows are just a few major consequences, it has affected biodiversity in heavy amounts, non-friendly vegetation has already started to emerge, and the very purpose of sustaining life was also lost. Water is a sharp blade; it flows over the rocks for generations converting them into sand and silt. Any river we see in the valley has stood and formed at a much higher altitude. Every river is in a process, seeking for the center of gravity and vanishes like ‘Saraswati’ in the course of time. During this settling process of river, numerous small scale/unnoticeable landslides keep on happening and supportive/refilling streams joins the river. Wherever there is a loose mass, river widens up and narrows on the hard mass. These small streams also divide landmass into large dollop which might prolapse. Height of water is the main reason for land movement. Out of 20 dams having height from 150 meter to 250 meter, 6 have failed while from all the reservoirs with height less than 120 meter, only 6% were affected. In Tehri, landmass consists mostly of Phyllite rocks. These rocks fragments and turn into powder easily. It is one of the most fragile rocks holding India’s highest dam. In Himalayan range, out of 11 dams, 9 are in earthquake prone areas. We had already advanced quite a bit in geology before these were built. The path of Bhagirathi River consists of a number of prolapsed huge landmasses, the maximum of which are alone in Tehri. The nail pressure this water is applying continuously ruptures the land while silt filling also occurs.  Low height mud check dams are only solutions if any are going to be built in Himalayas, that too, for sure not in Tehri. In case of any disaster (on site, disasters due to this irresponsible construction are discussed later in this paper), this land cannot be restored, people won’t feel safe for themselves and in toxic environment. Tehri had special gravitational & magnetic fields due to heavy prolapsed masses. These forces are adversely affected due to this huge amount of percolating and reserved water. At the very base there is 20 meter wide prolapse crack. From the total of 10,000 Dams, 460 went through disasters, out of which 140 were fully destroyed. All of these were on a considerably tougher rock echelons. The development strategies adopted here are on western lines and methodologies which might not work effectively. Various researchers, geologists and scientists had already denied the fact that construction of this dam will be successful and sustainable. This is where the political and monitory aspects add up. A report with all the consequences of dam was leaked due to administrative slip. Thus a new strategy had to be articulated, a committee was established, which had to give a green indicator to this edifice. Now, the false data was created again, with the false statement of consequences. Very first officials involved in Tehri Hydro Power Complex demanded ‘Ganga Development Authority’, which was supposed to look into the development issues related to river till Rishikesh, this authority was never created because no one coveted queries counter to incomplete statistics. Henry H Thomas (author: ‘The engineering of large Dams’ and a well-known dam engineer) was initially in support of the large dams, later, he befitted himself in contradiction of these heavy artificial lakes. According to him, if bit of common sense is applied, it is clear that this dam is a threat to India; it might turn into a natural disaster that no one can imagine. He also believes that if there is just 1% of snag unanswered, such projects shouldn’t be carried out. If we turn the pages of political situations back then, the question of construction of this dam is pretty much clear. Greed and Terror are two more factors that attach to the wicked face of hill development with the development marked in human interaction zone. The initiation of this concern within the local people came up when an article under the head: ‘Super Dams and Bitter Lakes’ was published on August, 1983 in Readers Digest. People were also reluctant to leave their roots as the reimbursement & resettlement was not reasonable. For the 20 acres of land 40,000 were reimbursed which was not at all sufficient to buy even 2 acres of land in nearby townships like Rishikesh or Dehradun back then. Even the pockets of land reimbursed to them were of very poor quality and this laborious job of making this terrain cultivable, carried out for generations was fully disregarded.

It’s been decades now, since we have this killing machine lying like a sword on our neck. We may say that lack of leadership and local political strength is the reason for such developments. Strong leadership which existed in this region was removed forcefully back then. ‘Hurry’ and ‘short-term’ approach finds an easier existence in the democracy. Identity loss, character loss, adaptation and migration were clearly enforced upon hills here. Russia proposed a handsome amount of help to development of nuclear power plants in India. This development was rejected by physicist Raja Ramanna. Now, a new proposal was needed to acquire this money therefor this whole hoopla was set up. The drowned area of 40sqm had 92 well sustained villages. Much more than 70,000 people were migrated. The silt, from the rivers, Bhagarathi & Milangana is much more than any other river and with these stats; we cannot assume life of this dam to be more than 40 years. In Bhakra, the ratio of strongest to the weakest rocks was 1:2 while this ratio in Tehri was 1:20. During construction of Bhakra Dam, the content of silt coming from the river was 42.9 metre3 per kilometer2 which later increased to 72.9 meter3 per kilometer2. Similarly in Ramganga initially it was 42.9 which increased up to 179.5 meter3 per kiliometer2. This gives the broad-spectrum idea about reduction in age of both these dams. Compared to these, Bhagirathi and Milangana carry much larger quantities of silt, therefore 40 years is the maximum age we can consider. The major reason for disturbance in short term approaches like Maneri-Bhali was silt deposition. This project came down in year 78 and later halted in year 85. The example of reservoirs built with incomplete knowledge include Srisailam dam in Andhra, Kali Hydro Power Project in Karnataka, Pong Dam in Himanchal, Swarnrekha Project in Bihar, etc. All of these projects destroyed settlements at a larger scale. Even disasters like Kadam(1958), Panchet(1961), Nanak Sagar(1967- though it is a low height mud-walled reservoir), Dantiwada(1973), Arun and Hinglo(1978) were the fresh examples when Tehri was commissioned. Damages done by these are not yet restored. Only due to geological reasons, 117 dams in US, 4 in Russia, 11 in Australia, 7 In Algeria, 7 in Canada,  10 in UK had already been destroyed till this this time. Henri Thomas mentioned in his book that there is no way till date which can predict a Disaster. Koyna Dam incident of 67, in which 200 people died and more than 12000 were homeless was a new instance back then. Though Himalayas are much more fragile and sensitive than this region, it has more tectonic movements, quite a bit of quakes are seen here, sill this huge axe was placed here.

A news article published on August, 2 2004 predicting Kedarnath incident. If ‘development’ was stopped back then in the region, we would have seen just 0.2% of the total loss. Although we could have stopped this activity in Chaurabari.


Now, a new proposal is coming up, to make a lake view city in Tehri, the government is looking forward to making a tourist hub here which might also result in unbearable tourist influx and schemes for cleaning up Ganga might also be required in Rishikesh. Anyways, a river dies once we hinder the flow. And, the massive volume of water from these rivers is absorbed by hills. Dr. GC Sharma, says, ‘Himalayas are like a huge sponge, retaining massive amounts of moisture from the snow covered peaks, to low-slung lying glaciers, and from the monsoon rains”. This absorption and percolation started to happen once the water was filled into this dam. It is on such soft rocks that even they converted into swamped debris. This has swamped all the areas up to Joshimath and Chamoli on the east. Capillary action is taking place within the hills and this moisture is also rising to the higher altitudes in all directions. There is a creation of this huge swamp extending to hundreds of kilometers. Previously, this sponge of hills used to retain the water from North-Eastern snow and monsoon rains, now this had stopped. Underlying ice found no way to percolate, thus the only escape for this glacier was through the river, which we named ‘Natural Disaster’. Coming back to ‘Wicked face of hill development’ we see how ‘natural interaction’ is directly related to ‘human interaction’. We might not have any news of disaster if that news-clip from ‘Danik Jagran’ was earnestly taken. When that news article came up, there were merely few shops in Kedarnath, this massive, unsustainable construction, which does not exist anymore was not there even in 2004. We might have got the news about Kedarnath mentioning loss of just a couple of roads in 2013. Like those people of Tehri, who cannot return back to their homes, distress will extend right up to Kolkata once this dam collapses, and there is no returning back. Kedarnath was just first of all.


We tested the soil for moisture content with the samples from various places. The composition from earth (taken after digging 1-2 meters) was compared for equal amount of sand, silt, gravel and clay. Top soil containing humus content was disregarded. Palm test were done for determining the soil composition. It was taken care of that similar weather conditions and altitude exist.  The humidity was measured using hygrometer, hand test method and block test method. A tin test method was also adopted for subsequent comparative results: image00. Where W1= weight of tin(g), W2=weight of moist soil + tin(g) and MC%= Moisture content of the soil. Here analysis was performed on moist (air-dry) samples. The warm colors depict the increased content of moisture. Kedarnath disaster can be clearly seen through this map generated with the study done in 2014. The content of moisture is readily increasing in hills and spreading out from the center ‘Tehri’.

Areas swamped by Tehri dam on its north-east side. Tehri dam (SW) is almost 60 Km away Kedarnath (NE). This swamp does not allow absorption.

Settlements built later on unsustainable slopes in an unsustainable way. More than sufficient reason was Tehri Dam itself.

Kedarnath lies in a valley where the path to river opens up from a number of glaciers. Hills surrounding Kedarnath also have a higher altitude. Previously these were absorbent but now saturated due to Tehri Dam, this is where regional planning comes into play.

A traditional approach to planning misses the dynamic collection of information. Initial statistics are required to generate future graphs but it is also necessary to have a clear idea of real time happening. Planning should be done in a cross-sectoral coordination of these two. For example, In Nainital, the number of tourists visiting in a year has to be separated from the number of tourists visiting in specific season and time of day for holistic planning.

Regional planning, before anything else, is mandatory for any kind of holistic development anywhere. While working on Regional Plan of Goa, resolution of every issue even as massive as such a huge tourist influx just on maps was done efficiently. Strategic regional planning is also required for the hills. Settlements in Kedarnath were done right in the valley; Glaciers are like a sword on the neck of this settlement. It’s clearly visible that Kedarnath lies on the River. If we look into historic settlements, that have existed till today, many of them were built above the valley or with the buffer from the river. Unless we specify the regions clearly, after looking into the situations clearly on the map, nothing can be devised. In Switzerland, no river is touched. Even no construction is allowed in the 500-meter buffer along the running length. Just a simple way to sustain habitat and ecosystem.  Spatial informatics should also be involved in the regional planning for proper resource management. Arrangements should be made in such a way that people are also well cognizant of their environmental resources and implications.


A retaining wall in Myunsyari to support an underlying structure. The volume of material used in this wall is much more than the total volume of material used to construct this two-story structure, Retaining walls are often, not seen as a very holistic solution for building on the hills as they add up to the vertical compression load and do not have arched action of load division on the slope side. This house may have been broken into boxes climbing up the contour, which might not have disturbed the topography and proper light and air flows would have reached to all rooms with the view of the valley and Panchachuli peak.

Misapplication of construction constituents is perhaps the leading single aspect that adds to ecological filth and hazards in the hills. In the last century, the prevalent volume of expansion in the building industry has been that of surfacing materials. RCC (reinforced cement concrete) was clearly not the answer and it is to defend RCC that numerous surfacing materials have been industrialized, which also provide color shade and grain. A communal misapprehension is that the life of a construction hinges on to the strength of the construction material. This is inappropriate. If the topsoil bearing capacity of the earth is 2-3 kg/sq cm then it would seem unreasonable to use building materials of 300-400 kg/sq cm. The power of the material required is the straight concern of its surface requirements. Surface engineered building materials require serious consideration to replace stone for holistic building. Conventionally, a significant expense of prominence was given to the choice of materials to ensure the preservation of natural resources. It is the improper choice of resources that has caused the environmental squalor in hills.

This fellow in Almora chopped off the contour up to7 meters and placed a hollow concrete box instead.  Next to this is an empty property on which similar construction will be done. This should be rather called destruction as the situation in Almora is getting pathetic due to this kind of approach being adopted from the plain regions. The transverse load here is suddenly grounded vertically which will generate a crack in hill. This may take down the whole patch at once. Valuation of land in ‘square foot’ rather than in traditional ‘Nalli’ system is a consequence of this. Swamp from Tehri has also reached the hills of Almora, though it is not on the immediate riverbank but huge weather disturbances are noticed here.

A nearer look at brick and reinforced cement concrete, two of the most extensively used ingredients of the industrial age, launches the inappropriate assessment of the constituents we select to construct with, underpinning the effectiveness of the mystic forms of instituting environmental equilibriums. An adjacent understanding contrasting the ordinary method accepted for every constituent of a structure is an illuminating maneuver. This omnipresent performer in the construction drama- THE BURNT CLAY BRICK. This tiny component of the construction industry which has for periods, been most misinterpreted. Today, the brick is considered a construction component having widespread use and criteria. The users and builders do not have a cognizance of the factors such as costs (heavy increment solely due to transportation) and unsustainability. This is simply an adaptation that traveled into hills somewhere from northwest. Onsite casted materials are only solutions through which more holistic settlements can be achieved.

This construction is being done with the bricks brought into Jageshwar from almost a distance of 100 kilometers. For this small construction hills have been chiseled to make a pathway with stone retaining. If he would have used the natural slopes, he must have found an easy access to the property, also, with the 25% stones he has been using for retaining walls, he might have completed the whole house. This house in turn may have been more sustainable and weather efficient. Earthen blocks may also have been used if he wanted similar textures.

Another construction material that controls the building productiveness the world over is Reinforced Cement Concrete. RCC is measured as the principal of human attainment in the realm of construction constituents. It is relevant to query ones’ unsighted and misdirected confidence in it as a magical formula. In order to assess RCC, it is essential to concisely go into what may have been the motive for its expansion. In the past, stone was the most resilient material known to man in hills. However, moving, control and treating it, were weighty and required a huge amount of work contribution. Also, the obtainable dimension of the boulder was a limitation in terms of design potentials.

Efficient use of concrete. Here wood lintel is replaced with precast ferro-cement slab which is reusable and does not add much to the carbon footprint. Effective use of concrete and maintaining time-tested developments brings the built environment closer to sustainability.

Initial glimpses of Kedarnath: ‘The structures in Jageshwar built on the river, this river do not have a tremendous flow but any geological movement can fill this trench up with force. Also the life of river is tremendously disturbed with such activities.

Sedimentary rock is often capable of taking far more tensile stresses than RCC. Yet, the faith reposed in RCC is so great that it seems fundamentally difficult to persuade the die-hards that there is an essential error in our perception of RCC. We have dropped into the deception of using typical details the world over for foundations, walls, roofs and other elements of a structure. Each consecutive generation of architects and builders senselessly accepts the prevailing standard deprived of justifying their returns or inspecting substitute solutions. It is an enormously small percentage that is involved in developing alternative technology and building materials for hills.

With the fast progresses throughout the industrial revolution and the development of cement as a rapid setting bonding agent, it became likely to crush stone and remold it, thus making it workable in the formation of a diversity of arrangements. Flexibility was, consequently, the main benchmark and to this amount the development and practice of concrete is defensible. Reinforced Cement Concrete is an development that forces regular constituents to perform in a method that we desire from them to behave. Just as stone has the characteristic superiority of being able to take substantial crushing loads, the derivative of stone as used in concrete, has marvelous abilities of repelling crushing loads. It is only when we try to use this material as regular blocks and drive the material to re-join in contradiction of its usual properties, that we encounter a sequence of glitches that continually complex themselves. In the place of reflecting and inspecting wherever we may have mistaken, we struggle to find answers without inspecting the base. Characteristically, RCC consists of cement as an adhesive to bind sand and stone aggregate to create reconstructed stone. The coarse sand is the in-between, used to fill empty space, and the effort is to once again attain the strong point of the stone that we crushed to initiate with. The steel strengthening is brought together in the lower areas of the RCC, to counterbalance the tension produced while RCC is used in a smooth form. In the higher areas, when understood in the cross section of the beam, concrete is acting in compression and answering to its characteristic potentials. The problem, therefore, lies in the lower part of the RCC, which is actuality prepared to tolerate tension – in contradiction of its usual behavioral capabilities. It is not as if stone is unqualified of resisting tension. Flat stone slabs have been used in Hindu temples to roof considerable spans and the form of building adopted was on the basis of the inherent qualities of the material. Stone slabs were also used as roofing material. For example the flat stone slabs, in our traditional forms of building, were used only where sedimentary stone existed. In areas where metamorphic or volcanic rock existed, compressive constructions were done.

Rock shelters(this one in Jageshwar) is one of the most sustainable approach used in the hills, such structures do not disturb the contour and slope forces. Such structures if build holistically can withstand any kind of disaster. In some areas(like the ones affected from the swamp generated by Tehri dam), these might not be possible. The major disadvantage of these structures can only be seen in terms of space requirements(workable with modular approach).

RCC frame cladded with the marble brought from Rajasthan to Myunsyari. No emotional response about use of the materials exists in even such remote developments of the hills.

A lot of marble used in the same temple at Myunsyari is even thicker than brick. Massive carbon footprint and economic drain will be result of this construction.

On to the right is the blow-up of the same temple shown on left. Balconies projecting out with the sewage pipes that too on the retaining side. 1 of 1000 persons will stand on this balconies. An interesting fact is that this whole building is closed from opposite sloping side from where Panchachuli peak is visible right in front. This is a massive waste of unwanted materials and resources. How this sensibility can be brought in is discussed further in this paper.

What would Baker build?

I found Laurie Baker inspiring, maybe not very much from his structures, but from his vision and outlook towards Indian subcontinent. In the early years, after he met Gandhi, he stayed for a long time in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand.                       

In his 17 years of stay here, he just did one hospital building (left), rest he did here was the documentation. He tried to grasp the very holistic soul of these settlements. He never wanted to add anything here, as he found it to be so perfect in every aspect. Later on he came up with the rural housing solutions for a larger region(whole Indian plain subcontinent). Now, concrete from the low-lying Tarai region have reached Pithoragarh. People have forgotten Baker here. Landscapes are of city again, no differentiation from other cities, concrete jungles growing on the hills. Images on the left are of the hospital designed by him. And to the right is the house he used to lives in. Both are in pathetic condition but a lot is here to learn about holistic human settlements. Tested these small slit windows and results were amazing. He brought architectural revolution in India with the inspirations from hills.

Human settlements are the grounds of all expansion activities and the dealings of man with his environs. The construction industry and other activities connected to human settlements account for approximately half of the GNP in most emerging nations. It is furthermore the sole chief influence that adds to ecological squalor and has a straight consequence on economy, yield and communal activities. the parameters set down, sustainable city strategies for developing countries can be instigated and a healthy future safeguarded.

Time tested interventions, such as stone slate roofing is vanishing in the Hills. The major reason being the non-availability of stone. The loss of such techniques is majorly the reason for the filth in the built environs of hills. Many of the interventions that existed have been lost already due to the corruption of architecture carried up into the hills with an advent of the modernist movement. The modernist movement was not accepted in the holistic terms but pseudo considerations of its strength (materials) were kept in mind. Such interventions can be kept well in place by the holistic use of available materials.

Concrete slabs with a thin wire mesh later while maintaining Jageshwar temples. The roofing is same as slate-roofing, just the material have been casted with concrete. Such techniques help in restoring the traditional wisdom developed over the generations. Such slates are also re-usable and sustainable solution for roofing in hills.

Sketch showing the disturbance to the arched action of slopes generated by unsustainable construction. Almost all of the slopes in Kedarnath collapsed due to this reason. Any built form has to be monolithic with the topography it is built on. A proper consideration of forces is prerequisite for any type of sustainable construction. Forces can be calculated with the chain deviation method where a chain or rope can be placed on the contour. Wherever, there is a slight upward deviation in the rope, that area may be considered best for construction. 3D imagery i.e. available on Google Earth may also be used to study slopes of the larger regions. Building practices, can be adopted in the non-friendly contours but they have to justfy all the forces of the slopes.

Locally known as ‘Bakhuli’, traditionally structures on the hill were placed linearly to avoid damage to the slopes. Also there was minimal requirement for digging. More spaces are also generated with less labor. This methodology also reduces the cost, carbon footprint and costs. Forces are also damaged to minimum even if extensive construction is done.

A temple, in Jageshwar (built in recent few decades) depicts a holistic approach for hill construction. All the load divisions are cognizant with the surrounding topography. It has no cost of materials and use of topsoil rocks is harmless to the environs. Appropriate for small scale constructions.

Both(above) structures in Nainital, on to the left is collapsed framework where surrounding slope forces was not calculated. Due to improper handling of the tension forces, the whole structure came down. At the bottom is the house that has been raised with the RCC columns to achieve road height. Since this structure does not have a proper building pad, it applies point load (vertical) on to the slope. A heavy damage is also visible on the slope due to this unsustainable building technique.

Mining is another factor which results in disintegration of river systems. Any river eventually dies whenever excessive mining is done. Mined sites are also left as wasteland afterwards like Dehra-Lambi mines in Mussoorie. Mining is one of the factors depleting Himalayas for the interests which do not even exist here.

On the left is the Ariel view of village Bansbagar. The river is coming down and hitting the whole village chopping off the land. On the right is the blowup of same village where a chopped down wall is visible. A tiny JCB machine is working here to help build this wall (concrete block on the left of the same image). Mud, anyhow is more stable material than concrete on the action of water if it is well stabilized. A stabilized mud block, if dipped in the water, can never disintegrate, even for the generations. A concrete block made with the best composition can only stand for up to 6-7 years. Government is investing ₹200 crore in this project to save this village. We can say that in monitory terms, this program is similar to Tehri dam. Anyways, this was photographed in 2014, by now this wall is fully erected. A holistic planner might have used just a few crores, maybe 10% of whole to resettle these people in a more sustainable place. These partial-perennial/seasonal rivers shift their course towards the east. Mostly in Himalayas and Ganga plains. These should not be disturbed and a proper buffer from these rivers should be maintained. Such rivers ultimately become a disaster and then die with the course of time.

FOUR ARROWS TO KILL THE WICKED FACE OF HILL DEVELOPMENT. We need to keep that face in front before killing it.  In the center lie the parameters of idea, where we question ourselves. What is this development for, its idea and benefits from it. For example if we are going to make the shoe, we can have certain parameters answered like ‘This product is going to protect the feet’. Protect from where? From top, sides and Bottom as well. What kind of protection is it? It is to protect from low temperature and soil. What kind of temperature and soil protection? These questions should be answered till we get down to the core of the problem’s solutions and no more than one ‘W’ are left. Now comes these three parameters, one of which is ‘comparison and built up cases’. Here we look down into the previously designed shoes, look for the implications, all pros and cons. Then return back to the parameters of the idea and implement necessary changes, as realized from the cases. After this ‘literature’ i.e. the very exclusive purpose of having a shoe. Maybe we look into those ‘wooden /only-sole/ with-one-nail’ footwear discussed in Ramayana, or maybe ones wore by ‘Tom Cruse’ in the film where he climbs a vertical building walking on glass. This puts another idea of innovation, if we can do to our shoe. Now ‘parameters of idea are reviewed again’. All of these bottom-three are repeated with the ease of planner. This last process on the top is most important ‘Situational Parameters’ where real idea is generated. “Should I wear the socks and sandals with them?” Where you can drop the whole idea of making a shoe and generate a whole new idea which might be better, easier, economical, more holistic, friendly. Then comes again the ‘parameters of idea’. Till the time best solution is devised from all aspects. Performance is also another criterion where we should look

For each and every ‘situational parameter’ it is necessary to have a implication of resource we are using. A shoe made up of cloth or a sandal made up of leather? What is the resource more holistic to use at this particular point of time? Can this resource be returned back to ecology in any other form after its performance is over?

This list represents a few DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFTS. Whole world is a chaos of demographic shifts happening. Behavioral change is one of the major factors which directly relates to issues, one of such is improvement of living and many more can be added. Maybe this problem of living can be sorted out with holistic planning instead of setting up various radiation emitters. Technological breakthrough is a major part, so why not look into fueling of local innovation rather than leveraging mobile and internet, or in what limited scope should it be used? Village women in remote hill who has been growing and experiencing vegetable cultivation all her life does not need a vacuum compressed shoe but a Biomass Gasifier to meet her energy needs. So can ‘situational parameters’ wholesomely be changed according to need? Resource scarcity and climate change can be considered for managing, sustainable development, and accountable resource utilization through holistic planning in specific for the area. Accelerating globalization may be considered as one of ‘development’ factors but remote/isolated developments are equally necessary and we CANNOT CALL THEM UNDERDEVELOPED, they are developed in their own scope, maybe not in a scope we all can understand. Otherwise these settlements will be like a extinct mammoth or a sparrow (nearly extinct due to mobile radiation). A country as a larger unit can have shared goals, strategic choices and should remove obstacles. Sub systems on larger/regional levels may have fine-tuned goal(characteristics, location etc.). Numerous HOLISTIC HUMAN SETTLEMENTS AND THEIR BIOSPHERE may exist within these defined patterns. On to the left is the consideration we should look into with the ‘short, medium, long term’ impacts of every demographic shift.

This is ‘Eco Park in Jageshwar’. We can’t blame only the local people, and up to the certain extent authorities also because they reside in same conditions and are not very well cognizant of environmental implications. Another way through which we can improve the situations holistically is making people visualise their future.

Before Mining

After Mining

In Goa, we used to create computer imagery the places which are in the pristine memory of the local people and compare them before and after, for example, in this one a hill was shown in its existing condition and then photoshopped showing the situation after mining will be done. This had a greater impact. Local people started to revolutionize. This land of Chipko movement also have an inner instinct of not chopping off trees which can be brought out easily.

Generation was placed at the neck of ‘Wicked Face’. It is the last and only sufferer of all activities. The examples we set up are followed thus it is required for a development process that it interacts with the coming up generation.

We surely have this solution of sustaining hill architecture and ecology. Why there is a need to create more when there exists a lot. Just adding proper sewage and sanitation can bring up great economic opportunities.

A restored village house which was once deserted. Visitors also love the local cuisine here and they are paying handsomely as well. It is one of the biggest business opportunities to local people. Simply they have to ‘continue the tradition’.

How can state-of-the-art and ingenious approach add to subjects associated to these themes, particularly in the perspective of the mountains?

Design is frequently grasped as a feigning procedure destined for prettification and overdoing rather than dealing with communal, traditional and even ecological matters. Placing all this composed on one board is to diffuse these sagas and discourse about how design rational can help us out.

Looking at the present course of action, attention on smart cities and developing experiments, plan of smaller hill zones may be shelved or bargained. That said, we want Dehradun to be a Smart City, but in the correct intellect. So let us also discuss what we mean by a Smart City and how these in foothills can be a model especially in the context of Himalayan regions and growing Urban Habitats. Let us develop a wide method created on a study of small concerns that can help develop existence in the truest sense. 


The greater the chaos,

The greater the opportunities

To make a difference.

Identify a problem…


… And use it as an opportunity.


Good design gifts

Societies with quality of life

Could we use design to make the difference in Hills…


Where do we start?

Let’s look at the Wicked Face… And kill it..