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TIBET HERITAGE FUND Project office Germany: 13189 Berlin, Germany Project office Ladakh: Leh Old Town Initiative LOTI
Lakruk House, Stalam, Leh, Ladakh 1941010 J&K India The Restoration of Tsas Soma Mosque,
Leh, Ladakh, India
a report by André Alexander and Andreas Catanese
Project supported by Embassy of Finland and Trace Foundation
Masjid Sharif Restoration Report – May 2008

Site history
Ladakh has always been a crossroads of different cultures. Permanent Muslim settlements in the Ladakhi capital, Leh, are said to date back to the reign of king Senge Namgyal (r. ca. 1616-1642). At the time, Muslims were given the Tsas Soma ("New Garden") area, immediately to the west of the wal ed city of Leh. The mother of the King was herself a Muslim princess from neighbouring Baltistan. On the land this land, the traders built the Masjid Sharif mosque, the first in Leh. Both Sunni and Shia Muslims constructed places of worship, which still Location Tsas Soma area (in green).
today stand side by side. Following the Indian partition 1948 and the 1962 border war with China, Ladakh no longer remained an important crossroads for Central Asian trade. Since that time, the mosque was used as a place of worship by women. It also served as a Madrasah (Koran school). Today, many elderly Leh Muslims still remember how in their childhood they studied here their Holy Scriptures. The small agricultural stream which flows through the area was used to perform the ritual ablutions before prayers.
Perhaps because it was built in close vicinity to channels belonging to Leh's water system, and also near to a pool used to store irrigation, water infiltration caused severe damage to the wal s and timber frame of the site. Final y it had to be abandoned in the early 1980s.
1.2 Site location
A smal foot path leads from Leh's Main Bazaar to the west. After a few meters the Chutayrangtak Street branches off to the north, named after water mil s that were once widely The Anjuman Moin-ul Islam Society and used in this area (now replaced by motorized flour mil s). the THF team meet on site to finalize the A fal en tree, considered sacred to Buddhists and Sikhs, agreement and the intervention plan.
creates a sort of natural gate to the area.
Satellite image of Leh (courtesy Institute of South Asian Studies, Heidelberg), king Senge Namgyal's royal palace is visible on the hill, with the historic old town below. The Tsas Soma area is the small forested area immediately to the left of the old town.
1.3 THF / LOTI involvement
In late 2005, the owner of the Sofi House in old Leh that has just been restored by THF, proposed that we also work on the Masjid Sharif. The Anjuman Moin-ul Islam Society, the official owner of the mosque, then official y proposed to undertake the project in co-financing. In 2006 THF made a survey and developed the intervention plan. Intach J&K were also consulted and supported THF‘s proposal. The embassy North elevation, showing of Finland provided half of the budget, and the Society the entrance, the green matched these funds. In 2007 work could begin.
wooden door to the left 2.1 Intervention principles
The fundamental principles for the restoration work Masjid Sharif, north elevation (2006).
were the use of mostly traditional materials, and the employment of local artisans. To maximize authenticity, as much as possible of the historic building (even if it was ruined) was to be retained, and the original elements and materials would be re-used. In this way it would be also possible to demonstrate that effective use of the traditional Ladakhi buildings materials, such as mud, timber and stone make most sense in the local environment, and could today be termed eco-friendly. Timber for construction is local y grown and sustainably harvested, for example. The expert use of mud for wal s, plaster and insulation gives traditional buildings excel ent climatic qualities. In a seismical y-active area, Tibetan and Ladakhi buildings have survived earthquakes for many centuries.
Especial y in the fragile environment of Ladakh, this aspect of restoration and construction is important. Our experience in working with historic buildings in The mirhab, the Mecca-facing the Himalayas shows us that the traditional skil s and niche (2007).
experience, handed down by many generations, is still the Interior, showing serious settlement of timber frame and partial roof most sustainable way to build. For every improvement, collapse (2006).
we first need to see if it is possible to employ traditional technologies and materials.
Site plan by THF (2007)
Ground floor plan
Roof plan
Tsas Soma Masjid
Tsas Soma Masjid
In 2007, further surveys were made prior to actual start of the work.
Tsas Soma Masjid
The ground plan reveals the 90cm- thick traditional rubble-stone walls. The timber frame consists of six pillars, most of which were damaged by rot and not suitable for re-use. Poplar and willow have been used. The dome has already been removed decades ago, and after repair apparently fitted at the Shey Mosque.
Detail, timber frame
Tsas Soma Masjid
and entrance section
Tsas Soma Masjid
Proposed west elevation with restored dome on roof.
Proposed north elevation with entrance.
East-west section, looking north, showing
the ‘sunken' mirhab on the left.
South-north section, looking west,
mirhab in center.
Detail showing restored timber frame and
section through floor, showing gravel layer and
pillar base stone to prevent water infiltration.
Proposed roof plan, with
reconstructed parapets and dome.
Proposed ceiling design with willow joists Proposed design for wooden flooring, arranged in traditional Ladakhi pattern. arranged to match the ceiling pattern.
2.2 Intervention planning
To understand the present condition of the building, we always been expensive. Since we had to identify the causes of the damages, and solve would be placing the restored timber frame on new stone foundation Water is the traditional enemy of mud houses, and in stones, it would be easy to raise the our case there was extreme infiltration from the ground ceiling height. The roof composition below. This could be explained by the presence of a of wil ow stick joists and soil layers plethora of underground irrigation channels as well as a would be improved, according to our storage pond nearby. It is also possible that the mosque experience. Additional layers of pure was built on marshy grounds in the first place, as proper clay help to water-proof the roof, and ground for construction has historical y been very scarce a layer of straw mats prevents dust from fal ing through the joists.
We have decided to remove the wet soil, and lay a bed The missing dome would be placed of gravel to keep away the moisture. French drains on a traditional skylight to make the (half-open pipes) were laid below the gravel, collecting room more light. Together with the water and leading it away. The foundations of the wal s committee, the new dome would would be extended, and all timber elements places on be designed based on the Kashmiri long stones. The east side is today located beneath style, which is the oldest in the the Chutayrangtak al eyway level, and so particularly region. Parts of the old dome were susceptible to infiltration from an irrigation channel apparently used when a mosque in below that street. Following a request from the Anjuman Shey vil age near Leh was restored Committee, the channel was sealed with concrete lining some years ago, and we went to by the government. From our side, we built a second study that dome on site. However, wall next to the one that is partly below ground, to have its scale indicates that it was not the a layer of ventilation.
original Tsas Soma dome.
Several wal -sections have historic clay mouldings on the interior: the mirhab prayer niche and a lamp stand. Our aim was to preserve these. The Committee requested to increase the height of the building. The original size barely al ows a man to stand upright. This is a common problem of very old buildings in Ladakh, as large pieces of timber have Top: Anjuman Committee members on site.
Bottom: A. Catanese surveys the site.
3. Description of the intervention
After the planning and preparation had been completed, the first work done was to dismantle the roof and timber frame. The materials which we could reuse were stored nearby. Unfortunately almost all the beams and rafters were rotten except for 2 pil ars, 4 capitals and 2 beams. In some of them the damage was so huge that another collapse appeared to be imminent. Because the mud mortar in the wal s had been washed out, the wal s were held together only by the weight of the roof. Once it was dismantled entire portions of the wal s collapsed. We then dug out the soil about 2 feet deep until we found firm ground. At this point we could see directly where the moisture came from, water from the Chutayrangtak channel pouring through the east wall of the mosque and soaking into the ground.
We choose to collect the water and let it flow away from the building. We laid a net of perforated PVC pipes on the ground, some 60 cm lower than the final floor level. The pipes were covered with old cloth to prevent the dirt from going inside and rubble stones. These were then buried under the 2 feet layer of fine Plan to avoid future water infiltration, with layer of gravel, French drains, extended wall foundations and new pil ar foundation TIBET HERITAGE FUND / L.O.T.I.
Where the wal s had been dismantled, new stone foundations were built (1.5 times the wall thickness). For the remaining historic wall sections we reinforced the foundations by adding stones around them.
To prevent moisture from rising up in the masonry, we laid a layer of bitumen sheet between the foundations and the masonry. Above that the first wooden horizontal reinforcement element was placed. Traditional masonry is build with two layers of stones, outside and inside, in between the fil ing is done with mud and smal er stones. The wooden horizontal reinforcement elements hold the masonry together and in case of earthquake the wood absorbs the vibrations reducing the Detail showing Ladakh's traditional earthquake-damage-preventive technology of wooden bracketing inside the wal s. In 2007 the UNESCO office Delhi supported a THF workshop with local artisans to explore this traditional technology, which was then used for the Masjid restoration.
A particular challenge was to historic wall section with mirhab; preserve the old mirhab despite the team has dismantled the wall the serious structural problems. section to the left of the mirhab and secures it with temporary Neither the Anjuman Committee members nor most of our artisans the new wall section is joined to believed it could be saved, as the the mirhab wall section with iron wall on which it was located was severely dilapidated, but THF's Center: section view of the experience with similar cases in historic wall section, mirhab Tibet helped.
wooden support is visible.
Right from top: To prevent the collapse of the after completion of the left side, weakened wall section on which the right side wall section was it was located, a wooden support rebuilding the right side wall was fixed on the site. Then section, here the window frame portions of the neighbouring and had to be replaced, model ed on even outer sections of the wall the surviving frame on the left were carefully dismantled. Most the two wall sections are joined of the mud mortar had been and the old mirhab has been washed out, so that we found only empty spaces between stones, and whole sections of the wall fell easily when touched. During their reconstruction of the walls on both sides of the prayer niche steel bars were used to stabilize the old structure and to hold the entire wall together. Once it was strong enough to bear the loads of the leaning mirhab the wall on the outer part was completed. With all the walls restored or rebuilt we could start to re-erect the timber frame.
3.2 Structural rehabilitation
Decades, probably centuries of water infiltration have taken their toll on the walls and timber elements. Therefore 80% of the walls were rebuilt on new foundations. The new foundations are about 60 cm deeper than the originals and their thickness about 1.5 times wider than the original (following guidelines for constructions on marshy ground). Many elements of the internal timber frame had to be replaced, some elements could be partly re-used through grafting. All the discarded old wood was cut into boards and used for the wooden floor.
Only two pillars, four capitals and two beams could be re-used (all made from poplar wood), the replacements were made from the same wood and in same design, the different colour of the aged and new wood makes it possible to distinguish between original and replacement.
The roof of Ladakhi traditional buildings is composed of different layers. Each layer has different functions and capacities, so that the traditional roof works best if all the layers are deployed.
The structure is post-lintel construction. The pil ars, cal ed "ka", support an intermediate bracket between pil ar and beam, cal ed "kazhu". Its function is not only decorative, it distributes the load and reduces the span between the pil ars. Above the main beams, cal ed "madung" (‘mother beam'), lie the rafters (cal ed "dungmas"). A layer of joists cal ed "taloo" completes the wooden roof truss.
Traditional y, grass, roots or wil ow bark are used to create anymore to keep the water away from a division between wooden structures and mud layers, the roof structures. To prevent further and to create a stopgap protection from rain infiltration. damages and to waterproof the roof For the latter, these materials are not very effective, and of the houses, owners needed to they also do not prevent dust from the soil layers coming place more soil on their roofs every through the ceiling into the rooms below. year. This helps in the short-term, but Therefore for some time now we are adding a layer of over the years the soil accumulates tightly-woven straw mats on top of the taloo sticks to and the timber frame distorts due keep the dust out.
to the extra weight. We have found On this the first layer of mud is applied, consisting of excessive soil layers of up to a meter ordinary soil mixed with water. This stabilizes the joist thick on many old buildings. layer, and creates a uniform smooth layer. This also the layer where the final slope of the roof is formed. Into this first mud layer we have placed the PVC pipes for powersupply, and wooden boxes are placed for instal ing light bulbs later on. It was our concept to show that one can fit planned electric supply in a traditional structure, Top: straw mats are without showing the wires, the bulb holders, the switches placed above willow and so on.
Waterproofing of the roof is done by using a clay cal ed Left: markalag is "markalag" ("butter-mud"). This material is an extremely applied on top of the first soil layer. hardened clay stone, which melts and expands in Left to soak in water contact with water. It is available at low cost around overnight, it is best Leh town. The mar-kalag clay is applied over the first applied as a sticky soil layer, as a paste about 5 cm thick. It shrinks during drying out, and the cracks are then fil ed with mar-kalag powder to create a uniform layer. When the mar-kalag comes in contact with water it expands again, creating a waterproof layer. The water at this point is drained via the slight slope of the roof to the spouts.
This system is an improvement of the best available local method for waterproofing the flat roofs of traditional Ladakhi architecture. Traditional y only a thin layer of markalag was used. Due to the heavy rains for the last several years the traditional thin layer is not capable TIBET HERITAGE FUND / L.O.T.I.
As in many buildings, the weakest part of the roof is the joint between the roof itself and the wal s or parapets, as well as the spots were water flows into the wooden spouts. For the joints, we have used a layer of bitumen sheets, fixed in L shape and plastered over. The wooden spouts are fixed with cement, so that water cannot seep underneath the spouts and create damage. A important detail of Ladakhi / Tibetan architecture is the parapet, built from a variety of materials and decorated in a variety of forms and colours to reflect regional tradition and function of the building (for example, one can always tell a Buddhist temple from far by its parapet). Top: bitumen is applied as The parapet creates a slight protrusion that protects the protective layer between outside wal s from rain water. Two layers of slate stone parapet and roof.
are placed on both sides along the entire length of the Below: rendering of the shing- tsak, the traditional wooden Top: the restored mosque is being parapet (i.e. all around the building). These are held in overhang above the mosque plastered from the outside. The parapet place by the ‘fish-back' (nya-gyab), a topping layer of is an overhang construction, designed mud. After several experiments in other buildings, we to protect the walls from rainwater.
stabilized this mud with donkey dung and coated it with Left: section through the west wall, showing the "sunken" mirhab and the oil. The donkey dung gives to the mud better hardness, parapet construction. and the oil soaking into the mud waterproofs it.
Below: parapet section.
Nya-gyab: donkey TIBET HERITAGE FUND / L.O.T.I.
3.3 Finishes & Details
The Masjid project shows the intention of both the owners and the restoration team to achieve the a high standard of quality by choice of materials and techniques. Together with the Muslim Association, we decided that wood, even if costly, would be the most appropriate flooring material for a place of worship (even more since it is an important landmark in the Ladakhi history). The Muslim Association had a good supply of wood in their storerooms. The design of the floors follows the design of the ceiling. Where on the ceiling are the main beams on the floor, long struts are being laid on the floor. In the fields that the struts are forming ceiling boards are laid diagonal y, mirroring the arrangement of the taloo sticks in the ceiling.
The missing dome will be placed on a traditional skylight to make Detail of the floor structure: struts are placed on the gravel bed, the room more light. Together with the committee, the dome was forming a grid. The squares are fil ed with sawdust for insulation, designed based on the Kashmiri style, which is the oldest in the and then closed with diagonal y-arranged boards (see right).
region. Parts of the dome were apparently used when a mosque in Shey vil age near Leh was restored some years ago, and we went to study that dome on site.
The wal s are plastered with three layers of mud plasters. The first layer, local y cal ed "shaskalag" is a mixture of normal mud and grass. It is used to cover the imperfections of the wal s and to create a rough surface for a better adherence of the 2nd layer. Added grass prevents cracks while the mud dries out and shrinks. The second coat, cal ed "jala", is carried out in a mixture of soil with a high clay percentage, to lean the mixture river sand is add. It creates a smooth surface on which the third layer can be applied.
The last layer, cal ed "gubri", is carried out in river sand and markalag mixture. The gubri surface is gray in color and is very smooth. We white-washed it with natural color for a pleasant bright feeling in the room.
Completed exterior, with drain pipes and new paving.
We placed a green spotlight inside the Mirhab. Green The wood of the old windows was rotten, is the colour of Islam; at night when the mosque is dark partly. So the windows were restored using the spotlight highlights the prayer niche. some new wood. New glazed shutters were added to the historic frames.
The entrance door was kept as original, with some minor repairs. We found that historical y the door and windows were painted green, so we applied green pigment mixed with linseed oil, which also protects the wood from exposure.
On the outside, the outlines of the doors and windows were plastered according to local tradition and painted in green as wel , in this case with green pigment mixed with markalag and water. The other parts of the wall exteriors were whitewashed with markalag and water - the clay in the markalag gives a pleasant natural colour and protects the wal s from rain water Light system, the lamps are made from traditional hand-made Ladakhi paper.
Electric supply system hidden in floor boards, and switchboard.
Detail 8 - description
Re-consecration and first prayer on 13 November 2007, with the senior imam of the Leh Sunni community leading the prayers.
4. Credits
This report by André Alexander and Andreas CatanesePlanning and site supervision: André Alexander, Andreas Architectural survey: Andreas Catanese, Stanzin Tundup Further surveys and site documentation: Anna Wozniak, Steffen Klein, André Alexander Engineering consultant: John Logistics management: Konchok Accountant: Stanzin Dolker Food: Rigzin, coffee: Lala.
Head mason: Bashir Ahmed Head carpenter: Tsering Dorjey Other workers: Jamyang Tarchin (mason and carpenter), Shaffi Mohammed (mason), Tsering Dorjey (mason), Sri Lal (plasterer), Hare Krishna (plasterer), Punchok Angdu (carpenter), Sangay Punchok (carpenter), Feroz Ullah (carpenter), Jaan Mohammed (carpenter), Vijay Kumar (electrician), Parvez Kahn, Manzoor, Gulam Nabi, Farooq, Tashi Dolma, Tsering Dolma, Rigzin Yandol, Diskit Tsomo, Yangskit (labour).


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