Achi Association
  • Avalokiteshvara Temple in 1998
  • Southeast wall paintings after cleaning
  • Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

WANLA –€“ Chuchig-zhal Temple

The temple before the structural repairs.

The temple before the structural repairs;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Condition of the Architecture

compiled by Martina Oeter and Alexandra Skedzuhn, based on reports by John Harrison,
Wolfgang Heusgen, Holger Neuwith, Roland Pabel and Hilde Vets

The Avalokiteshvara temple shows considerable damage. The main reasons for this are static overloads, material fatigue, increasing precipitation in recent years, erroneous or missing maintenance and possibly also the consequences of a former earthquake.
Since its foundation 600 years ago, hardly any structural alterations were undertaken on the temple up until 1998.

Old photos of the temple taken before 1999 show the damage caused by excessive roof load. The collapsing overhang of the parapet had been propped by wood posts resting on the niche roofs below.
Visible is also the damage caused by weathering. The parapet walls show signs of erosion and the wall underneath a defective rainwater spout is washed out.

The temple before Behl’s repair works of 1999.

The temple before Behl’s repair works of 1999;
photo Christian Luczanits.

In spring 1999 Mr. Benoy K. Behl, a photographer, with the assistance of the Indian army 3rd Infantry Division, undertook some repairs on the temple. Unfortunately he made no report of the work. The extent of his interventions was deduced from site inspection, comparison with photographs taken in 1997 and 1998 and information from local observers. The investigations revealed the following:

Roof parapets
The roof parapets generally have been reconstructed and relevelled, particularly above the side niches where the collapsing overhang of the parapet had been propped by wood posts resting on the niche roofs below. This has removed the additional load which had been bearing on the apse roof surface.
Parapet walls above the porch side walls have been removed and not replaced.
Original capping stones to all the parapet walls have been removed and replaced with a tin sheet and shaped clay capping. Because the flexible tin sheet projects beyond the face of the wall to carry the clay, the latter is already cracking and pieces at the edge are breaking off.
The outer edge of the tin sheet is turned up 4cm, and so water can collect, or ice freeze, in the tray, accelerating the break-up of the clay capping. Visually this results in an unfortunate hard metallic line around all the roofs. The outer face of the main parapet around the building has been finished with the traditional pesma- cut sticks bedded end-on in mud mortar - even though the parapets here were previously of plastered stonework. New timber battens have been added above and below the pesma.

On the lower roof over the entrance porch a thin coating of a shiny dark grey-coloured material (possibly resulting from the involvement of the Department of Atomic Energy in Mr Behl’s work?) has been applied to roof surface and parapet tops. This is already cracking and flaking off.
The main roof has been relaid, in some places to new drainage positions.
We were informed that Mr Behl used a mix of three different clays for the roof: from Spituk, Lamayuru and a local source. The light-grey coloured markalak from Spituk (regarded in the Leh area as the best roofing clay) had been laid on its own on the parapets and around drainage pipes, but was now cracking and peeling off.
The roof surface had been finished with a thin layer of the grey markalak, but this now only remained on the raised surfaces of roof edges and around drainage spouts, but was everywhere cracked, and was so thin as to appear a paint coat. Over the main area of the roof a lower unconsolidated clay layer was exposed with a loose surface.

The falls to the rainwater run-off points appeared generally to be satisfactorily laid. But there was some evidence of ponding at the north corner of the main roof, where an old rainwater spout had been removed and a new spout installed on the northwest side. Black plastic pipes had been fitted as rainwater spouts to replace the traditional wood channels. The pipes were small – 50mm diameter from the main roof, 35mm from the porch – and so were easily blocked by loose sediment washing from the roof surface. The pipes were long enough to take water clear of the walls and lower roofs.
The pipe draining the lantern roof discharged onto the clay of the main roof.

The roof lantern has been fitted with two additional windows (there are now three). These are glazed with plastic sheet, held in by nails. The largest window is placed at roof level, with no sill: the overhang of the lantern roof should give some protection against rain penetration, but not against standing snow.

External walls
On the external walls of the temple, visible cracks and areas eroded by leaking rainwater spouts have been plastered and repainted, so that external evidence of the structural problems in the walls has been concealed.

The internal walls of the lantern have been replastered around the wall paintings, with some mud splashes on the paintings.
Otherwise, no repairs had been undertaken by Mr Behl inside the temple. The serious cracks in the structural walls and in the wall paintings remain as documented in 1998. We were informed that the cracks in the side niches had developed in the last twenty years. In the NW niche, the plaster repairs in the NW corner were made fifty years ago, but the crack above and bulging plaster surface had developed since then.

Entering the temple the most evident damage are the cracks and areas of deformation in the painted plaster. This occurs most visibly in the interior, at the lion consoles of the main beams between ground floor and gallery level. Foto The cracks are mostly vertical, rather deep, wide and very long. Shorter and shallower horizontal cracks branch out from the vertical ones. While the damage to both opposite side apses is practically identical, almost symmetrical to the main axis of the building, the cracking in the apses on the right side wall is far more serious than on the left. This crack leaves a distinct cleft in the masonry. It begins at the top in the corner bordering on the main room, at the point of support of the foremost floor beam, and continues down across the entire wall at a slight angle into the back of the apses. It has been ascertained that this is a historic crack probably due to an earthquake.
The same event may be responsible for the crack in the main beam on gallery level, which augments the static problems.

The Avalokiteshvara Temple, vertical section.

The Avalokiteshvara Temple, vertical section;
drawing Holger Neuwirth.

The movements of the building result in the above mentioned deformation and detachment of the plaster from the walls. These hollow areas form gaps of approximately 10 cm and in some areas have an extension of more than 1m². All these types of damage are an indication for severe problems of the structural stability of the building.

Two different reasons for these problems were considered, one of them being the slipping of the temple foundation due to different kinds of the soil conditions (grown rock, bedded stone). Another possibility taken to account was the compression of the building due to an overload of earthen material on the roof structure.

A first survey was carried out by Wolfgang Heusgen, Christian Luczanits and Holger Neuwirth.
Shortly after that, various interventions were executed at the temple (see report interventions carried out by Behl 1999). With the plastering and painting of the façade the evidence of external cracks was lost.

Over the years, different investigations and measurements were undertaken to find out the cause-and-effect chain of damage and to work out a conservation concept.

Investigations of the foundations

In the beginning, the primary objective of the architectural work was to investigate possible defects in the masonry structure of the temple.

Map of investigation measures 2003.

Map of investigation measures;
drawing Hilde Vets.

Although it could be seen that the centre of the building on the NW-SE axis sits on the bedrock, some of the structural cracks suggested that the NE and SW ends might have been built on filled ground, which had allowed the NE and SW walls to move outwards. Excavation at the exterior of the walls was executed.
The first excavation took place at the southwest-northwest corner of the main SW apse, where cracks were visible in the external wall and in the bottom section of the internal wall (see figure 2, marks 1-2-3).

Excavation in front of the temple foundation, southwest-northwest corner.

Excavation in front of the temple foundation,
southwest-northwest corner;
photo Hilde Vets.

Excavation in front of the temple foundation, southwest-northwest corner.

Excavation in front of the temple foundation,
southwest-northwest corner;
photo Hilde Vets.

The temple walls in this area were found to sit on the bedrock, but on a friable and steeply-sloping rock face. There were no obvious major structural cracks in the stonework, but it was of very poor quality, with large open joints and deep cavities, and little mud mortar remains. Seeds and nests were an indication that there had been extensive tunneling by mice. Below the plaster some of the stone faces showed traces of red paint and the paint even extended into the cavities of the stonework. This suggests that some movement had taken place at a very early date.

Removing the plaster layer executed in 1999 by Behl.

Removing the plaster layer
executed in 1999 by Behl;
photo Nicole Kläsner.

Also on the southeast side of the temple the original wall (see figure 2: mark 4) was found to sit on bedrock.

At the north east side, outside the entrance porch, the ground was opened up around a beam which supported paving stones.
The chamber below, between the front wall of the temple and the old front yard retaining wall, is inaccessible and could only be seen from above through a hole in the pavement.
But a second chamber to the east is still accessible through a door in the bottom of the new retaining wall supporting the extended front yard. In both cases the front wall of the temple was seen to be in good condition, vertical, and built in regular stonework founded on bedrock.

Northeast foundation.

Northeast foundation;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Northeast foundation.

Northeast foundation;
photo Nicole Kläsner.

These investigations show that the temple mainly rests directly on the solid rock, whereas in the northeast and southwest corners the building sits on retaining walls, which are implemented as a dry bedded stonewall. This stable condition of the building foundation cannot be the main reason for the static problems of the temple.

Investigations of the roof structure

A few slipped posts of the coffered ceiling above the apsis allowed a view into the roof cavity, revealing a space large enough to assume that the roof in this area is a double roof construction. Precise information pertaining to the exact roof structure and the vertical pressure caused by the load could only be obtained by opening the roof.
Thus, the roof construction was investigated by excavating holes and removing the excessive roof load. (fig.3).

Temple in vertical section.

Temple in vertical section;
drawing Holger Neuwirth.

The soundings revealed that the external roof carries a load of several layers of earth which add up to approximately 57 cm of height. The fact that many layers have been put on top of each other is ascertained by the finding of many intermediate layers of red paint. Instead of renewing the water-repellent roof finish with adequate material, too often the maintenance work consisted of continuously adding another layer of earth.

In addition, the findings supported the assumption that the areas of the side niches and the main roof behind the lantern, including the apsis are double roof constructions. These roofs had a hollow space of about 40 cm height.

Double roof construction behind the lantern.

Double roof construction
behind the lantern;
photo Wolfgang Heusgen.

Roof construction with collapsed double roof construction .

Roof construction with collapsed double roof construction;
drawing Roland Pabel.

The weight of the upper roof was distributed on logs with a diameter of 6 to 8 cm. The pressure exerted on the logs has caused the double roof construction to collapse in two or even three areas: the area between the lantern and the apsis (above the coffered ceiling) and above one or both side niches.

Upper roof with collapsed and filled hollow double roof construction.

Upper roof with collapsed and filled hollow
double roof construction;
photo Roland Pabel.

This caused a depression in the roofs, which was filled up with loose rock material and sealed with earth. The total roof height in these areas added up to 113 cm. The coffered ceiling was in danger of total collapse, so that it was secured with an auxiliary construction of blue coloured beams.(fig.5)

Coffered ceiling with blue painted supporting structure.

Coffered ceiling with blue painted supporting structure;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Apart from this heavily damaged area, the other serious damage provoked by the overload on the roof occurs in those areas of the walls where varying loads meet in one point. This is particularly the case at the corners and side niches where the loads of the main beams and the weight of the wall above exert pressure on the lion consoles.

Crack emanating from one of the main beams.

Crack emanating from one
of the main beams;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Detail of the mapping of cracks on ground floor level, northwest wall (FWF project: Buddhist Architecture in the Western Himalaya, TU Graz, Austria, 2009).

Detail of the mapping of cracks on ground floor level,
northwest wall (FWF project: Buddhist Architecture
in the Western Himalaya, TU Graz, Austria, 2009)