Why traditional Kullu houses are more resistant to Himalayan earthquakes ?

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Earthquakes are not a common phenomena in most parts of he world. Hence, houses in most rural areas are not built to withstand seismic forces, resulting in heavy causalities even in moderate quakes. In some parts of the world, however, where earthquakes are common, people have incorporated the critical elements of quake-resistance in their traditional construction method.

Traditional Kullu houses with newer structures around

Traditional Kullu houses with newer structures around

Traditional house building techniques of Kullu and other valley’s of Himachal have successfully demonstrated during several past earthquakes in the Himalayan region that the indigenous constructional design has the ability to tolerate earthquake shock waves better than newer structures.

The 1905 Kangra earthquake 8+ tremor on the Richter scale shook the foundations of many buildings and structures, which included the strong foundations of the thousand year old Kangra Fort but many traditional Kat-Ki Kunni houses in Kullu valley made up of timber remained unaffected.

The Dhajji-Diwari buildings remained had withstood the strong 1885 Srinagar earthquake and in Uttarkashi traditional 100 years old multi-storied buildings called Pherols have escaped much damage from earthquakes because of use of traditional design and material that has resistance to moderate to severe tremors.

Traditional Kullu house


Similar to the Pherols and the Dhajji-Diwari buildings, the Kat-Ki-Kunni or timber cornered buildings suffered minimal damage in the epi-central tract of Kulu Valley during the 1905 Kangra earthquake. These structure are almost identical to the Pherols of Uttarkashi.

Kullu House2

Foundation of a traditional house with a new concrete structure coming up adjacent to it

These houses and larger structures combine the weight, solidity and coolness of a stone building with the flexibility and earthquake-resisting qualities of a wooden one.

In these structures the wood bonding takes place at vertical intervals of three to five feet. Two parallel beams are laid along with layer of masonry, one on the inside and one on the outside.

At the end of one wall they are crossed by the beams on the walls at right angle, and the wooden pins hold the crossing together. Cross ties of wood, similarly hold the two parallel beams in position at intervals along their length known as spider joint.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

2 Comments

  • Nodnat says:

    The reason why Kath Khuni architecture of HP has virtually vanished is because it takes a huge number of confier trees (usually deodar) to make even a small house. Also, houses built in this style, although very beautiful, are rarely over 2 or 2&half storey high and therefore uneconomic where land is expensive and scarce. The Kath Khuni houses turn out to be very expensive and were made only when timber was virtually free under the scandalous Timber Distribution rules of HP. In due course, with roads the timber got diverted to hotels and commercial buildings which were much more economic when built as pigeon holes of RCC!

    And that is the NEW ARCHITECTURE of the HIMALAYAS. To hell with earthquakes!

  • ramesh says:

    but most of the buildings become victim to fire so easily. main cause is electrification. they survived as long as there was no electricity. almost all the fires were caused by short circuit.

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