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Thar Desert
About Thar Desert

The Thar Desert also known as the Great Indian Desert is a large, arid region in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and forms a natural boundary running along the border between India and Pakistan. It has an area of more than 200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi), within the Indian state of Rajasthan and covers the districts of Jaisalmer, Barmer,Bikaner and Jodhpur, and some region of the states of Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat.It is the world's 18th largest subtropical desert.

Thar in ancient literature
The position of Thar desert (orange colour) in Iron Age Vedic India.The Indian epics describe this region as Lavanasagara (Salt-ocean). The Ramayana mentions Lavanasagara (the Salt-ocean) when Ramagoes to attack Lanka with the army of vanaras. Rama uses his agneyashtra-amogha to dry up the sea named drumakulya Located on north of Lavanasagara. A fresh water source named Pushkar surrounded by Marukantara was formed.According to Jain cosmology, Jambūdvīpa is at the centre of Madhyaloka, or the middle part of the universe, where the humans inhabit. Jambūdvīpaprajñapti or the treatise on the island of Roseapple tree contains a depiction of Jambūdvīpa and life biographies of Ṛṣabhaand King Bharata. Jambūdvīpa continent is enclosed by ocean Lavanoda (Salt-ocean).

The Sarasvati River is one of the principal Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti chant in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River, while the Helmand River is often quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river. Whether such a transfer of the name has taken place, either from the Helmand to the Ghaggar-Hakra, or conversely from the Ghaggar-Hakra to the Helmand, is a matter of dispute.

There is also a small present-day Sarasvati River (Sarsuti) that joins the Ghaggar river.The Mahabharata reveals the Kamyaka Forest located on the western boundary of the Kuru Kingdom (Kuru Proper + Kurujangala), on the banks of the Saraswati River. It lay to the west of the Kurukshetra plain. It contains within it a lake called the Kamyaka lake (2,51). Kamyaka forest is mentioned as being positioned at the head of the Thar desert, near the lake Trinavindu (3,256). The Pandavas on their way to exile in the woods, left Pramanakoti on the banks of the Ganges and went towards Kurukshetra, travelling in a western direction, crossing the rivers Yamuna and Drishadvati. They finally reached the banks of the Saraswati River. There they saw the forest of Kamyaka, the favourite haunt of ascetics, located on a level and wild plain on the banks of the Saraswati abounding in birds and deer (3,5). There the Pandavas lived in an ascetic asylum . It took 3 days for Pandavas to reach the Kamyaka forest, setting out fromHastinapura, on their chariots .

In Rigveda we also find mention of a River named Aśvanvatī along with river Drishadvati. Some scholars believe both Saraswati and Aśvanvatī the same river.The human surroundings on the banks of rivers Saraswati and Drishadvati had shifted to the east and south directions prior to Mahabharataperiod. During those days The present day Bikaner and Jodhpur areas were known as Kurujangala and Madrajangala provinces.

The Desert National Park, Jaisalmer has a collection of fossils of animals and plants of 180 million years old. Some fossils of Dinosaurs of 6 million years old have also been found in the area.

Location and description

Thar Desert extends from the Sutlej River, enclosed by the Aravalli Ranges on the east, on the south by the salt marsh known as the Great Rann of Kutch (parts of which are sometimes included in the Thar), and on the west by the Indus River. Its boundary to the large thorny steppe to the north is unclear.

It lies mostly in the Indian State of Rajasthan, and extends into the southern portion of Haryana and Punjab states and into northern Gujarat state.

In Pakistan, the desert covers eastern Sindh region and the southeastern portion of Punjab region, where it joins the Cholistan Desertnear Bahawalpur. The Tharparkar District is one of the major parts of the desert area. Tharparkar consists of two words: Thar means ‘desert’ while Parkar stands for ‘the other side’.

Physiography and geology

The Thar Desert slopes slightly towards the Indus Plain and surface roughness is mainly due to sand dunes. The dunes in the south are higher, rising sometimes to 152 m whereas in the north they are lower and rise to 16 m above the ground level.The Aravalli forms the main landmark to the south-east of Thar Desert.

Desert soil
The soils of the Arid Zone are generally sandy to sandy-loam in texture. The consistency and deepness vary according to the topographical characteristics. The low-lying loams are heavier and may have a hard pan. Some of these soils contains a high percentage of soluble salts in the lower horizons, turning water in the wells poisonous.

Origin of Thar Desert

The origin of the Thar Desert is a controversial subject. Some consider it to be 4000 to 10,000 years old, whereas others state that aridity started in this region much earlier.

Another theory states that area turned to desert relatively recently: perhaps around 2000 - 1500 BC. Around this time the Ghaggar-Hakra ceased to be a major river. It now terminates in the desert but at one time was a water source for the Indus Valley Civilization centre of Mohenjo-daro.
It has been observed through remote sensing techniques that Late Quaternary climatic changes and neotectonics have played a important role in modifying the drainage courses in this part and a large number of palaeochannels exist.

Most studies did not share the opinion that the palaeo channels of the Sarasvati River corresponds with the bed of the present-day Ghaggar and believe that the Sutlej along with the Yamuna once flowed into the present riverbed. It has been assumed that the Sutlej was the main tributary of the Ghaggar and that subsequently the tectonic movements might have forced the Sutlej westwards, the Yamuna eastwards and thus dried up the Ghaggar-Hakra.

Studies on Kalibangan in the desert region by Robert Raikes signify that it was abandoned because the river dried up. Prof. B. B. Lal (retd. Director General of Archaeological Survey of India) supports this view by declaring: "Radiocarbon dating signifies that the Mature Harappan settlement at Kalibangan had to be abandoned around 2000-1900 BCE. And, as the hydrological evidence indicates, this abandonment took place on account of the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra. This latter part is properly established by the work of Raikes, an Italian hydrologist, and of his Indian collaborators".


Stretches of sand in the desert are combined by small hills and sandy and gravel plains. Due to the diversified environment and ecosystem, the vegetation, human culture and animal life in this arid region is very rich in contrast to the other deserts of the world. About 23 species of lizard and 25 species of snakes are found here and some of them are endemic to the region.

Some wildlife species, which are fastly disappearing in other parts of India, are found in the desert in large numbers such as the blackbuck(Antilope cervicapra), chinkara (Gazella bennettii) and Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur) in the Rann of Kutch. They have developed outstanding survival strategies, their size is smaller than other similar animals living in different conditions, and they are mainly nocturnal. There are certain other factors responsible for the survival of these animals in the desert. Due to the lack of water in this region, alteration of the grasslands into cropland has been very slow. The protection provided to them by a local community, the Bishnois, is also a factor. Other mammals of the Thar area comprise a subspecies of red fox (Vulpes vulpes pusilla) and a wild cat, the caracal.

The region is a haven for 141 species of migratory and resident birds of the desert. One can see harriers,eagles, falcons , kestrel, buzzards and vultures. Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus),Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax), Greater Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga), Laggar Falcons (Falco jugger) and kestrels. There are also a number of reptiles.

The Indian Peafowl is a resident breeder in the Indian subcontinent particularly Thar region. The peacock is assigned as the national bird of India and the local bird of the Punjab (Pakistan). It can be seen sitting on Khejri or Pipaltrees in villages or Deblina.

Natural vegetation
The natural vegetation of this dry area is classed as Northern Desert Thorn Forest occurring in small clusters dispersed more or less openly.Thickness and size of patches increase from west to east following the increase in rainfall. Natural vegetation of Thar Desert is composed of the following tree, shrub and herb species.

Small trees and shrubs
Calligonum polygonoides, Balanites roxburghii,Acacia jacquemontii, Calotropis procera, Ziziphus zizyphus, Ziziphus nummularia, Suaeda fruticosa, Clerodendrum multiflorum, Crotalaria burhia, Aerva javanica, Leptadenia pyrotechnica, Lycium barbarum, Grewia tenax,Commiphora mukul, Euphorbia neriifolia, Cordia sinensis, Maytenus emarginata, Capparis decidua, Mimosa hamata

Herbs and grasses
Cenchrus biflorus, Lasiurus scindicus, Cynodon dactylon, Ochthochloa compressa, Dactyloctenium scindicum, Cenchrus setigerus, Panicum turgidum, Panicum antidotale, Dichanthium annulatum, Sporobolus marginatus, Saccharum spontaneum, Cenchrus ciliaris, Tribulus terrestris, Desmostachya bipinnata, Sorghum halepense, Eragrostis species, Ergamopagan species, Phragmites species, Typha species, Citrullus colocynthis.

Threats and preservation

There are eleven national parks in the Thar desert area, the largest of which are the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rann of Kutch.

Others include: the Desert National Park, Jaisalmer (3162 km²) is an outstanding example of the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, and its diverse fauna. The endangered Great Indian Bustard (Chirotis nigricaps), Bengal fox, chinkara, Blackbuck, fox, wolf, and caracal can be seen here. Seashells and massive fossilized tree trunks in this park record the geological history of the desert; Tal Chhapar Sanctuary a very small sanctuary in Churu District which is about 210 km from Jaipur, in the Shekhawati region. This sanctuary is home to a large population of Blackbuck while fox and caracal can also be covered along with typical avifauna such as partridge and sand grouse; Jalore Wildlife Sanctuary (130 km from Jodhpur) is another small sanctuary that is privately owned where a large population of rare and endangered wildlife is present including the Asian-Steppe Wildcat, Leopard, Zird, Desert Fox and herds of Indian Gazelle.

Greening desert

The soil of the Thar Desert remains dry for much of the year and is prone to wind erosion. High velocity winds blow soil from the desert, depositing some on neighboring fertile lands, and causing shifting sand hills within the desert, which cover fences and block roads and railway tracks. A permanent solution to this problem of shifting sand dunes can be provided by fixation of the shifting sand dunes with appropriate plant species and planting windbreaks and shelterbelts. They also offer protection from hot or cold and desiccating winds and the invasion of sand.

There are few local tree species appropriate for planting in the desert region and these are slow growing. The introduction of striking tree species in the desert for plantation has become necessary. Many species of Eucalyptus, Acacia, Cassia and other genera from Australia, USA, Southern Rhodesia, Chile,Israel, Russia, Peru and Sudan have been tried in Thar Desert. Acacia tortilis has proved to be the most promising species for desert afforestation and the jojoba is another promising species of economic value found suitable for planting in these areas.The Rajasthan Canal (Indira Gandhi Canal) system is the major irrigation scheme of the Thar Desert and is considered to retrieve it and also to check spreading of the desert to fertile areas.

Desert for recreation

Thar Desert provides the entertaining value in terms of desert festivals organized every year. Rajasthan desert festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm and passion. This festival is held once a year during winters. Dressed in brightly hued costumes, the people of the desert dance and sing memorable ballads of bravery, tragedy and romance. The fair has snake charmers, puppeteers, acrobats and folk performers. Camels, of course, play a stellar role in this festival, where the rich and colorful folk culture of Rajasthan can be seen.

Camels are an essential part of the desert life and the camel events during the Desert Festival .Special efforts go into dressing the animal for entering the amazing competition of the best-dressed camel. Other interesting competitions on the fringes are the moustache and turban tying competitions, which not only reveals a wonderful tradition but also encourage its preservation. Both the turban and the moustache have been centuries old symbols of honor in Rajasthan.Evenings are meant for the main shows of music and dance. Continuing till late into the night, the number of viewers enlarge each night and the grand finale, on the full moon night, takes place by silvery sand dunes.

People of Thar Desert

The Thar Desert is largely occupied by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The portion in Pakistan is occupied by primarily by Kolhis and Sindhis. A colourful culture rich in tradition prevails in this desert. The people have a great enthusiasm for folk music and folk poetry.

About 40% of the total population of Rajasthan state live in the Thar desert.The main occupation of the people in desert is agriculture and animal husbandry. In past years there has been a great increase in human population as well as animal population. This has led to improper control of grazing and extensive cultivation resulting into the weakening of vegetation resources. The increase of human and livestock population in the desert has led to weakening in the ecosystem resulting in degradation of soil fertility.

The living standard of the people in the desert is low. The Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert in the world, with a population density of 83 people per km2. vs 7 in other deserts.

Jodhpur, the largest city in the region, lies in the scrub forest zone. Bikaner and Jaisalmer are situated in the desert proper.A large irrigation and power project has repossess areas of the northern and western desert for agriculture. The small population is mostly rustic, and hide and wool industries are famous.

In Pakistan part of Thar also has a rich comprehensive heritage, traditions,culture, folk tales, dances and music due to its inhabitants who belong to different religions, sections and castes.


Desert safaris on camels have become increasingly famous popular around Jaisalmer. Domestic and international tourists frequent the desert seeking adventure on camels for anything from a day to several days. This ecotourism industry ranges from cheaper backpacker treks to luxurious Arabian night style campsites replete with banquets and cultural performances. During the treks tourists are able to view the fragile and beautiful ecosystem of the Thar desert. This form of tourism provides income to many operators and camel owners in Jaisalmer as well as employment for many camel trekers in the desert villages nearby. But also people from several parts of the world come here to see pushkar mela and oasis.



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