The Thar Desert
Location : Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujrat
Area : 446,000 square kilometres
Features : Rolling Sand Hills, Scant
Average annual rainfall : 100 to 500
About Thar Desert
The Thar Desert is located in western India and southeastern
Pakistan. The huge unending expanse of burning hot sand is spread
over four states in India, namely Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and
Gujarat, and two states in Pakistan covering an area of about 446,000
square kilometres. 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.
The desert is bounded by the
Aravalli hills in the east, by the fertile Indus and the Nara valleys of
Pakistan and the salt marsh of the Rann of Kutch in the west, and by the
alluvial plains of Haryana and Punjab in the north.
It is believed that aeons ago, Shri Ram drew an arrow in his
bow, targetting Lanka, the island capital where his wife was held
captive by the demon king, Ravana. However, such were its destructive
powers that the gods pleaded with the Lord to desist from his intended
But the arrow once drawn could not be pulled back and thus Rama pointed
the arrow to a far-flung sea. The heat generated by the arrow dried the
sea and and in its place arose a dry, arid and hot desert.
The origin of this desert is a matter of much controversy. Some
consider it to be only 4000 to 10,000 years old. Many others believe
that the region started becoming arid much earlier. Another theory
states that area turned to desert relatively recently: perhaps around
2000 - 1500 BCE. Around this time the Ghaggar ceased to be a major
river. It now terminates in the desert. It has been observed through
remote sensing techniques that Late Quaternary climatic changes and
neotectonics have played a significant role in modifying the drainage
courses in this part and a large number of palaeochannels exist.
Life in the Indian Thar Desert
In North-west India, the Thar desert region of Rajasthan is one
of the most inhospitable landscapes on earth. Apart from the huge
distances between hamlets and settlements here, the landscape is
constantly shifing with the sand, as wind and sandstorms re-arrange the
terrain at will. Community workers here live and work in this vast,
arid, sprawling and shape-changing environment.
There is a lack of water in such an arid region. In search of water,
ancient villagers of the Thar often find themselves migrating on foot
across sometimes hundreds of miles towards neignbouring states. This
centuries-old way of life continues here against all odds. Life is a
struggle here, but the ancient attachment the villagers have to their
homes is strong. The ancient desert is believed to have been a
witness to one of the earliest human civilizations
The region has great diversity in vegetation .As many as 700
species of plants are found in the area, of which 107 are of grass
alone. The local grasses are generally prolific seeders, and most of the
species are palatable, fairly nutritious and rich in minerals, including
trace elements. These also have medicinal value and hence alkaloids,
used for making medicine, and oils for making soap, are also extracted therefrom.
There is a great paucity of water and hence, the thar desert
vegetation is mostly herbaceous; with the trees very rarely dotting the
landscape. On the hills, Gum Arabic Acacia and Euphorbia may be found.
The Khajri (Prosopis Cineraria) tree grows throughout the plains. Water
is very scarce. Land-use in the Thar is dependent on rainfall. In
good rainfall years, large areas are cropped, cattle thrive on extensive
pastures and substantial amounts of hay are stored for future use.
Rainwater is stored in ponds and underground tanks.
As rainfall is very erratic, a
pattern of mixed farming has been developed in which human and animal
populations benefit from each other.
Natural vegetation of Thar Desert is composed of following tree,
shrub and herb species
Jacquemontii, Acacia leucophloea, Acacia senegal, Anogeissus
rotundifolia, Prosopis cineraria, Salvadora oleoides , Tecomella
undulata, Tamarix articulata
trees and shrubs
Calligonum polygonoides, Acacia jacquemontii, Balanites roxburghii,
Ziziphus jujuba, Ziziphus nummularia, Calotropis procera, Suaeda
fruticosa, Crotalaria burhia, Aerva tomentosa, Clerodendrum multiflrum,
Leptadenia pyrotechnica, Lycium barbarum, Grewia populifolia, Commiphora
mukul, Euphorbia nerifolia, Cordia rothii, Maytenus emorginata Capparis
Dactyloctenium scindicum, Cenchrus biflorus, Cenchrus setigerus,
Lasiurus hirsutus, Cynodon dactylon, Panicum turgidum, Panicum
antidotale, Dichanthium annulatum, Sporobolus marginatus, Saccharum
spontaneum, Cenchrus ciliaris, Desmostachya bipinnata, Cyperus arenarius,
Erogrostis species, Ergamopagan species, Phragmitis species, Typha
The Thar Desert is endowed with
some of the best breeds of livestock in the country. Nearly 50 per cent
of the country's wool is produced in Rajasthan, and the area has been
the main supplier of bullocks to the North.
The area receives very scant rainfall, with the average annual
rainfall varying from 100 to 500 mm. Receiving an annual average
rainfall of less than 10 inches, the desert is a largely a sun-scorched
region of shifting sand dunes, broken rocks, and scrub vegetation.During
the months of July and September, around 90% of the rainfall
attributable to southwest monsoon. There are wide fluctuations in the
amount of rainfall from year to year.
The mean average temperature
varies from a minimum of 24 to 26 degrees C in summer to 4 to 10 degrees
C in winter. Dust storms and dust raising winds blowing at very high
velocity are very rampant.
May and June are the hottest months of the year while January is the
The soils of the Arid Zone are generally sandy to sandy-loam in
texture. The consistency and depth vary according to the topographical
features. The low-lying loams are heavier and may have a hard pan of
clay, calcium carbonate (CaCO3) or gypsum. The pH varies between 7 and
The desert soils occupy
the districts of Jodhpur, Bikaner, Churu, Ganganagar, Barmer, Jaisalmer,
and Jalore. The Thar consists mainly of the wind-blown sand. The area is
covered not only by sheet of sand but also of rocky projections of low
elevations which constitute the older rocks of the country. Water is
scarce and occurs at great depths, from 30 to 120 m below the ground
level. Some of these soils contain a high percentage of soluble
salts in the lower horizons, turning water in the wells poisonous. Being
poor in organic matter they show a low loss on ignition. They contain
varying amount of calcium carbonate.
About 23 species of lizards and 25 species of snakes are found
here. The thinly populated grasslands support the endangered Great
Indian Bustard, the Black Buck, the Chikara (gazelle), and some
feathered game, notably the Francolin and Quail. Sand Grouse, Ducks and
Geese are common among the migratory birds.
People of Thar Desert
Main occupation : Agriculture and animal husbandry
There has been a tremendous increase in human population as well as
animal population, in past years. The increase of human and livestock
population in the desert has lead to deterioration in the ecosystem
resulting in degradation of soil fertility.
The Indian Desert is mainly
inhabited by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The portion in Pakistan is
inhabited by primarily by Sindhis and Kolhis. There are around 60%
Muslims and 40% Hindus in the Pakistani part of the Thar Desert.
A large irrigation and power project
has reclaimed areas of the northern and western desert for agriculture.
The small population is mostly pastoral, and hide and wool industries
The living standard of the people in
the desert is low. The people have a great passion for music and poetry.