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The Thar Desert ( ), also known as the Great Indian Desert, is a large, arid region in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. With an area of more than 200,000 km2., (77,000 sq. mi.) it is world's 7th largest desert and also Asia's 3rd largest desert. The Thar desert along with the Sahara desert of Africa, Arabian peninsula desert, and Cholistan desert in Pakistanmarker are part of same desert formation. It lies mostly in the Indianmarker state of Rajasthanmarker, and extends into the southern portion of Haryanamarker and Punjabmarker states and into northern Gujaratmarker state. In Pakistanmarker, the desert covers eastern Sindhmarker province and the southeastern portion of Pakistan's Punjabmarker province. The Cholistan Desert adjoins the Thar desert spreading into Pakistani Punjab province.

Extent of Thar desert

In India the thar desert extends from Sutlej River, surrounded by the Aravalli Rangemarker on the east, on the south by the salt marsh known as the Rann of Kutchmarker (parts of which are sometimes included in the Thar), and on the west by the Indus Rivermarker. Its boundary to the large thorny steppe to the north is ill-defined. Depending on what areas are included or excluded, the nominal size of the Thar can vary significantly. Thar desert occupies states of Rajasthanmarker, Gujaratmarker and Haryanamarker in Indiamarker and covers an area of 208,110 Sq. km. The maximum area is covered in Rajasthan, about 3/5th of the total geographical area of the state. Of the total desert in India, 61% falls in Rajasthan, 20% in Gujarat and 9% in Punjab/Haryanamarker. Indian desert is said to be extending at a rate of 1/2 km per year towards Punjab, Haryana, U.P. and M.P. The Thar desert covers 9 districts of Rajasthanmarker: Bikanermarker, Churumarker, Sriganganagarmarker, Pali, Jaloremarker, Barmer, Nagaurmarker, jaisalmermarker and Jodhpurmarker.

In Pakistan, the desert covers eastern Sindmarker province and the southeastern portion of Pakistanmarker's Punjabmarker province. Tharparkar District is one of the major parts under the desert area. Tharparkar consists of two words, Thar means ‘desert’ while Parkar stands for ‘the other side’. Years back, it was known as Thar and Parkar but subsequently became just one word ‘Tharparkar’ for the two distinct parts of Sindh provincemarker. On the western side, Parkar is the irrigated area whereas Thar, the eastern part, is known as the largest desert of Pakistan. The Parkar area has been formed by the alluvial deposits of river Indusmarker while Thar mostly consists of barren tracts of sand dunes covered with thorny bushes. The only hills of the district, named Karon-Jhar, are in the extreme south-east corner of Nagar Parkar Taluka, a part of Thar. These hills are spread over about 20 kilometers in length and attains a height of 300 meters. Covered with sparse jungle and pasturage, they give rise to two perennial springs as well as streams caused after rain.

Origin

The origin of the Thar Desert is a controversial subject. Some consider it to be 4000 to 1,000,000 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 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.

Most of the studies share the opinion that the palaeochannels of the Sarasvati coincide with the bed of present day Ghaggar and believe that the Sutlejmarker along with the Yamunamarker once flowed into the present Ghaggar riverbed. It has been postulated 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.

The studies about Kalibangamarker in the desert region by Robert Raikes indicate that Kalibangan was abandoned because the river dried up. Prof. B. B. Lal (retd. Director General of Archaeological Survey of India) supports this view by asserting: "Radiocarbon dating indicates 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 Sarasvati (Ghaggar). This latter part is duly established by the work of Raikes, an Italian hydrologist, and of his Indian collaborators" .

Thar in ancient literature

The Indian epics describe this region as Lavanasagara (Salt-ocean).Ramayana mentions about Lavanasagara (Salt-ocean) when Rama goes to attack Lanka with the army of vanaras. Rama uses his agneyashtra-amogha to driup sea named drumakulya situated on north of Lavanasagara. A fresh water source named Pushkarmarker surrounded by Marukantara was created.

According to Jain cosmology, Jambūdvīpa is at the centre of Madhyaloka, or the middle part of the universe, where the humans reside. Jambūdvīpaprajñapti or the treatise on the island of Roseapple tree contains a description of Jambūdvīpa and life biographies of Ṛṣabha and King Bharata. Jambūdvīpa continent is surrounded by ocean Lavanoda (Salt-ocean).

Course of Sarasvati river through Thar desert


The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamunamarker in the east and the Sutlejmarker 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.

Mahabharata mentions about Kamyaka Forest situated 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 Kurukshetramarker plain. It contained within it a lake called the Kamyaka lake (2,51). Kamyaka forest is mentioned as being situated 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 Ganga and went towards Kurukshetramarker, travelling in a western direction, crossing the rivers Yamunamarker and Drishadvati. They finally reached the banks of the Saraswati River. There they saw the forest of Kamyaka, the favourite haunt of ascetics, situated on a level and wild plain on the banks of the Saraswati (3-5,36) abounding in birds and deer (3,5). There the Pandavas lived in an ascetic asylum (3,10). It took 3 days for Pandavas to reach the Kamyaka forest, setting out from Hastinapuramarker, on their chariots (3,11).

In Rigveda we also find mention of a River named Aśvanvatī along with river Drishadvati. Some scholars consider both Saraswati and Aśvanvatī same river.

The human habitations on the banks of rivers Saraswati and Drishadvati had shifted to the east and south directions prior to Mahabharata period. During those days The present day Bikanermarker and Jodhpurmarker areas were known as Kurujangala and Madrajangala provinces.

The Desert National Park, Jaisalmermarker 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.

Physiography and geology

The region surrounding Aravalli hills near Ranthambore, Rajasthan.
There are three principal landforms in the desert region — the predominantly sand covered Thar, the plains with hills including the central dune free country and the semi-arid area surrounding the Aravalli rangemarker.

It is a desolate country where sand is piled up into huge wind blown dunes (known as an erg). The sand dunes are of three types viz., longitudinal parabolic, transverse and barchans. The first type, running NNE-SSW, i.e. parallel to the prevailing winds, occurs to the south and west of the Thar. The transverse dunes, aligned across the wind direction, to the east and south of Thar and barchans, with the concave sides facing the wind in the interior, predominant in Central Thar. On the whole the Thar Desert slopes imperceptibly towards the Indus Plain and surface unevenness 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. The more humid conditions that prevail near the Aravallis prevent the extension of Thar Desert towards the east and the Gangesmarker Valley. In the heart of the sand covered area, the bare, dune free country of Barmermarker, Jaisalmermarker and Bikanermarker present an anomaly.

Desert soil - 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 9.5. The soils improve in fertility from west and northwest to east and northeast. Desert soils are Regosols of wind blown sand and sandy fluiratile deposits, derived from the disintegration of rock in the subjacent areas and blown in from the coastal region and the Indus Valleymarker. 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.

Biodiversity

Stretches of sand in the desert are interspersed by hillocks and sandy and gravel plains. Due to the diversified habitat 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 several of them are endemic to the region.

Some wildlife species, which are fast vanishing in other parts of Indiamarker, are found in the desert in large numbers such as the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), the Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), the Indian Gazelle (Gazella bennettii) and the Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur) in the Rann of Kutchmarker. They have evolved excellent 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, transformation of the grasslands into cropland has been very slow. The protection provided to them by a local community, the Bishnois, is also a factor.

The Desert National Park, Jaisalmermarker, spread over an area of 3162 km², is an excellent example of the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, and its diverse fauna. Great Indian Bustard, Blackbuck, chinkara, desert fox, Bengal fox, wolf, desert cat etc. can be easily seen here. Seashells and massive fossilized tree trunks in this park record the geological history of the desert. The region is a haven for migratory and resident birds of the desert. One can see many eagles, harrier, falcons, buzzards, kestrel and vultures. Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax), Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga), Laggar Falcons (Falco jugger) and kestrels are the commonest of these.

Tal Chhapar Sanctuary is a very small sanctuary in Churu District, 210 km from Jaipurmarker, in the Shekhawati region. This sanctuary is home to a large population of graceful Blackbuck. Desert Fox and desert cat can also be spotted along with typical avifauna such as partridge and sand grouse.

The Jalore Wildlife Sanctuary in Jalore district (130 km from Jodhpur) is another small sanctuary that is privately owned where a sizeable population of rare and endangered wildlife is present including the Asian-Steppe Wildcat([Ornata]),Leopard, Zird, Desert Fox and herds of Indian Gazelle.

Natural vegetation

The natural vegetation is classed as Northern Desert Thorn Forest (Champion 1936). These occur in small clumps scattered in a more or less open forms. Density and size of patches increase from West to East following the increase in rainfall. Natural vegetation of Thar Desert is composed of following tree, shrub and herb species.

Tree species

Acacia jacquemontii,Acacia leucophloea,Acacia senegal,Albizia lebbeck, Azadirachta indica,Anogeissus rotundifolia,Prosopis cineraria,Salvadora oleoides,Tecomella undulata,Tamarix articulata

Small trees and shrubs

Calligonum polygonoides, Acacia jacquemontii, Balanites roxburghii, Ziziphus zizyphus, Ziziphus nummularia, Calotropis procera, Suaeda fruticosa, Crotalaria burhia, Aerva tomentosa, Clerodendrum multiflorum, Leptadenia pyrotechnica, Lycium barbarum, Grewia populifolia, Commiphora mukul, Euphorbia neriifolia, Cordia rothii, Maytenus emarginata, Capparis decidua.Mimosa hamata

Herbs and grasses

Eleusine compressa,Dactyloctenium scindicum,Cenchrus biflorus,Cenchrus setigerus,Lasiurus hirsutus,Cynodon dactylon,Panicum turgidum,Panicum antidotale,Dichanthium annulatum,Sporobolus marginatus,Saccharum spontaneum,Cenchrus ciliaris,Desmostachya bipinnata,fuckera arenarius,Erogrostis species,Ergamopagan species,Phragmitis species,Tribulus terrestris,Typha species,Sorghum halepense,Citrullus colocynthis

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 dunes within the desert, which bury fences and block roads and railway tracks. Permanent solution to this problem of shifting sand dunes can be provided by fixation of the shifting sand dunes with suitable plant species and planting windbreaks and shelterbelts. They also provide protection from hot or cold and desiccating winds and the invasion of sand.


There are few local tree species suitable for planting in the desert region and these are slow growing. The introduction of exotic tree species in the desert for plantation has become necessary. Many species of Eucalyptus, Acacia, Cassia and other genera from Israelmarker, Australia, USAmarker, Russiamarker, Southern Rhodesiamarker, Chilemarker, Perumarker and Sudanmarker 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 system is the major irrigation scheme of the Thar Desert and is conceived to reclaim it and also to check spreading of the desert to fertile areas.

Desert economy

Due to severe weather conditions, there are few highways in the Thar desert.
Shown here is a road in Tharparkar District of Sind, Pakistan.

Agriculture

The main occupations of people living in the desert are agriculture and animal husbandry. Agriculture is not a dependable proposition in this area—after the rainy season, at least 33% of crops fail. Animal husbandry, trees and grasses, intercropped with vegetables or fruit trees, is the most viable model for arid, drought-prone regions. The region faces frequent droughts. Overgrazing due to high animal populations, wind and water erosion, mining and other industries result in serious land degradation.
The agricultural production is mainly from the Kharif crops. The Kharif crops are the crops that are grown in the summer season and are seeded in the months of June and July. These crops are harvested in the months of September and October and include Bajra (Pennisetum typhoideum), Pulses, Jowar (Sorghum vulgare), Maize (Zea mays), Sesame and Groundnuts. In past few decades the development of canals, tube wells etc. has changed crop pattern. Now the desert districts in Rajasthan have started producing rabi crops like wheat, mustard, cumin seed etc. cash crops also.

Thar region of Rajasthan is the main opium producer and consumer area. There are mainly two crop seasons. The water for irrigation comes from wells and tanks. The Indira Gandhi Canal irrigates northwestern Rajasthan. The Government of India has started a centrally sponsored scheme under the title of Desert Development Programme based on watershed management with the objective to check spreading of desert and improve the living condition of people in desert.

Livestock

Camel ride in the Thar desert near Jaisalmer.
In the last 15–20 years, the Rajasthan desert has seen many changes, including a manifold increase of both the human and animal population. Animal husbandry has become popular due to the difficult farming conditions. At present, there are ten times more animals per person in Rajasthan than the national average, and overgrazing is also a factor affecting climatic and drought conditions.

Cows in Thar desert
A large number of farmers in Thar desert depend on animal husbandry for their livelihood. Cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, camel, bullocks consists of major cattle population. Barmer district has the highest cattle population out of which sheep and goats are in majority. Some of the best breeds of bullocks such as Kankrej (Sanchori) and Nagauri are from desert region.

Thar region of Rajasthan is the biggest wool-producing area in India. Chokla, Marwari, Jaisalmeri, Magra, Malpuri, Sonadi, Nali and Pungal breeds of sheep are found in the region. Of the total wool production in India, 40-50% comes from Rajasthan. The sheep-wool from Rajasthan is considered best for carpet making industry in the world. The wool of Chokla breed of sheep is considered of superior quality. The breeding centres have been developed for Karakul and Merino sheep at Suratgarhmarker, Jaitsar and Bikanermarker. Some important mills for making Woolen thread established in desert area are:Jodhpur Woolen Mill, Jodhpur; Rajasthan Woolen Mill , Bikaner and India Woolen Mill, Bikaner. Bikaner is the biggest mandi of wool in Asia.

The live stock depends for grazing on common lands in villages. During famine years in the desert the nomadic rebari people move with large herds of sheep and camel to the forested areas of south Rajasthan or nearby states like Madhya Pradeshmarker for grazing the cattle.

The importance of animal husbandry can be understood from the organization of large number of cattle fairs in the region. Cattle fairs are normally named after the folk-deities. Some of major cattle fairs held are Ramdevji cattle fair at Manasar in Nagaur district, Tejaji cattle fair at Parbatsarmarker in Nagaur district, Baldeo cattle fair at Merta city in Nagaur district, Mallinath cattle fair at Tilwaramarker in barmer district.

Agro-forestry

Forestry has an important part to play in the amelioration of the conditions in semi-arid and arid lands. If properly planned forestry can make an important contribution to the general welfare of the people living in desert areas. The living standard of the people in the desert is low. They can not afford other fuels like gas, kerosene etc. Fire wood is their main fuel, of the total consumption of wood about 75 percent is firewood. The forest cover in desert is low. Rajasthan has a forest area of 31150 sq.km. which is about 9% of the geographical area. The forest area is mainly in southern districts of Rajasthan like Udaipur and Chittorgarh. The minimum forest area is in Churu district only 80 sq.km. Thus the forest is insufficient to fulfill the needs of firewood and grazing in desert districts. This diverts the much needed cattledung from the field to the hearth. This in turn results into the decrease in agricultural production. Agro-forestry model is best suited to the people of desert. Some Institutes have done good work in Agro-forestry.

The scientists of Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), have successfully developed and improved dozens of traditional and non-traditional crops/fruits, such as Ber trees (like plums) that produce much larger fruits than before (lemon-size) and can thrive with minimal rainfall. These trees have become a profitable option for farmers. One example from a case study of horticulture showed that in situation of budding in 35 plants of Ber and Guar (Gola, Seb & Mundia variety developed in CAZRI), using only one hectare of land, yielded 10,000 kg. of Ber and 250 kg. of Guar, which translates into double or even triple profit.

Arid Forest Research Institute, situated at Jodhpur is another national level institute in the region. It is one of the institutes of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education ( ICFRE ) working under the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India. The Objective of the Institute is to carry out scientific research in forestry in order to provide technologies to increase the vegetative cover and to conserve the biodiversity in the hot arid and semi arid region of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Dadara & Nagar Haveli union territory.

The most important tree species in terms of providing a livelihood in Thar desert communities is Prosopis cineraria.

Prosopis cineraria provides wood of construction class. It is used for house-building, chiefly as rafters, posts scantlings, doors and windows, and for well construction water pipes, upright posts of Persian wheels, agricultural implements and shafts, spokes, fellows and yoke of carts. It can also be used for small turning work and tool-handles. Container manufacturing is another important wood-based industry, which depends heavily on desert-grown trees.

Prosopis cineraria is much valued as a fodder tree. The trees are heavily lopped particularly during winter months when no other green fodder is available in the dry tracts. There is a popular saying that death will not visit a man, even at the time of a famine, if he has a Prosopis cineraria, a goat and a camel, since the three together are some what said to sustain a man even under the most trying condition. The forage yield per tree varies a great deal. On an average, the yield of green forage from a full grown tree is expected to be about 60 kg with complete lopping having only the central leading shoot, 30 kg when the lower two third crown is lopped and 20 kg when the lower one third crown is lopped. The leaves are of high nutritive value. Feeding of the leaves during winter when no other green fodder is generally available in rain-fed areas is thus profitable. The pods have a sweetish pulp and are also used as fodder for livestock.

Prosopis cineraria is most important top feed species providing nutritious and highly palatable green as well as dry fodder, which is readily eaten by camels, cattle, sheep and goats, constituting a major feed requirement of desert livestock. Locally it is called Loong. Pods are locally called sangar or sangri. The dried pods locally called Kho-Kha are eaten. Dried pods also form rich animal feed, which is liked by all livestock. Green pods also form rich animal feed, which is liked by drying the young boiled pods. They are also used as famine food and known even to prehistoric man. Even the bark, having an astringent bitter taste, was reportedly eaten during the severe famine of 1899 and 1939. Pod yield is nearly 1.4 quintals of pods/ha with a variation of 10.7% in dry locations.

Prosopis cineraria wood is reported to contain high calorific value and provide high quality fuel wood. The lopped branches are good as fencing material. Its roots also encourage nitrogen fixation, which produces higher crop yields.


Tecomella undulata is tree species, locally known as Rohida, found in Thar Desert regions of northwest and western Indiamarker, is another important medium sized tree of great use in Agro-forestry, that produces quality timber and is the main source of timber amongst the indigenous tree species of desert regions. The trade name of the tree species is Desert teak or Marwar teak.

Tecomella undulata is mainly used as a source of timber. Its wood is strong, tough and durable. It takes a fine finish. Heartwood contains quinoid. The wood is excellent for firewood and charcoal. Cattle and goats eat leaves of the tree. Camels, goats and sheep consume flowers and pods.

Tecomella undulata plays an important role in the ecology. It acts as a soil-binding tree by spreading a network of lateral roots on the top surface of the soil. It also acts as a windbreak and helps in stabilizing shifting sand dunes. It is considered as the home of birds and provides shelter for other desert wildlife. Shade of tree crown is shelter for the cattle, goats and sheep during summer days.

Tecomella undulata has medicinal properties as well. The bark obtained from the stem is used as a remedy for syphilis. It is also used in curing urinary disorders, enlargement of spleen, gonorrhoea, leucoderma and liver diseases. Seeds are used against abscess.

Ecotourism

Desert safaris on camels have become increasingly popular around Jaisalmer. Domestic and international tourists frequent the desert seeking adventure on camels for anything from a day to several days. This industry ranges from cheaper backpacker treks to plush 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.

Industry

Rajasthan is pre-eminent in quarrying and mining in India. The Taj Mahalmarker was built from the white marble which was mined from a town called Makranamarker in Nagaurmarker district. The state is the second largest source of cement in India. It has rich salt deposits at Sambhar. Jodhpurmarker sandstone is mostly used in monuments, important buildings, residential buildings, etc. This stone is termed "chittar patthar". Jodhpur has lso got mines of red stone locally known as ghatu patthar used in building work. Sand stone is found in Jodhpur and Naguar districts. Jaloremarker is biggest centre of granite processing units.

Lignite coal deposits are there at places Giral, Kapuradi, Jalipa, Bhadka in Barmer district; Plana, Gudha, Bithnok, Barsinghpur, Mandla Charan, Raneri Hadla in Bikaner district and Kasnau, Merta, Lunsar etc in Nagaur district. Lignite based Thermal power plant has been established at Giral in Barmer district. Jindal group is working on 1080 Megawatt power project in private sector at village Bhadaresh in Barmer district. "Neweli Lignite Barsinghpur Project" is under progress to establish two thermal power units of capacity 125 megawatts each at Barsinghpur in Bikaner district. Reliance Energy is working on establishing power generation through underground gasification technique in Barmer district with an outlay of about 3000 crore rupees.

There is large storage of good quality petroleum in Jaisalmer and Barmer districts. The main places with depsits of petroleum are Baghewal, Kalrewal, and Tawariwal in Jaisalmer district and Gudha Malani area in Barmer district. Barmer district has started petroleum production on commercial scale.

Barmer district is in news due to its large Oil basin. The British exploration company Cairn Energy is going to start the production soon in the year 2009 on large scale. Mangala, Bhagyam and Aishwariya are the major oil fields in the district. This is India's biggest oil discovery in 22 years. This promises to transform the local economy, which has long suffered from the harshness of the desert.

The Government of India initiated departmental exploration for oil in 1955-56 in the Jaisalmer area. Oil India Limited's discovered natural gas in 1988 in the Jaisalmer basin. Also known for their fine leather messenger bags made from wild camels native to the area.

The Thar desert seems an ideal place for generation of electricity from wind power. According to an estimate Rajasthan state has got a potential of 5500 Megawatt wind power generation as such it is in the priority of the state govt. Rajasthan State Power Corporation has established its first wind power based power plant at Amarsagar in Jaisalmer district. Some leading companies in the field are working on establishing wind mills in Barmer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner districts. Solar energy also has a great potential in this region as most of the days during a year are cloud free. Solar energy based plant has been established at Bhaleri in Churumarker district to convert hard water into drinking water.

Salt water lakes

There are a number of salt water lakes in Thar desert. These are Sambhar, Pachpadramarker, Tal Chhapar, Falaudimarker and Lunkaransarmarker where Sodium chloride salt is produced from salt water. The Didwanamarker lake produces Sodium Sulphate salt. Ancient Archaeological evidences of habitations have been recovered from Sambhar and Didwanamarker lakes which shows their antiquity and historical importance.

People

Huts in the Thar desert
The Indian Desert is mainly inhabited by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The portion in Pakistan is inhabited by primarily by Sindhis and Kolhis. A colorful culture rich in tradition prevails in the desert. The people have a great passion for music and 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 tremendous increase in human population as well as animal population. This has led to improper control of grazing and extensive cultivation resulting into the deterioration of vegetation resources. The increase of human and livestock population in the desert has led to deterioration in the ecosystem resulting in degradation of soil fertility.
Young muslim woman in the Thar desert
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 persons per km2. vs 7 in other deserts.

Jodhpurmarker, the largest city in the region, lies in the scrub forest zone. Bikanermarker and Jaisalmermarker are located in the desert proper.

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 are prominent.



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

Water and housing in the desert

Water scarcity plays a vital role in shaping life in all parts of Thar. Natural (tobas) or man-made (johads), both types of small, intermittent ponds, are often the only source of water for animals and humans in the true desert areas. The lack of a constant water supply causes much of the local population to live as nomads. Most human settlements are found near the two seasonal streams of the Karon-Jhar hills. Potable groundwater is also rare in the Thar desert. Supplies are often sour due to dissolved minerals, and are only available deep underground. Wells that successfully bear sweet water attract nearby settlement, but are difficult to dig, possibly claiming the lives of the well-diggers.
Tanks for drinking water
According to 1980 housing census in Pakistanmarker, there were 241,326 housing units of one or two very small rooms. The degree of crowding was six persons per housing unit and three persons per room. For most of the housing units (approximately 76 per cent), the main construction material of outer walls is unbaked bricks whereas wood is used in 10 per cent and baked bricks or stones with mud bonding in 8 per cent housing units. A large number of families still live in jhugis or huts which are housing units formed with straws and thin wood-sticks. The wind storm proves these jhugis unsustainable all the times. But the poverty leaves no other option to these jhugiwalas (people living in jhugis).

The river Luni is the only natural water source that drains inside a lake in the desert. It originates in the Pushkarmarker valley of the Aravalli Rangemarker, near Ajmermarker and ends in the marshy lands of Rann of Kutchmarker in Gujaratmarker, after travelling a distance of 530 km. The Luni flows through part of Ajmermarker, Barmermarker, Jalormarker, Jodhpurmarker, Nagaurmarker, Palimarker, and Sirohimarker districts and Mithaviranamarker Vav Radhanpurmarker region of Banaskantha North Gujarat. Its major tributaries are the Sukri, Mithri, Bandimarker, Khari, Jawaimarker, Guhiya and Sagi from the left, and the Jojari River from the right.

The Ghaggar is another intermittent river in Indiamarker, flowing during the monsoon rains. It originates in the Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradeshmarker and flows through Punjabmarker and Haryanamarker to Rajasthanmarker; just southwest of Sirsa, Haryanamarker and by the side of talwara jheel in Rajasthanmarker, this seasonal river feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthanmarker. It terminates in Hanumangarh district.

The Rajasthan Canal system is the major irrigation scheme of the Thar Desert and is conceived to reclaim it and also to check spreading of the desert to fertile areas. It is world's largest irrigation which is being extended in an attempt to make the desert arable. It runs south-southwest in Punjab and Haryanamarker but mainly in Rajasthanmarker for a total of 650 kilometers and ends near Jaisalmermarker, in Rajasthan. After the construction of the Indira Gandhi Canal, irrigation facilities were available over an area of 6770 km² in Jaisalmer district and 37 km² in Barmer district. Irrigation had already been provided in an area of 3670 km² in Jaisalmer district. The canal has transformed the barren deserts of this district into rich and lush fields. Crops of mustard, cotton, and wheat now flourish in this semi-arid western region replacing the sand there previously.

Besides providing water for agriculture, the canal will supply drinking water to hundreds of people in far-flung areas. As the second stage of work on the canal progresses rapidly, there is hope that it will enhance the living standards of the people of the state.

Desert for recreation

Thar desert provides the recreational value in terms of desert festivals organized every year. Rajasthanmarker desert festivals are celebrated with great zest and zeal. This festival is held once a year during winters. Dressed in brilliantly hued costumes, the people of the desert dance and sing haunting ballads of valor, romance and tragedy. 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 integral part of the desert life and the camel events during the Desert Festival confirm this fact. Special efforts go into dressing the animal for entering the spectacular competition of the best-dressed camel. Other interesting competitions on the fringes are the moustache and turban tying competitions, which not only demonstrate a glorious tradition but also inspire 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 spectators swells up each night and the grand finale, on the full moon night, takes place by silvery sand dunes.

See also



Gallery of plants of Thar desert

Image:Khejri.jpg|Prosopis cineraria (Khejri tree)

Image:Neem (Azadirachta indica) tree with flowers in Kolkata W IMG 6189.jpg|Azadirachta indica (Neem)

Image:Rohida1.jpg|Tecomella undulata (Rohida tree)

Image:Khabbar (Salvadora oleoides), Hodal (Faridabad, Haryana) I IMG 1194.jpg|Salvadora oleoides (Pilu tree)

Image:Starr 080531-4752 Albizia lebbeck.jpg|Albizia lebbeck (Siris tree)

Image:Balanites roxburghii.JPG|Balanites roxburghii (Inguda tree)

Image:Kair.jpg|Capparis decidua (Kair tree)

Image:Greeningdesert1.jpg|Acacia tortilis (Vilayatibabul tree)

Image:Acacia leucophloea flowering in Vanasthalipuram, Hyderabad, AP W IMG 9230.jpg|Acacia leucophloea (Remjha tree)

Image:Koeh-004.jpg| Acacia senegal (Gum-arabic Tree)

Image:Calligonum polygonoides.JPG|Calligonum polygonoides (Phog shrub)

Image:Babool (Acacia nilotica) flowers at Hodal W IMG 1163.jpg|Acacia nilotica (Babul tree)

Image:ZiziphusJujubaVarSpinosa.jpg|Ziziphus zizyphus (Ber tree)

Image:Karonda.JPG|Carissa carandus (Karonda shrub)

Image:Tapuach-sdom.jpg|Calotropis procera (Aak shrub)

Image:Kankeda shrub.JPG|Kankeda (Rajasthani) shrub or small tree

Image:Leptadenia pyrotechnica Marco Schmidt 0771.jpg|Leptadenia pyrotechnica (Khimp shrub)

Image:Illustration Lycium barbarum0.jpg|Lycium barbarum

Image:Greeningdesert2.jpg|Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba shrub)

Image:Arana shrub.JPG|Clerodendrum multiflorum (Arana shrub)

Image:Murayla shrub.JPG|Murayla (Rajasthani) shrub

Image:Mimosa hamanta (Gulabi babhul) in Hyderabad, AP W IMG 9141.jpg|Mimosa hamata (Alāy shrub)

Image:Starr 030612-0063 Tribulus terrestris.jpg|Tribulus terrestris (Gokharu herb)

Image:Aerva tomentosa.JPG|Aerva tomentosa (Bui herb)

Image:Crotalaria burhia (Sania).JPG|Crotalaria burhia (Sania herb)

Image:Saccharum munja.JPG|Saccharum munja (Munja grass)

Image:K5601-19.jpg|Saccharum spontaneum (Kans grass)

Image:Sorghum halepense closeup.jpg|Sorghum halepense (Barru grass)

Image:Masa (rajasthani) 1.JPG|Masa (Rajasthani) herb

Image:Cenchrus biflorus.jpg|Cenchrus biflorus (Bharut grass)

Image:Cenchrus ciliaris USGS0.jpg|Cenchrus ciliaris

Image:Koeh-040.jpg|Citrullus colocynthis (Gadtumba climber)



References

Further reading

  • Rajendra Kumar. Gravis Jodhpur
  • Govt. of India. Ministry of Food & Agriculture booklet (1965)- soil conservation in the Rajasthan Desert- Work of the Desert Afforestation Research station, Jodhpur.
  • Kaul, R.N. (1970). Afforestation in Arid zones (edited): Dr. W. JUNK N.V. Publishers The Hague.
  • Gupta, R.K. & Prakash Ishwar (1975). Environmental analysis of the Thar Desert. English Book Depot., Dehra Dun.
  • Kaul, R.N. (1967). Trees or grass lands in the Rajasthan- Old problems and New approaches. Indian Forester, 93: 434-435.
  • Burdak, L.R. (1982). Recent Advances in Desert Afforestation- Dissertation submitted to Shri R.N. Kaul, Director, Forestry Research, F.R.I., Dehra dun.
  • Yashpal, Sahai Baldev, Sood, R.K., and Agarwal, D.P. (1980). "Remote sensing of the 'lost' Saraswati river." Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences (Earth and Planet Science), V. 89, No. 3, pp. 317–331.
  • Bakliwal , P.C. and Sharma, S.B. (1980). "On the migration of the river Yamuna". Journal of the Geological Society of India, Vol. 21, Sept. 1980, pp. 461–463.
  • Bakliwal, P.C. and Grover, A.K. (1988). "Signature and migration of Sarasvati river in Thar desert, Western India". Record of the Geological Survey of India V 116, Pts. 3-8, pp. 77–86.
  • Rajawat, A.S., Sastry, C.V.S. and Narain, A. (1999-a). Application of pyramidal processing on high resolution IRS-1C data for tracing the migration of the Saraswati river in parts of the Thar desert. in "Vedic Sarasvati, Evolutionary History of a Lost River of Northwestern India", Memoir Geological Society of India, Bangalore, No. 42, pp. 259–272.
  • Ramasamy, S.M. (1999). Neotectonic controls on the migration of Sarasvati river of the Great Indian desert. in "Vedic Sarasvati, Evolutionary History of a Lost River of Northwestern India", Memoir Geological Society of India, Bangalore, No. 42, pp. 153–162.
  • Rajesh Kumar, M., Rajawat, A.S. and Singh, T.N. (2005). Applications of remote sensing for educidate the Palaeochannels in an extended Thar desert, Western Rajasthan, 8th annual International conference, Map India 2005, New Delhi.


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