About Thar Desert
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
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
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
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
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
Physiography and geology
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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
are eleven national parks in the Thar desert area, the largest
of which are the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rann of
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.
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
Desert for recreation
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.