Thar - The Majestic Desert of the Indian Subcontinent

Located in the northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent is the 18th largest desert in the world, called the Thar desert. Also named “The Great Indian Desert”, it is a vast expanse of undulating sand dunes spread over an area of 200,000 square km. While a major chunk of the desert is present in Rajasthan, it extends further to the states of Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab in India and to the Pakistani province of Sindh as well. Owing to its diverse ecosystem, the region is teeming with wide varieties of flora and fauna and a rich human culture which attracts tourists from all over the world, making Thar a spectacle to behold.

Geography of Thar - Natural Features, Rainfall and Weather

Majority of the desert is covered with huge sand dunes, which are mobile due to the strong winds blowing across the region. The water bodies of the area include the Luni river and other saltwater lakes like Kuchman, Didwana and Sambhar scattered in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Most of the rainfall in Thar is generally observed in the monsoon months of July-September ranging from 4 inches in the west to 20 inches in the east. Thar sees extreme temperatures, reaching over 50 degrees celsius in the summer and dropping to 5 degrees celsius in winters. The region is also prone to sandstorms and strong dusty winds with astounding speeds of upto 150 km per hour, in May and June. 

Biodiversity of Thar - Wildlife and Vegetation 

Blackbucks in Thar
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The flora of the desert has been classified under “Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forests” which occurs in small patches, scattered randomly across the area. The desert vegetation is mainly dominated by herbaceous scrubs, while drought resistant trees can be spotted in the east owing to the higher rainfall. On hills, Gum Arabic Acacia and Euphorbia can be found, while the planes are home to the Khejri trees. 

Thar is home to rare animals such as Black Bucks, Chinkaras, Indian Wild Asses, Red Foxes and Caracals. It also hosts reptiles, about 23 different species of lizards and 25 varieties of snakes which thrive in the sands. The desert is a haven for birds as it sees about 140 different varieties, both endemic and migratory flocking in the region. Vultures, Eagles, Falcons, Buzzards etc. can be seen inhabiting Thar.

Cultural Diversity in Thar

Women of Thar
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Thar is one of the most populated deserts of the world with a population density of 83 people per km square and a diversified ethnic composition. Hinduism, Islam, Jainism and Sikhism are the four main religions practised here. The desert sees several colourful festivals celebrated with great alacrity throughout the year which symbolise the valor of the royal culture of Rajasthan. There are several languages spoken across different regions of Thar, including Sindhi in southwest, Lahnda in northwest and Marwari in the central and easter parts.

Places to visit in and around Thar

1. Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort
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Also referred to as the “Golden City” of India, Jaisalmer is located in the heart of the Thar desert, bathed in shades of sand. It is famous for its rich heritage and is the ideal representation of the vivacious culture of Rajasthan. The formidable Jaisalmer Fort is one the most frequently visited heritage sites in the country, which circumscribes within it several ornate Jain Temples and Maharaja’s Palace, made with stunning artistry. Jaisalmer is famous for its cultural festivals taking place all year round. Camel races, turban tying and various folk art forms are on display in these functions, which the locals organize with great zest. Jaisalmer truly is a paradise for wanderlust travellers.

2. Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort
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The second largest city in the state of Rajasthan, Jodhpur is also famously called the “Blue City” of India. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Marwar, it is now a world famous destination for tourists looking to revel in the Marwari tradition. The city features several intricately designed palaces and temples which are rife with history dating several centuries. It is especially famous for the Mehrangarh Fort which has now been converted into a museum showcasing the art and artifacts from the past era. Paragliding, camel rides and excursions are only some of a myriad of things one can do, when in Jodhpur.

3. Bikaner 

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Founded in the 15th century by Rao Bika of the Rathore clan, Bikaner is a prominent city in the state of Rajasthan. Bikaner is famous for being home to various ornate forts, palaces, temples and a mouthwatering cuisine which attracts hordes of tourists every year. Amongst the most famous monuments of the city, is the 16th century Junagarh Fort, which stands in all its glory studded with temples and grand palaces. Karni Mata Temple is another major religious attraction for vacationers, which is especially famous for thousands of mice that it houses.   

4. Rann of Kutch

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Located in the state of Gujarat, the Rann of Kutch is a vast area of salt marshes spread across 26,000 square miles. It spans the border between India and Pakistan and is divided into the two areas of Little Rann and Great Rann. The region is famous for salt harvesting as well its rich ecology, comprising several types of plants, animals and birds. It is home to 50 different mammal species like the Nilgai, Blackbucks and Indian Wild Ass. Different predatory species like Wolves, Hyenas and Wildcats also inhabit the area. The area also sees over 200 different varieties of birds like the Bustard, Flamingos and Cranes.  
 

Things to Do in Thar 

1. Desert Safari on Camels 

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The desert safari is probably the best way to explore the Thar desert. Riding on the back of a camel through the sand dunes at dusk, taking in the glorious vibe of the rustic hamlets of Rajasthan is a sublime experience. There are several places that one can go to for a Camel ride, including Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar etc. The locals in charge of the Camels, narrate several stories of the folk whilst guiding you through the excursion.      

2. Desert Festivals 

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The Rajasthani desert festival is organized with great zest and zeal every year in the winter, by the people of the desert. It is a grand celebration of the culture and traditions of the locals who sing, dance and proudly represent their tribes. Performances include those from snake charmers, puppeteers and acrobats, all of whom are immensely skilled at their respective crafts. The blissful vibe and gambol is something vacationers enjoy to be a part of.

3. National Parks and Sanctuaries 

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Thar is very well endowed with biodiversity. It is home to 11 different wildlife sanctuaries that preserve the pristine flora and fauna of the desert. The latest amongst these reserves is the Nara Desert Sanctuary extending to an area of 6000 square km. Other famous parks include the Rann of Kutch Sanctuary, Tal Chhapar Sanctuary and Desert National Park. All of these establishments contain within them a wide variety of plants, animals and birds including the rarer species of each kind. 
 
Despite being a desert, Thar is much more than an arid, barren piece of land. It is a repository of fascinating attractions, rich biodiversity and a colourful culture. Be it the majestic palaces of Mewar, the calming vibes of Rajasthani temples or the tasty Gujarati cuisine, Thar has a little something in store for everyone who visits which is why it is regarded as a traveller’s delight. 

 

This post was published by Raghav Maheshwari

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