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The Thar Desert, India

Imagine a place with 3-4 times a year some rain (100–500 mm), mostly falling from July to September  – otherwise just a hot, dry climate: Welcome to the arid Thar desert, also called the Great Indian desert. It covers an area of 200,000 km2 making it the world's 17th largest desert, stretching from Bikaner in the North to Jodphur in the south, with 85% lying in India and the remaining 15% in Pakistan. More than 60% of the desert lies in the state of Rajasthan, and extends into Gujarat, Punjab, and Haryana.

 

Fauna and Flora

The natural vegetation of the Thar Desert is composed of few trees, shrub and herb species – depending on agricultural irrigation systems, natural wind barriers (preventing sand erosion and sand dune movements). A large irrigation and power project has reclaimed areas of the northern and western desert for agriculture – though agriculture is not a dependable proposition in this area, at least one third of crops fail.

 

Stretches of sand in the desert are interspersed by hillocks and sandy and gravel plains. Interestingly here nature has developed a rich biodiversity.

 

Wildlife

Some wildlife species are found in the desert in large numbers such as the blackbuck,  chinkara (Indian Gazelle). They have evolved excellent survival strategies, their size is smaller than other similar animals living in different conditions, and they are mainly nocturnal. Camels are used for transport and – of course – for tourist camel safaris. Huge camel markets in Bikaner and related festivities are hence touristic highlights for these areas.

People

The main occupation of people in the Thar desert is agriculture and animal husbandry. A colourful culture rich in tradition prevails – and a barren life in small settlements with only basic civilisation.

Outside of villages people typically live in mud huts. A family with three generations might occupy three of these mud huts: one serves as a kitchen, the others as living/sleeping rooms. Each of the circular huts has a diameter of some 5 meters. The height might reach some 2,50 m. The hut construction is rather straightforward: Based on bended dry branches and thatch the lower part of the hut is formed (some 1,80 m height). With this foundation mud can be added to close the walls. The ceiling is constructed out of some branches and additional dried palm leaves.  

 

 

While I utterly enjoyed the hospitality of the locals – I was privileged to visit two families in their mud houses – I couldn’t help feeling displaced.  How different their life is from mine. I can enjoy a night out in a tent in the middle of the desert, but I couldn’t picture myself living there. For me life without running water, electricity, and a fridge is far out. What if they were just thinking the same about my life? Back to basics? Back to plain happiness about life’s little rewards? Mind boggling ideas creeping in when enjoying another miraculous sun down in the desert Thar …

 

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