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Thar Desert

A NASA satellite image of the Thar Desert, with the India-Pakistan border superimposed. The Thar Desert (Hindi: ) , a.k.a 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.),[1] it is the world's 9th largest subtropical desert.[2] 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 western Sindh province and the southeastern portion of Pakistan's Punjab province. The Cholistan Desert adjoins the Thar desert spreading into Pakistani Punjab province

Extent of Thar desert

In India the thar desert extends from the Sutlej River, surrounded by the Aravalli Range on the east, on the south by the salt marsh known as the 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 ill-defined. Depending on what areas are included or excluded, the nominal size of the Thar can vary significantly. The Thar desert occupies the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana in India and covers an area of 208,110 km2. 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/Haryana. The Indian desert is now said to be expanding at a rate of 1/2 km per year towards Punjab, Haryana, U.P. and M.P.[3] The Thar desert covers 9 districts of Rajasthan: Bikaner, Churu, Sriganganagar, Pali, Jalore, Barmer, Nagaur, jaisalmer and Jodhpur.[2]

In Pakistan, the desert covers the eastern Sindh province and the southeastern portion of Pakistan's Punjab province. 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 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 province. 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 Indus 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.[4]

[edit] 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 did not share the opinion that the palaeochannels of the Sarasvati coincide with the bed of present day Ghaggar and believe that the Sutlej along with the Yamuna 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 Kalibanga in the desert region by Robert Raikes[5] 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


Indian Gazelle or Chinkara

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 India, 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 Kutch. 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.

Blackbuck male and female

The Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, spread over an area of 3162 km, 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, harriers, 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 Jaipur, 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.