Deserts of Pakistan

The deserts in Pakistan and India fall in the category of the Monsoon Deserts.  "Monsoon," derived from an Arabic word for "season," refers to a wind system with pronounced seasonal reversal. Monsoons develop in response to temperature variations between continents and oceans. The southeast trade winds of the Indian Ocean, for example, provide heavy summer rains in India as they move onshore. As the monsoon crosses India, it loses moisture on the eastern slopes of the Aravalli Range. The Rajasthan Desert of India and the Thar Desert of Pakistan are parts of a monsoon desert region west of the range.

The Thar Desert: The origin of the Thar desert is a controversial subject. Some consider it to be only 4000 to 10,000 years old, whereas others state that aridity started in this region much earlier. Also known as The Great Indian Desert, the huge unending expanse of burning hot sand is spread over four states in India, namely Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, and two states in Pakistan and covers an area of about 446,000 square kilometres. Deriving its name from 'thul' denoting the sand ridges of the region. Presently the portion of Thar Desert in Pakistan falls in the Sindh province and sharing the rest of it with Rajasthan in India. Beyond Mirpurkhas land has been badly hit by the salinity and rise of water table hence the desert starts right after Mirpurkhas after 45 minute you start seeing the straw / Cone hoses of the desert dwellers. Until you reach Umerkot which is the largest town in Thar desert. The Thar Desert, however, is not an inhospitable, empty wasteland, but is often called, with good reason, the `Friendly Desert'. It is accessible, not too hot, and colourful, and makes a perfect four-day trip from Karachi. More than half a million people, 70 percent of whom are Hindu, live in the desert, spread out over 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles). The women wear long, full, red or orange skirts and cover their heads with embroidered or tie-dyed shawls. Married women encase their arms in bone or plastic bangles from wrist to shoulder (widows wear bangles above the elbows only; single girls wear them only round the wrist). The people live in round mud-walled huts thatched with grass and surrounded with thick thorn hedges. These are clustered round the more reliable wells or along the tops of ridges.

A NASA satellite image of the Thar Desert, with the India-Pakistan border superimposed . The desert is at the center left of the image; the Indus River and its tributaries are to the left side of the desert, and the dark green line at the bottom center of the image is the Aravalli Range.

Mithi, with a population of 20,000, is the biggest town in the desert and a famous centre for Thari handicrafts, appliqued bedspreads, embroidered shirts, shawls, babies' hats, wall hangings, horse and camel trappings; silver jewellery and old carved wooden chairs and boxes. Hindus and Muslims live peacefully side by side in the desert, and in Mithi even enjoy each other's festivals. There are a number of Hindu temples in town, and these are at their best when there is a festival. The Temple of Nag Devta, the snake, has its festival inJune. The Muslim Shrine of Sayed Ali Shah, an 11th-centuryArab settler, celebrates its death anniversary on the 27th day of Ramazan.

Beyond Mithi the real feeling of the desert begins. Sandy tracks weave between hills covered with low flowering shrubs. Vultures, buzzards, eagles, kites and many species of smaller birds are easily spotted. House crows and brown-necked ravens scavenge in the villages. Some of the remoter Hindu villages keep tame peacocks. Mammals are more difficult to spot. Indian and red foxes, jackals, gerbils, mongoose and squirrels are fairly common, but you are unlikely to see a pangolin, porcupine, desert bare, wolf or hyena.

Islamkot, about two hours from Mithi, is another predominantly Hindu town with two mosques and five Hindu temples. Almost every house has a wind catcher on the roof. From here a little-used track cuts north across country to Chachro. This track is not a bus route and is particularly difficult to negotiate, so it is essential to take a guide. It is an interesting route, however, as the villages are remote and untouched. Arnaro, about one hour north of Islamkot, is a Hindu village with protected peacocks. On the main track to Nagar Parkar, about 45 kilometres from Islamkot, is the Jain Temple of Gori, said to date from 1376. The pillared porch with its carved ceiling leads into a multi-domed chamber, divided into little cubicles; crumbling stone statues decorate the walls. The jams are followers Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, and though no Jams live in Pakis today and the temple is abandoned there is still a festival here on 20-25 March honour of the Jain god Parasnath.

Cholistan Desert, Punjab, Pakistan - March 2008

Cholistan Desert (Photo courtesy: Autumn Sun and Autumn Colour )

The Cholistan Desert: The fascinating barren landscapes of the Cholistan (locally known as Rohi) starts some 30 kilometres from Bahawalpur and is spread over an area of some 16,000 square kilometres and extends up to the Thar desert in the Sindh province. The word Cholistan is derived from 'Cholna' which means moving. The people of Cholistan lead a semi-nomadic life, moving from one place to another in search of water and fodder for their animals. Drawar Fort is the major landmark of Cholistan Desert, located 48 kilometres from Dera Nawab Sahib (once headquarters and the seat of the rulers of Bahawalpur state). The area was once well watered by the river Ghaggar now called the Hakra in Pakistan and known in Vedic times as the Sarasvati. All along the 500-km of dried up river are over 400 archaeological sites, which date back to the Indus civilization 4500 years ago and are clustered around Drawar Fort. The desert has an average rainfall of 5 inches a year and there is very little cultivation.

Cholistan is presently inhabited by about 100,000 semi-nomads live in the desert, mostly as camel and goat herders. In the dry season they cluster in temporary villages around the more reliable wells (some up to 30 metres or 100 feet deep). During Monsoon season, specially in August and September, when sparse rains hit the area, the nomads spread out with their herds and wander freely across the border into the Rajasthan Desert in India and Thar Desert in Sindh, building shallow reservoirs in the hollows between the sand dunes to catch the rainwater. Here they grow pulses, their staple diet, eat yoghurt and mutton or goat and occasionally, camel. The nomads belong to many different tribes, though most of them are descended from settlers who came from Balochistan at least two centuries ago. The women swirl along in full red skirts and embroidered shawls, and the men pile bright coloured turbans on their heads. On camel safari you camp with them, join in their singing and watch their ungainly camel dances before cuddling into your sleeping bag for the surprisingly cold nights under a clear sky brilliant with stars.

One comes across a chain of forts, built at 29 km intervals when traveling in the Cholistan Desrt, which probably served as guard posts for the camel caravan routes. There were three rows of these forts. the first line of forts began from Phulra and ended in Lera, the second from Rukhanpur to Islamgarh, and the third from Bilcaner to Khaploo. They are all in ruins now, and you can see that they were built with double walls of gypsum blocks and mud. Some of them date back to 1000 BC, and were destroyed and rebuilt many times.

The Kharan Desert (Balochistan): The Kharan Desert, also known locally as the "Sandy Desert", is located in northwest Balochistan. The Kharan Basin is known as a closed basin because the entire basin's catchment water is used for agriculture and domestic requirements. The Kharan Desert area consists of shifting sand dunes with an underlying pebble-conglomerate floor. The moving dunes reach heights of between 15 and 30 meters. Level areas between the dunes are a hard-topped pan when dry and a treacherous, sandy-clay mush when wet. The barren wastes that occupy almost half of Iran, with its continuation into Kharan in Pakistan, form a continuous stretch of absolute barrenness from the alluvial fans of the Alborz mountains in the north to the edge of the plateau in Balochistan, more than 1,200 kilometres to the southeast. In altitude these central deserts slope from about 1,000 m in the north to about 250 m on in the southwest. Average annual rainfall throughout these deserts is well under 100 mm. The desert includes areas of inland drainage and dry lakes (hamuns). The Gowd-e Zereh (lake basin) in Iran, which occasionally receives excess drainage, is separated from Kharan in Pakistan by the low Chaghai hills, which, with the highlands around the extinct volcano Koh-e Tafta'n, cause the Mashkel river to form a lake. The surface of the Hamun-i-Mashkhel, which is some 85 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide, is littered with sun-cracked clay, oxidized pebbles, salty marshes and crescent-shaped moving sand dunes. The area is known particularly for its constant mirage and sudden severe sand-storms.

Courtesy: Albion CX90 Restoration Project

Related Links: | Deserts of Pakistan | Thar -- Pakistan's largest desert of living traditions |
| Tharparkar - Desert on the Edge of Pakistan |
| Structural Trends and Focal Mechanism Studies in the Potwar Area with Special Emphasis on Hydrocarbon Exploration |

This page was created on 15 March 2007 - updated 6 January 2009

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