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satellite image of the Thar Desert, with the India-Pakistan border superimposed.
The Thar Desert (Rajasthani: ??? ?????), Urdu (Urdu: ??? ???? , 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. With an area of more than 200,000 km 2 (77,000 sq mi),  it is the world 's 9 th largest subtropical desert. 
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 province and the southeastern portion of Pakistan 's Punjab province. The Cholistan Desert adjoins the Thar desert spreading into Pakistani Punjab province.
 Location and description
In India the Thar Desert (also known as the Great Indian 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, about 3/5 th of the total geographical area of the State.
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.
Rainfall in the area is very low, from 0-250mm per year, all falling between July and September, and the climate is harsh with temperatures ranging from near freezing up to 50°C.
 Physiography and geology
The region surrounding Aravalli hills near Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India.
There are three principal landforms in the desert region — the predominantly sand covered Thar, the plains with hills including the central dune free country and the semi-arid area surrounding the Aravalli range.
On the whole the Thar Desert slopes imperceptibly towards the Indus Plain and surface unevenness 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.
Desert soil - The soils of the Arid Zone are generally sandy to sandy-loam in texture. The consistency and depth vary according to the topographical features. The low-lying loams are heavier and may have a hard pan. Some of these soils contain a high percentage of soluble salts in the lower horizons, turning water in the wells poisonous.
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 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 but at one time was a watersource for the Indus Valley Civilization centre of Mohenjo-daro.
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  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". 
 Thar in ancient literature
The Indian epics describe this region as Lavanasagara (Salt-ocean).
Ramayana mentions about Lavanasagara (Salt-ocean) when Rama goes to attack Lanka with the army of vanaras. Rama uses his agneyashtra-amogha to dry up the sea named drumakulya situated on north of Lavanasagara. A fresh water source named Pushkar surrounded by Marukantara was created. 
According to Jain cosmology, Jambudvipa is at the centre of Madhyaloka, or the middle part of the universe, where the humans reside. Jambudvipaprajñapti or the treatise on the island of Roseapple tree contains a description of Jambudvipa and life biographies of ??abha and King Bharata. Jambudvipa continent is surrounded by ocean Lavanoda (Salt-ocean).
Course of Sarasvati river through Thar desert
The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn 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 of dispute.
There is also a small present-day Sarasvati River (Sarsuti) that joins the Ghaggar river.
Mahabharata mentions about Kamyaka Forest situated 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 contained within it a lake called the Kamyaka lake (2,51). Kamyaka forest is mentioned as being situated 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 Ganga 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, situated on a level and wild plain on the banks of the Saraswati (3-5,36) abounding in birds and deer (3,5). There the Pandavas lived in an ascetic asylum (3,10). It took 3 days for Pandavas to reach the Kamyaka forest, setting out from Hastinapura, on their chariots (3,11).
In Rigveda we also find mention of a River named Asvanvati along with river Drishadvati.  Some scholars consider both Saraswati and Asvanvati the same river. 
The human habitations on the banks of rivers Saraswati and Drishadvati had shifted to the east and south directions prior to Mahabharata period. 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. 
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. Other mammals of the Thar area include a subspecies of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes pusilla) and a wild cat, the caracal.
The region is a haven for 141 species of migratory and resident birds of the desert. One can see 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. There are also a number of reptiles.
The Indian Peafowl is a resident breeder in the Indian subcontinent particularly Thar region. The peacock is designated as the national bird of India and the provincial bird of the Punjab (Pakistan). It can be seen sitting on Khejri or Pipal trees in villages or Deblina.
 Natural vegetation
The natural vegetation of this dry area is classed as Northern Desert Thorn Forest  occurring in small clumps scattered more or less openly. Density and size of patches increase from west to east following the increase in rainfall. Natural vegetation of Thar Desert is composed of following tree, shrub and herb species. 
 Tree species
Acacia jacquemontii , Acacia leucophloea , Acacia senegal , Albizia lebbeck , Azadirachta indica , Anogeissus rotundifolia , Prosopis cineraria , Salvadora oleoides , Tecomella undulata , Tamarix articulata
 Small trees and shrubs
Calligonum polygonoides , Acacia jacquemontii , Balanites roxburghii , Ziziphus zizyphus , Ziziphus nummularia , Calotropis procera , Suaeda fruticosa , Crotalaria burhia , Aerva tomentosa , Clerodendrum multiflorum , Leptadenia pyrotechnica , Lycium barbarum , Grewia populifolia , Commiphora mukul , Euphorbia neriifolia , Cordia rothii , Maytenus emarginata , Capparis decidua . Mimosa hamata
 Herbs and grasses
Eleusine compressa , Dactyloctenium scindicum , Cenchrus biflorus , Cenchrus setigerus , Lasiurus hirsutus , Cynodon dactylon , Panicum turgidum , Panicum antidotale , Dichanthium annulatum , Sporobolus marginatus , Saccharum spontaneum , Cenchrus ciliaris , Desmostachya bipinnata , Erogrostis species, Ergamopagan species, Phragmitis species, Tribulus terrestris , Typha species, Sorghum halepense , Citrullus colocynthis
 Threats and preservation
There are eleven national parks in the Thar desert area, the largest of which are the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rann of Kutch.
Others include: the Desert National Park, Jaisalmer (3162 km²) is an excellent example of the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, and its diverse fauna. The endangered Great Indian Bustard (Chirotis nigricaps), Blackbuck, chinkara, fox, Bengal 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, 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 spotted 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 sizeable population of rare and endangered wildlife is present including the Asian-Steppe Wildcat([Ornata]), Leopard, Zird, Desert Fox and herds of Indian Gazelle.
 Greening desert
The 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 dunes within the desert, which bury fences and block roads and railway tracks. Permanent solution to this problem of shifting sand dunes can be provided by fixation of the shifting sand dunes with suitable plant species and planting windbreaks and shelterbelts. They also provide protection from hot or cold and desiccating winds and the invasion of sand.
There are few local tree species suitable for planting in the desert region and these are slow growing. The introduction of exotic tree species in the desert for plantation has become necessary. Many species of Eucalyptus, Acacia, Cassia and other genera from Israel, Australia, USA, Russia, Southern Rhodesia, Chile, 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 system is the major irrigation scheme of the Thar Desert and is conceived to reclaim it and also to check spreading of the desert to fertile areas.
 Desert economy
Due to severe weather conditions, there are few highways in the Thar desert. Shown here is a road in Tharparkar District of Sindh, Pakistan.
The Thar is one of most heavily-populated desert areas in the world and the main occupations of people living here are agriculture and animal husbandry. Agriculture is not a dependable proposition in this area—after the rainy season, at least 33% of crops fail. Animal husbandry, trees and grasses, intercropped with vegetables or fruit trees, is the most viable model for arid, drought-prone regions. The region faces frequent droughts. Overgrazing due to high animal populations, wind and water erosion, mining and other industries result in serious land degradation.
The agricultural production is mainly from the Kharif crops. The Kharif crops are the crops that are grown in the summer season and are seeded in the months of June and July. These crops are harvested in the months of September and October and include bajra, pulses, jowar ( Sorghum vulgare ), maize ( zea mays ), sesame and groundnuts. In past few decades the development of canals, tube wells etc. has changed crop pattern. Now the desert districts in Rajasthan have started producing rabi crops like wheat, mustard, cumin seed etc. cash crops also. 
Thar region of Rajasthan is the main opium producer and consumer area. There are mainly two crop seasons. The water for irrigation comes from wells and tanks. The Indira Gandhi Canal irrigates northwestern Rajasthan.
Mustard fields in a village of Shri Ganganagar district(Rajasthan,India).
The Government of India has started a centrally sponsored scheme under the title of Desert Development Programme based on watershed management with the objective to check spreading of desert and improve the living condition of people in desert. 
Camel ride in the Thar desert near Jaisalmer, India.
In the last 15–20 years, the Rajasthan desert has seen many changes, including a manifold increase of both the human and animal population. Animal husbandry has become popular due to the difficult farming conditions. At present, there are ten times more animals per person in Rajasthan than the national average, and overgrazing is also a factor affecting climatic and drought conditions.
A large number of farmers in Thar desert depend on animal husbandry for their livelihood. Cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, camel, and ox consists of major cattle population. Barmer district has the highest cattle population out of which sheep and goats are in majority. Some of the best breeds of bullocks such as Kankrej (Sanchori) and Nagauri are from desert region.
Thar region of Rajasthan is the biggest wool-producing area in India. Chokla, Marwari, Jaisalmeri, Magra, Malpuri, Sonadi, Nali and Pungal breeds of sheep are found in the region. Of the total wool production in India, 40-50% comes from Rajasthan. The sheep-wool from Rajasthan is considered best for carpet making industry in the world. The wool of Chokla breed of sheep is considered of superior quality. The breeding centres have been developed for Karakul and Merino sheep at Suratgarh, Jaitsar and Bikaner. Some important mills for making Woolen thread established in desert area are:Jodhpur Woolen Mill, Jodhpur; Rajasthan Woolen Mill , Bikaner and India Woolen Mill, Bikaner. Bikaner is the biggest mandi of wool in Asia. 
The live stock depends for grazing on common lands in villages. During famine years in the desert the nomadic rebari people move with large herds of sheep and camel to the forested areas of south Rajasthan or nearby states like Madhya Pradesh for grazing the cattle.
The importance of animal husbandry can be understood from the organization of large number of cattle fairs in the region. Cattle fairs are normally named after the folk-deities. Some of major cattle fairs held are Ramdevji cattle fair at Manasar in Nagaur district, Tejaji cattle fair at Parbatsar in Nagaur district, Baldeo cattle fair at Merta city in Nagaur district, Mallinath cattle fair at Tilwara in barmer district. Live stock is very important to the Thar desert people
Forestry has an important part to play in the amelioration of the conditions in semi-arid and arid lands. If properly planned forestry can make an important contribution to the general welfare of the people living in desert areas. The living standard of the people in the desert is low. They can not afford other fuels like gas, kerosene etc. Fire wood is their main fuel, of the total consumption of wood about 75 percent is firewood. The forest cover in desert is low. Rajasthan has a forest area of 31150 km 2 . which is about 9% of the geographical area. The forest area is mainly in southern districts of Rajasthan like Udaipur and Chittorgarh. The minimum forest area is in Churu district only 80 km 2 . Thus the forest is insufficient to fulfill the needs of firewood and grazing in desert districts. This diverts the much needed cattledung from the field to the hearth. This in turn results into the decrease in agricultural production. Agro-forestry model is best suited to the people of desert. Some Institutes have done good work in Agro-forestry .
The scientists of Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), have successfully developed and improved dozens of traditional and non-traditional crops/fruits, such as Ber trees (like plums) that produce much larger fruits than before (lemon-size) and can thrive with minimal rainfall. These trees have become a profitable option for farmers. One example from a case study of horticulture showed that in situation of budding in 35 plants of Ber and Guar (Gola, Seb & Mundia variety developed in CAZRI), using only one hectare of land, yielded 10,000 kg. of Ber and 250 kg. of Guar, which translates into double or even triple profit. 
Arid Forest Research Institute , situated at Jodhpur is another national level institute in the region. It is one of the institutes of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education ( ICFRE ) working under the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India. The Objective of the Institute is to carry out scientific research in forestry in order to provide technologies to increase the vegetative cover and to conserve the biodiversity in the hot arid and semi arid region of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Dadara & Nagar Haveli union territory.
The most important tree species in terms of providing a livelihood in Thar desert communities is Prosopis cineraria.
Prosopis cineraria provides wood of construction class. It is used for house-building, chiefly as rafters, posts scantlings, doors and windows, and for well construction water pipes, upright posts of Persian wheels, agricultural implements and shafts, spokes, fellows and yoke of carts. It can also be used for small turning work and tool-handles. Container manufacturing is another important wood-based industry, which depends heavily on desert-grown trees.
Prosopis cineraria is much valued as a fodder tree. The trees are heavily lopped particularly during winter months when no other green fodder is available in the dry tracts. There is a popular saying that death will not visit a man, even at the time of a famine, if he has a Prosopis cineraria, a goat and a camel, since the three together are some what said to sustain a man even under the most trying condition. The forage yield per tree varies a great deal. On an average, the yield of green forage from a full grown tree is expected to be about 60 kg with complete lopping having only the central leading shoot, 30 kg when the lower two third crown is lopped and 20 kg when the lower one third crown is lopped. The leaves are of high nutritive value. Feeding of the leaves during winter when no other green fodder is generally available in rain-fed areas is thus profitable. The pods have a sweetish pulp and are also used as fodder for livestock.
Prosopis cineraria is most important top feed species providing nutritious and highly palatable green as well as dry fodder, which is readily eaten by camels, cattle, sheep and goats, constituting a major feed requirement of desert livestock. Locally it is called Loong. Pods are locally called sangar or sangri. The dried pods locally called Kho-Kha are eaten. Dried pods also form rich animal feed, which is liked by all livestock. Green pods also form rich animal feed, which is liked by drying the young boiled pods. They are also used as famine food and known even to prehistoric man. Even the bark, having an astringent bitter taste, was reportedly eaten during the severe famine of 1899 and 1939. Pod yield is nearly 1.4 quintals of pods/ha with a variation of 10.7% in dry locations.
Prosopis cineraria wood is reported to contain high calorific value and provide high quality fuel wood. The lopped branches are good as fencing material. Its roots also encourage nitrogen fixation, which produces higher crop yields.
tree in the village of Harsawa
Tecomella undulata is tree species, locally known as Rohida, found in Thar Desert regions of northwest and western India, is another important medium sized tree of great use in Agro-forestry, that produces quality timber and is the main source of timber amongst the indigenous tree species of desert regions. The trade name of the tree species is Desert teak or Marwar teak.
Tecomella undulata is mainly used as a source of timber. Its wood is strong, tough and durable. It takes a fine finish.