Rajasthan – A Thar Desert Lifescape

West of Jodhpur, the highway belongs to the Armed Forces. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) maintains these roads. Bounded by scrub jungle, rocky wasteland and sparse cultivation the macadam runs long and straight towards the sallow sands of Jaisalmer. From here, it runs further west towards the border with Pakistan. Forming the final frontier, the sands of the Thar stretch westward, agnostic of manmade borders, across both countries — what is east to Pakistan is west to India, but what does the desert care for such arbitrary demarcations? A few kilometres out of Jaisalmer the highway continues towards the Sam dunes; here we veered right towards the hotel that hosted us for the next three nights. Suryagarh, magnificent as its name, rose like a vision in the desert.

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Over the next three days my senses absorbed this astonishing desert landscape – its loamy complexion confused the white balance settings of my camera, and nearly everything I shot appeared yellowed with age. Even my eyes saw everything in a jaundiced light, mellowed by the strains of the algoza and the ravanhatta, and the haunting, soothing voices of the manganiyars from whose persons music sprinkled like rain.

Vestiges of a desert watercourse near Jaisalmer
Vestiges of a desert watercourse near Jaisalmer
This pool of water is all that remains of the monsoon's excess
This pool of water is all that remains of the monsoon’s excess

This desert is old. This desert was once an ocean. Traces of that ancestry abound in the fossil beds and stratified canyons that seasonal rivers have scoured out. Life abounds, it thrives, in this bleakness of this terrain. Look underfoot – ants are scurrying. Scarabs are glistening with the last dew of the night. In the vicinity of an oasis, sand-coloured dragonflies crackle their wings. Painted orange butterflies savour nectar from the yellow blossoms of the Khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria) and goatherds seek shelter in the cool shade of the Jaal (Salvadora oleiodes).

Wheatears and Western Grey Shrikes flit among the thorn shrubbery. Desert Jirds peek out of their subterranean hideouts, munching and chomping as if grass was going out of fashion. Raptors soar over the land, seeking prey. There are eagles and buzzards, kites and falcons. Eurasian Griffons and Cinerous Vultures — rare anywhere else in the country — circle in the sky. A small band of Demoiselle cranes joins them. Out of the unknown a Common Raven, black as Poe’s poetry, visits but does not stay.

As always, I saw more than I could photograph.

In its frugal sparseness, the desert is generous (it is from the desert that the people of Rajasthan derive the vastness of their heart). And the desert had so much to offer me besides its charm and its hospitality. It wrapped me in its heart and showed me its treasures. Only because I dared look.

The incredible desert landscape from atop a dune at Dechu, en route to Jaisalmer from Jodhpur
The incredible desert landscape from atop a dune at Dechu, en route to Jaisalmer from Jodhpur
Sunset on the dunes
Sunset on the dunes
A butterfly feeds on nectar from the blossoms of a Khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria)
A butterfly feeds on nectar from the blossoms of a Khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria)
The Jaal Tree (Salvadora oleiodes), one of the principal shade-givers of the dry, arid desert
The Jaal Tree (Salvadora oleiodes), one of the principal shade-givers of the dry, arid desert
A pigeon naps inside an ornate cubbyhole in the vicinity of Jaisalmer's Golden Fort
A pigeon naps inside an ornate cubbyhole in the vicinity of Jaisalmer’s Golden Fort
Eye, gazelle, delicate wanderer. The Chinkara is so much part of this landscape
Eye, gazelle, delicate wanderer. The Chinkara is so much part of this landscape
Not entirely sure, but it looks like a Cinereous Vulture
Not entirely sure, but it looks like a Cinereous Vulture
Now, isn't that the uncommon Common Babbler?
Now, isn’t that the uncommon Common Babbler?
A Common Buzzard wheels in the sky
A Common Buzzard wheels in the sky
The Khejri tree is a leitmotif of this desert
The Khejri tree is a leitmotif of this desert
The Common Raven (Corvus corax subcorax) floated in the air like a great black kite
The Common Raven (Corvus corax subcorax) floated in the air like a great black kite
Khejri trees are lopped for firewood. Here's one recumbent besides Jazia Talao oasis
Khejri trees are lopped for firewood. Here’s one recumbent besides Jazia Talao oasis
Wintering Demoiselle Cranes at Kheechan
Wintering Demoiselle Cranes at Kheechan
Feral Pigeons enjoy a splash. I looked eagerly for the Yellow-eyed Pigeon
Feral Pigeons enjoy a splash. I looked eagerly for the Yellow-eyed Pigeon
Sparrows arrive at teatime, for the pakoras!
Sparrows arrive at teatime, for the pakoras!
The Indian Desert Jird, one of my favourite rodents
The Indian Desert Jird, one of my favourite rodents
Beneath this Jird is a complex system of burrows
Beneath this Jird is a complex system of burrows
Indian Silverbills look like Ikebana
Indian Silverbills look like Ikebana
An Isabelline Wheatear against the dramatic desert landscape
An Isabelline Wheatear against the dramatic desert landscape
A Painted Grasshopper is gaudiness itself
A Painted Grasshopper is gaudiness itself
A Rose-ringed Parakeet makes itself at home upon Osian's red sandstone monuments
A Rose-ringed Parakeet makes itself at home upon Osian’s red sandstone monuments
Crowning glory
Crowning glory
A Short-Toed Snake Eagle surveys its domain
A Short-Toed Snake Eagle surveys its domain
A solitary Indian Silverbill waits to join its flock
A solitary Indian Silverbill waits to join its flock
A Variable Wheatear on its perch
A Variable Wheatear on its perch
The adorable and daring White-eared Bulbul
The adorable and daring White-eared Bulbul
This White-eared Bulbul boldly went where no bulbuls would dare to go - to the basket of raisins
This White-eared Bulbul boldly went where no bulbuls would dare to go – to the basket of raisins
A White Wagtail against a screen of mist in Kheechan
A White Wagtail against a screen of mist in Kheechan
A White-throated Kingfisher takes advantage of nearby water bodies
A White-throated Kingfisher takes advantage of nearby water bodies

Hope you liked this post. If you’re tripping on the desert, you must read these past posts from The Green Ogre archives

Encounter – Chinkara or Indian Gazelle

Encounter – The Indian Desert Cat

Encounter – The Indian Desert Jird

Encounter – White-eared Bulbul 

The Demoiselles of Khichan – Part 1 and Part 2

What’s cooking in Khichan?

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