The Thar Desert

Desert – The Thar Desert – UPSC Indian Geography Notes

The vast and arid region in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent is commonly referred to as The Great Indian Desert or the Thar Desert. Situated to the northwest of the Aravali highlands, this expansive and dry expanse defines the landscape of the region.

It is characterized by rolling landscapes featuring longitudinal dunes and barchans. The term “Thar” is derived from “thul,” denoting the prevalent sand ridges in the region. The Thar Desert spans across the northern part of Rajasthan state in India and extends into the eastern provinces of Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan. This article provides insights into The Thar Desert, offering valuable information for Geography preparation in the context of the UPSC Civil Service exam.

The Thar Desert

  • The Thar Desert covers an extensive area of over 200,000 square kilometers, serving as a natural barrier between India and Pakistan.
  • The surface comprises aeolian (wind-deposited) sand, accumulating over a span of 1.8 million years.
  • The desert landscape is characterized by undulating terrain, featuring high and low sand dunes interspersed with sandy plains and low barren hills known as bhakars.
  • The sand dunes are dynamic, continually moving and altering in shape and size.
  • A specific type of sand dune, the Barchan (or Barkhan), is prevalent, exhibiting a crescent shape formed by unidirectional wind action. This type of dune is found in sandy deserts worldwide.
  • Geographically, it is bordered on the west by the irrigated Indus River plain, on the north and northeast by the Punjab Plain, on the southeast by the Aravalli Range, and on the south by the Rann of Kachchh.
  • The desert experiences a subtropical desert climate, influenced by sustained high pressure and subsidence at its latitude.
  • The summer monsoon winds, responsible for bringing rain to most of the subcontinent, tend to bypass the Thar Desert to the east.

Thar Desert – Formation

  • Rainfall distribution: The amount of rain decreases from east to west in the region.
  • Western Rajasthan: Experiences minimal to no rainfall due to specific factors.
    • Southwest Monsoon: The Arabian Sea branch of the southwest monsoon passes through Gujarat’s Kathiawar area and moves northwest.
    • Absence of Tall Mountains: The region lacks towering mountains that could obstruct the monsoon winds.
    • Aravalli Range: While the Aravalli range runs parallel to the monsoon wind path in Rajasthan, it fails to prevent their northward movement.
    • High Temperatures: The area’s high temperatures enhance the water retention capacity of the winds, reducing the likelihood of rainfall.
  • Resultant Effect: The combination of these factors leads to a significant shortage of rainfall, contributing to the formation of the Thar Desert.

Thar Desert – Features

  • Geographical Extent of the Great Indian Desert:
    • Spans from the Aravali Hills in the northeast to Punjab and Haryana in the north.
    • Extends to the Rann of Kutch along the western coast and the Indus River alluvial plains in the northwest.
  • Characteristics of Soil:
    • Remains dry throughout the year.
    • Prone to wind erosion.
  • Wind Effects:
    • High-speed winds transport solid sand, depositing some on productive fields.
    • Sand dunes within the desert shift due to strong winds.
  • Vegetation Challenges:
    • Few local tree species withstand the harsh desert climate.
    • Non-native tree species are introduced.
  • Promising Tree Species:
    • Jojoba is identified as the most promising and economically feasible for planting.
  • Climate and Alias:
    • Dry climate with sparse vegetation.
    • Known as Marusthali due to distinctive features.
  • Historical Insight:
    • Believed to be underwater during the Mesozoic era, supported by evidence from the Akal Wood Fossil Park and sea deposits.
  • River and Water Stress:
    • The Luni River is the sole large river in the region.
    • Water-stressed region with minimal precipitation and high evaporation.
  • Inland Drainage and Water Sources:
    • Some streams cease and contribute to inland drainage, joining lakes or playas.
    • Lakes and playas contain brackish water, serving as the primary source of salt.

Thar Desert – Inhabitation

  • Population Density:
    • The Thar Desert boasts the highest population density among all deserts globally.
  • Diverse Population:
    • Inhabitants include Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Muslims living in India.
  • Rajasthan Population Hub:
    • Home to over 40% of Rajasthan’s entire population.
  • Primary Occupations:
    • Agriculture and livestock husbandry are the main vocations of the residents.
  • Cultural Richness:
    • The desert is characterized by a vibrant culture deeply rooted in tradition.
  • Local Arts:
    • Folk music and poetry enjoy significant popularity among the locals.
  • Occupational Focus:
    • The Thar stands out as one of the world’s most densely inhabited deserts, with agriculture and animal husbandry being the primary professions.
  • Agricultural Practices:
    • Kharif crops are crucial, cultivated in the summer and sown in June and July.
    • Includes crops like bajra, guar, jowar (Sorghum vulgare), maize (zea mays), sesame, and groundnuts.
    • Harvested in September and October.


In conclusion, the Thar Desert, also recognized as the Great Indian Desert, stands as a vast expanse in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Renowned for its high population density, it thrives as one of the world’s most densely inhabited desert environments. The livelihoods of its people revolve around agriculture and animal husbandry. Beyond its utilitarian aspects, the Thar Desert contributes to cultural vibrancy through annual desert festivals, especially during the celebrated Rajasthan desert festivities. These events, marked by fervour and vigour, unfold once a year in the winter, providing a unique recreational dimension to the desert’s character.

FAQs on the Thar Desert

Question 1: What is the geographical location of the Great Indian Desert?

Answer: The Great Indian Desert, also known as the Thar Desert, is located in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. It spans across the states of Rajasthan in India and extends into eastern Pakistan.

Question 2: Where are the Aravali Hills located?

Answer: The Aravali Hills are situated in western India, primarily in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat. These hills run approximately southwest to northeast and play a significant geographical role, especially in the context of the Thar Desert.

Question 3: What do you mean by Marusthali?

Answer: “Marusthali” is a term used to refer to a desert or arid region. In the context of India, it is often associated with the Thar Desert due to its dry climate, sparse vegetation, and distinctive geographical features. The word “Marusthali” is derived from Sanskrit, where “Maru” means desert, and “sthali” means place or region.

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