All that is composed will decay...

Bikaner Wildlife Safari: the Nature of Thar Desert (I)

Feb 16, 2014

The idea of this morning jeep safari with Jitu was to discover the nature of this desert area and spot local birds and may be some animals. Jitu running the family Vinayak Guesthouse with his father close to Junagarh fort in Bikaner, is a wildlife biologist, so the tour started in the suburbs of Bikaner with a few interesting stories about the people of Thar desert, their traditions related to wildlife and various plants we saw at our first stop. 

Thar desert is a holy desert protected by Bishnoi people. This is a special cast of Rajasthani people whose beliefs are based on 29 principles directed towards personal hygiene and flora and fauna protection.

In 1730, 26 km south-east of the city of Jodhpur, 363 Bishnoi men, women and children sacrificed their lives to protect trees from cutting by the king's men. They hugged to the trees following their believe that harming the environment means harming yourself.

Local people are very closely related to nature. Nomads go to the desert with boys to find a spider's nest: the deeper spiders dig into the sand, the colder it will be. Gypsies believe that a black scorpion ashes put on a nipple would improve the immune system. 

Today, there are three main problems in the desert: rubbish, underground water irrigation and acacia. People leave lots of plastic, which is not recycled. People use underground water for irrigation purposes, thus depriving local people of one of their natural sources of water. Acacia shrub was brought to India by the British. Not eaten by camels and without any practical use at all, acacia started to dominate in the desert posing a threat to bio-diversity of the region (in picture 1 below).

One of traditional wild grasses in Western Rajasthan is kheep, which is lightweight and strong for making ropes, brushes, shelters for cattle and rooftops of mud houses. Kheep is eaten by camels as it is full of water. Its flower beans are used for making chatni, which is a good cure for constipation, while its roots are used for making tradional one-wire guitar - ektara.

Neem is another herbs of the desert, which is probably the most valuable herbs in India and is used for a wide range of purposes in medicine and beauty industry as its leaf helps for wound healing and skin allergies, while its smoke is used against Pakistani mosquitoes, which are said to be most harmful. 

By the way, in Rajasthan,Pakistani is often added as a descriptive words to something bad or harmful.

Calotropis known as aak in Ayurveda, is a type of milkweeds and has a great medical value. Its leaves are soft and full of water, they are sometimes boiled to cure pain in joints. Heated, its milk relieves pain in jaw. Its roots are used for a scorpion bite. Camels don't eat it, unlike goat and cow. Its purple flower is said to be Shiva's favorite.

The plant with the local name "bui" (in the third picture below) was used for getting cotton before. Its fluffy stuff is used as filling for blankets or special pillows designed to form the proper shape of a baby's neck.

The first and quite frequently come across dweller turned out to be a small rat - Indian gerbil, a nomadic species of rat, which are different from desert gerbil (gird) by their nocturnal way of life and erect posture. Gerbils have a fluffy tail, which is why they are sometimes called "lion tail rat". They live in burrows with several entrances and are almost perpetually chewing, which is why they may pose a threat to agriculture. But for us and our knowledgeable guide, it was a "namaste jerbel" as it appeared to namaste to people standing on its rear legs ^_^

On the way, unfortunately at a distance we saw the blue antelope, which is the largest antelope in Asia as it eats a lot. Light brown species are female, while blueish ones with horns are male. They mark bushes pheromones contained in their tears. There can be three kinds of groups: one male, a few females and a baby; just young males; a single retired male (which we obviously saw under the tree).

We also saw the smallest antelope - Indian gazzelle, who is also considered the fastest.

Accidentally or not, a whole group of camels was came across our way..Funny animals they are..^_^ Tomorrow we are going on a 2 day camel safari.