Large areas of this nearly flat region are covered with loose sand which may take the form of a sheet, fixed dunes or shifting dunes. Such a sandy country is confined mainly to Bikaner Division, Jaisalmer district and the northern part of Jodhpur district.
There are isolated low hills here and there in this region. Some of these hills rise to heights of over 915 metres above sea level. These hills are formed mainly of quartzites or granites. The sands are blown mostly from the Rann of Kutch and the Sind Desert by the west and south-west winds.
These shifting sands have bogged the old river beds with the result that the surface drainage is absent except in the south-eastern part of this region where the Luni drains the Aravalli Range and empties itself in the Rann of Kutch. The rest of the area consists of either bare rock strewn with gravel or stiff alluvium.
The western part of this region which receives less than 30.5 cm. of rainfall a year is called Murusthalli, the Thar Desert or the Great Indian Desert. It is said that the desert started spreading near about 600 AD.
The plans are underway to check this menace by (a) fixing dunes with vegetation to arrest sand drift, (b) afforesting the arid areas where there are no dunes, (c) creating shelter belts of trees across the winds to check their fury and thus reduce their power of carrying sand. The efforts have also been made to import a number of different species of trees from other arid counters for checking the sand dune.
May and June are very hot months during which strong dust-laden winds blow occasionally. The maximum temperature may rise to 49°C at many places. The hot sun and drought sometimes dry up wells. Loss of cattle life due to scarcity of water is common during these months.
There is a little rain due to convectional uplift of the moist air during summer monsoon. The winter rainfall is caused by western depressions. Annual rainfall of a major part of this region is less than 30cm. In the east, rainfall is slightly more and is about 38 cm. a year.
In absence of rain this region is devoid of vegetation. Though only 1.3 percent of the total area of this region is covered with forest, large stretches of land are covered with grass and bushes. Trees are short and stunted due to scanty rainfall and they occur often gregariously.
Jhand trees are found on level stretches. Khip bush with long needle like branches but without leaves is common on sandy soils. Evergreen bushes of hair, phog, beri and cactus cover fairly large areas at some places and so also aak, Phog, and leaves of Jhand and beri are used as feed for camel, sheep and goats which are the main wealth of the inhabitants of this region.
Agriculture is practiced with help of irrigation. Along the Aravalli Range a large number of small streams are swollen with water after heavy showers of rain during the summer monsoon season. The water is very precious and all attempts are made to store this water in artificial lakes formed by throwing bunds across the streams.
There is perennial canal-irrigation in the north-west in Ganganagar district. The canal known as the Bikaner Canal takes off from the headworks on the Sutlej near Ferozepore in the Punjab and it irrigates north-western Ganganagar district.
The area north of Hanumangarh is provided with non-perennial irrigation by Ottu Feeder which takes off from Ottu Headworks built west of Sirsa in Haryana. The Bhakra Canals irrigate about 2.4 lakh hectares in the district. The large area of Ganganagar district is free from scarcity of water. Gram is a leading crop of this district.
As this district produces food grains in large quantities it is called granary of western Rajasthan.
During the rainy months large level areas and the dunes are cleared of bushes and ploughed for sowing bajra and jowar crops. In absence of rain there is always a chance of famine.
The Rajasthan Canal:
Although soil of Bikaner and Jaisalmer district are fit for cultivation but in absence of water they are not used. Large areas are a culturable waste. These areas cover 72.4% of the total area of Bikaner district and 42% of Jaisalmer district and measure about 3.5 million hectares. Rajasthan Canal will bring, a large part of this culturable waste land under irrigation.
The canal takes off from Harike barrage constructed near the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas in the Punjab. The canal runs to the south for 215 km. without irrigating any area. This part of the canal is called the Rajasthan Feeder.
The rest of the canal called the Rajasthan Main Canal is 467 km. long and is located entirely in Rajasthan State. It runs at a distance varying from 40 to 64 km from Indo-Pakistan border. The construction of this project was started in 1958. This project has been also called “The Indira Gandhi Nahar Project.”
The main canal ends near Mohangarh situated in central Jaisalmer district. The tail end of the main canal received water on January 1, 1987. The main canal and 7,750 km. long distribution system irrigates about 1.55 million hectares of land. The present irrigation potential is, however, only 6.3 lakh hectares. This irrigation project will change a large part of the desert into an oasis which will grow a variety of crops including long staple cotton and sugarcane.
There is poor scrub or grass which supports a limited number of camels, sheep, goats and cattle in this region. Almost everywhere, agricultural economy is coupled with pastoralism. In the western part of this region where rainfall is very scanty, rearing of camels, sheep, goats and cattle is the main occupation of the people.
Camel, popularly known as the ship of the desert is most useful animal in this arid landscape. It can live without food and water for a week and can stand high temperature and sand-storms. The other animals like sheep and goats thrive well in this climate. Sheep are adapted to the desert climate because their fleece protects them from chill at night and excessive heat during day.
The number of sheep and goats is too large for the pasturage provided by this region and, therefore, large scale migration of flocks to Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh for a few months during early summer is a normal feature. The wool of superior quality is used for making woollen felt and blankets.
Gypsum is the most important mineral found here. It is found usually in beds 1 to 1.5 metres thick lying hidden under a few metres thick overlying earth. This region produces more than half of the total gypsum produced in the country. It is used chiefly in the manufacture of cement and fertilisers. Plaster of Paris is another product which we get by heating gypsum at 120°C.
Practically the whole of India’s requirement of fuller’s earth (Multani mitti) are met with by this region. It is used to remove colour from edible and mineral oils, as filler in the manufacture of paper and as an ingredient of soap and paints. It is quarried mainly in Bikaner and Jodhpur districts.
Natural gas has been found at a few sites in Jaisalmer district. The hydro carbon content of the gas is low.
Owing to the rigorous climate of this region, the people are well built, healthy and vigorous. Both men and women are generally tall and hardy. Density of population is low as compared with other regions and it was 109 in 2001.
The canal irrigated areas are fairly densely populated. In the unirrigated areas where rainfall is less than 25 cm. a year the density is very low. Jodhpur, Bikaner, Ganganagar and Sikar are the important town of this region.