Cholistan Travel Guide

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wall of derawar fort

wall of derawar fort

Rao Arslan Jatoi

The Cholistan, or Rohi, Desert in Punjab is the largest desert on the Indian continent. The desert is over 10,000 square miles. Located 20 miles from Bahawalpur, The Hakra River dried up here, and with it most life. The 2.5 million people who live here are nomads who lead a simple life herding and trading in camels. Their culture is strong with many romantic legends dating back to ancient times and they place great value in the power of song. The desert festivals are simply out of this world, you may see camels dancing (except those with two left humps) who are even better dressed in dazzling costumes than their owners. The people of Cholistan wear embroidered and print coloured shirts, skirts and robe coats. During the wet season, the nomads built shallow reservoirs to catch rainwater to survive long spells away from their villages.

Cholistan is changing amazingly. The desert was under perennial regular irrigated cultivation till 1200 B C and under seasonal regular irrigated cultivation till about 600 B C. The area turned into arid and desolate desert with drying up of River Hakra.

These days again, the desert is under going a process of profound change because of canal system originating from the River Sutlaj. But one can still find people living in houses made of mud and straw almost as they might have been living 200 years ago. 

The way of life is also about to change. The women folk in drab landscape of desert wearing nath (nosegay), katmala (necklace), kangan (big bangles), pazeb (worn on toes), bright color, and vivid pattern lehngas of 20 yards and high cholis may one day become part of history. Maybe not so in near future! Sofi poet Khawaja Ghulam Farid, who spent 18 years of his life wandering about in Cholistan, admiring its beauty and people wrote, "But what tongue shall tell the glory of it, the perpetual strength of it, and sublimity of its lonely desolation! And who shall paint the splendor of its light." The poet was passionately found of desert milieus that are hard, dry and at first repulsive. His fascination for Cholistan was so rich that his poetry has woven melodious aura all around Rohi -- as the desert is called in a local dialect. He has set the standards for desert wanderers. I can tell you something of what I have seen during my intermittent stay - from 1977 till 2000 - in the desert, but I cannot tell you the grander of the desert, nor the glory of colors that wrap the burning sand. The awesome vistas and richness of the desert are beyond description. Cholistan is a land of legends, myths, velour, romance, folk melodies and regal elegance. 

At the tail of monsoon region, Cholistan stands as if petitioning the sky for rain. It very seldom falls. And whenever the prayers are answered, the water is stored for human being as well as animals in reservoirs known as `kunds'. Average rainfall in the area is 3 to 5 inches a year. Nomadic Holystones are constantly moving in search of water that is scarce, lies very deep, and is brackish. The lack of fresh water for drinking and irrigation controls the lives of the people of the region. A Saraiki poet once wrote, "Men tassel, merry dart tarsi, tee tarsi Rohi jai, melon ankh an pan dryad." It seems as if Cholistan is still mourning for the demise of the River Hacra. Cholistan is one of the fantasy regions for local as well foreign tourists, geologists, historians, archaeologists and naturalists.

Cholistan Desert, covers an area of about 15,000 square kms and extends into the Thar Desert of India. This vast and arid piece of land was once an irrigation land and it was fed by the mighty Hacra River, whose dry bed is now home to the Cholistani people.

The 400 uncovered archaeological sites along the dried up bed of this river is the indication that this area was lived in by many ancient civilisations. Besides the traces of many Stone Age settlements, a series of desert fort has been built to guard the trade route across Cholistan. Most of them have turned into ruins. The best preserved of them all is the majestic Derawar Fort.

Contributors

March 01, 2006 change by tariq5 (1 point)

December 01, 2006 change by giorgio

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