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The Natural Splendor of Rajasthan

For all one's inclination to believe that Rajasthan is a desert, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the region, in fact, has a varied topography, and includes from semi-arid, desert-like conditions to among the oldest mountains in the world, and lush, water-filled valleys. No wonder too that its wildlife is so rich in variety, including from the tiger and leopard to endless varieties of deer, rhesus monkeys, reptiles including the python, and a profusion of bird-life that includes water-birds.


The Thar desert, also referred to as the Great Indian Desert, falls for most part within the state, though parts of it do stretch into other states such as Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana, and this is what gives Rajasthan its unique topographical character. Unlike the typical desert, it does not have oasis, palms or cactii, and is densely populated. Sand dunes characterise it, just as much as saline depressions and lakes. Interestingly, since legends refer to this area as under water aeons ago, scientists have now proved that some 25 million years ago, this was indeed the case.

Fossils unearthed in the Akal area point to the remains of ferns and forests of cycades that existed some 180 million years ago, pointing to a possibly hot, humid climate. In fact, the area has a geological history that places it under the sea on four different occasions, and evidence is profuse in the wood fossil park of Akal, and in other areas around Jaisalmer that together constitutes the Desert National Park. Another distingushing natural feature in Rajasthan is the Aravalli mountain chain, often referred to as hills because the height is rarely beyond a thousand metres.

The folds of the Aravallis were used successfully by the Rajput princes to establish their citadels, but the mountains are among the oldest in the world, the result of early volcanic activities also responsible for their mineral wealth of copper, zinc, cobalt manganese, asbestos, soapstone, garnet, and marble. Since the Aravallis tended to be heavily forested, they became a natural refuge for birds and animals. Even though human degradation of the environment has led to deforestation, in areas where the forests are still thick, the reserves continue to offer sanctuary to their original, resident and migrant species. Two other topographical conditions typify Rajasthan. The first is the Vindhyan or Deccan Trap where theVindhyan hill system comes in contact with the Aravallis, creating a 'fault' that, most characteristically, can be detected in the Sawai Madhopur area with its Ranthambhor National Park.

Keoladeo Ghana National Park

The Vindhyan hills consist mostly of sandstone that, even though it may occasionally vary in colour, has resulted in the byilding materials for many of the state's forts and palaces. The resulting topography is a landscape consisting of hard-topped plateaus made from tough, compact rocks. It is the creation of the 'fault' where the tow mountain chains meet that the mixed topography provides the ideal shelter for the tiger and its various prey species. Large, shallow lakes have also resulted, so that crocodiles are not unusual in the desert state either. A last, distinguishing feature are the wetlands of the Indo-Gangetic plains, such as in the regions around Mathura and Agra, close to which Bharatpur is located. Excess water in the monsoons causes vast areas to be flooded, simply because the rivers cease to flow when they overflow their banks, instead of which they simply spread out and inundate the flat terrains around like a vast sea.

Part of this topography is shared by the Bharatpur wetlands as a result of the Jamuna that passes close by, and the other part by the Chambal which, as a tributary of the Jamuna, originates in the Vindhyas in Madhya Pradesh and skirts through its ravines to form Rajasthan's eastern boundary with that state. This may occasionally result in marshy eco-systems ideal for sustaining a variety of birdlife in these aquatic habitats.

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