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Treasuring Life in the Indian Desert

By | March 19, 2015
Camel ride in the desert (Doranne Jacobson) Dera Dune Retreat pool (Doranne Jacobson) Camel Riders (Doranne Jacobson) Mother and baby camel (Doranne Jacobson) Woman cobbler making shoes (Doranne Jacobson) Rug weavers (Doranne Jacobson) Chinkara gazelles in Bishnoi area (Doranne Jacobson) Black buck in Bishnoi area (Doranne Jacobson)  Village children at Rayka hamlet (Doranne Jacobson) Bishnoi woman (Doranne Jacobson) Bishnoi villagers, Jamba area (Doranne Jacobson) Henna (Doranne Jacobson) Henna design (Doranne Jacobson) Little boy with his grandpa's turban, Jamba (Doranne Jacobson) Potter village, Jamba area (Doranne Jacobson) Rug weaver with his wares (Doranne Jacobson) Children at the salt flats (Doranne Jacobson) Cranes in Khichan (Doranne Jacobson) Dera Dune retreat (Doranne Jacobson) Raking up salt in the salt flats (Doranne Jacobson) Rajasthani folk dancer & musicians (Doranne Jacobson) Cranes in Khichan (Doranne Jacobson) Dera Dune Retreat (Doranne Jacobson)

In the evening, we arrived at the Dera Dune Retreat, built atop a sand dune in the midst of the Thar Desert in India’s Rajasthan State.  We settled into our charming cottages overlooking the sere landscape below.   As night fell, we were welcomed with the enchanting performances of traditional musicians and a folk dancer, her dress glittering with spangles as she twirled in the light of a campfire.  Some of our group happily joined her, as she tried to teach them the steps she had been perfecting since she was a child.

The Thar Desert has historically been called Marwar, the Land of Death, because of its scorching dry heat in the hot season, when temperatures can rise above 140 degrees F.  But for our group, visiting just before the beginning of the hot season, the desert proved to be a lively place to discover traditional ways of life in a challenging environment.  It was also a serene locale for us to contemplate how life is valued among many of the local people.

The morning after our arrival, we got underway early, riding in small cars to the little town of Khichan to see how birds are pampered there.  From a rooftop, we witnessed the amazing spectacle of thousands of wild demoiselle cranes flying and landing in a special area where local citizens put out a huge supply of feed for them twice daily.  These migratory birds appear seasonally to feed and to drink from nearby ponds. 

Next, we stopped to marvel at salt pans, large stretches of flat marshland divided up by embankments, where salt was being laboriously harvested by hand.  The very stuff without which human life cannot exist was being extracted from the salty land to be processed and sold throughout the country.  Some of us remembered Gandhi’s historic 1930 Salt March, when he led his nonviolent followers to pick up salt on the seashore, in a gesture of defiance to the British monopoly on salt production, a key event in India’s march to independence in 1947.


Doranne Jacobson

An anthropologist specializing in the study of India, Doranne Jacobson is Director of International Images, a consulting firm. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University and has lived a total of more than six years in India, conducting extensive research on social change and gender roles. She speaks Hindi, India┬ĺ's national language, and is the author of many books and articles on India. She is also a widely-published photographer. She has led many highly successful tours to India and other parts of Asia.

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