India is a land of exquisite natural diversity, where lush valleys and snowy mountain peaks lie next to arid deserts and long expanses of sandy coastline. Deserts have not always been considered to be particularly beautiful or pleasant. However, as tourism increases and different climates, fauna and flora are appreciated for different reasons, the deserts of India have become popular attractions. There is a mystical type of beauty in these stretches of barren sandiness and a definite intrigue in the unique plants and animals that flourish only under these difficult conditions.

The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, stretches for 800 kilometres and is 400 kilometres wide. It is situated in the north-western area of the subcontinent and is flanked by the Indus River valley and the Sutlej River valley.

Image of the Thar desert around Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India.
In the Thar desert around Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India.
The only vegetation in this desert is made up of scrubs. Despite this, there are people living in the desert who sustain themselves by cultivating their own produce under very challenging conditions. They get water from the rivers, which reach them by extended canals.

Rajasthan is home to several desert cities, each of which offers visitors a unique, unforgettable experience. These include Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Barmer. Tourist attractions include camel rides and tours of the forts, palaces and temples of ancient India.

Jodhpur has a history dating back hundreds of years. It was officially founded in 1459 and is right on the border of the Thar Desert. It is home to many palaces and forts from medieval times, lending it a certain air of mystery and fantasy. The Mehrangarh Fort is one of the best known and most significant as it is perched atop a hill and overlooks the town in haunting authority. Other such remains include the Jaswant Thada (a marble cenotaph) and the Ummaid Bhawan Palace, which is home to a museum of miniature paintings and antique clocks. This area is not lacking in cultural and commercial sights and sounds either. In fact, there are shopping centres, restaurants and entertaining festivals that expose the Indian culture and invite visitors to become a part of it.

Bhuj is another popular desert town situated in Gujarat. This is a particularly historically relevant desert and Bhuj’s sandstone monuments and high city walls testify to this ancient world. The town of Bhuj displays medieval architecture and structures and its festivals transport guests to times past. Some must-sees in Bhuj are the Darbargarh Palace, the Sharad Bagh Palace (with a recreated Kutch village, artwork, relics and stuffed animals), and the Maharao's chattris (where the royals were buried in breath-taking grandness).

Bikaner is also situated in Rajasthan and boasts a variety of impressive forts and palaces. This area is known for having the best camels in terms of riding in the whole world. These make for stunning tours as visitors explore the barren beauty atop one of these graceful creatures. Attractions in Bikaner include the Junagarh Fort, which was built in the late part of the 16th century and has a moat, two entrances and a wall that stretches for some 986 metres. Stone carvings adorn this fort in magnificent abundance. The Lalgarh Palace is characterised by its exquisite overhanging balconies and intricate latticework. Part of this palace has recently been converted into a hotel for an authentic Indian experience.

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