Thar desert is a mystical and Merciless place – The desert stretches itself on nearly quarter a million square kilometers divided in portions between in Pakistan and India, Isolated from rest of the world.
On 7th July 2016, 2nd Day of Eid Ul Fitr I left for Khokhrapar, Sindh (Thar Desert) from Karachi at around 930 Hours along with my friends. We took M5 ( Super Highway ) route to Hyderabad which is 155 Km from Karachi city center, M9 is messed up due to upgradation is underway and lots of divisions makes this journey bumpy tiring and uncomfortable, There’s an alternate route is from Thatta ( National Highway ) around 70 Km longer, we sticked to the fastest route available, eventually everything has to end once we reached Hyderabad Bypass we took a break to regain some sanity, refueled and ready to continue our journey to Umarkot, Sindh.
Umarkot is 150 KM from Hyderabad which crosses (Tando Jam, MirpurKhas and Tando Allah yar) before ending onto the last city toward the Indo-Pak border Umarkot. Thanks to PPP government and Chinese company Deojae on the completion of Hyderabad – Mirpurkhas 60 KM Dual Carriageway Road, for making this journey pleasant and peaceful for 60 minutes enjoy The Cruise Control Drive. The Next Phase is 90 KM which is usual N120 (National Highway Authority aka NHA) single road continues toward Umarkot.
At around 1600 hours we reached Umarkot, 2nd day of Eid – All Major, Minor Markets were closed and people were gathered enjoying cloudy Eid Day at Umarkot Fort right in the middle of the city is one of the public place where people spend holidays. Thanks to Google Maps for guiding us all the way from Karachi point to point location which really helped us a lot.
After visiting Umarkot Fort – we headed toward Chorr Cantt which is around 20 KM from the city, Chorr Cantt is Pak Army’s stock pile and reinforcement base located 100 KM off the Indo-Pak Border, this would be the last place where you will see greenery and grass. Capturing Images and making videos are prohibited even I didn’t felt comfortable violating COC and Pak Army’s rules so No captions from there. However, I was stranded when I inquired soldiers about our next location which wasn’t visible on the Google Maps – Kerla, Sindh – Strangely only one of them turned out to be familiar with the route and guided us on the piece of paper.
Kerla is located in the mid of the Thar Desert around 40 Km before Indo-Pak Border (Khokhrapar) Unfortunately Google Maps don’t have exact information about these remote towns and villages in this region only the main roads build by Pak Army (FWO – Frontier Works Organization) are widely visible on Google Maps – definitely will help you if you get lost from Zero Point (Khokhrapar) to Umarkot city and in-surrounding. Roads are covered with Desert Dunes, All the way the only Mobile Network works in this area is Telenor so be sure to have one otherwise you’ll be completely disconnected from the rest of the world.
Internet connectivity (2G) hardly works there since there is no major city after Umarkot, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp both were working but avoid sending Images and Videos when you’re in the desert due to poor internet connectivity.
Continuing your journey prefer to have 4×4 vehicle, although roads exists but desert dunes makes it difficult. We were lucky to have Pajero Mini 4×4 so we didn’t felt hopeless anywhere.
From Chorr Cantt we headed toward Naya Chorr or New Chorr which is hardly 5 km away from Chorr Cantt, New Chorr is a home of Pakistan Rangers, The First line of defense ( Sindh Bordering with Indian state of Rajastan ) Once we reached there we were guided about Kerla’s location – Since we took the longer route we had to drive around 65 KM heading straight to Khokhropar and catch a link road to Kerla, Our Journey was adventurous, driving in the mid of the desert at around 1800 hours worried about reaching to our destination before the sky gets darker not knowing the exact coordinates to precisely locate and reach there, from New Chorr to Kerla took us around 1 hour 30 minutes to reach. Finally, we found the person and reached our destination!
It was already dark there, although Electricity has reached this village there but unfortunately there was some fault and we had spent our night without electricity, surprisingly got the chance to witness pitch black darkness since there was no moon and stars were hardly visible due to the clouds covering the sky. We kept Mineral water bottles with us all the way from Karachi didn’t wanted to disturb stomach since we aren’t used to of Well water – Which is bit salty for us, after having dinner, our bed & Blankets were ready at Primary School Kerla, Since it’s being used as Guest House – there was nothing else to enjoy there beside Indian Border High beam surveillance torches waving left to right, there is no night activity, Camel’s neck bell was like lullabies for me.
Life is completely different in The Thar Desert, cannot be compared with civilized Cities and towns, Daily they have to battle for the water – The only resort for survival, Thanks to Pakistan Army for providing Water line to some of the towns and villages, however majority of them depending on water wells which are at times kilometers away from their homes, I didn’t find many electricity poles in the desert, they are living without electricity and basic facilities, Perhaps, Kerla, Sindh is developed having Primary school which is often used as guest house and a mosque main road is next to it, whereas government has shown interest in making dispensary here, compared to any other village or town nearby this one ideal place
Next morning 8th July 2016, woke up before the dawn and prepared to visit the last village next to the Indo-Pak Border (Chugiyo) strangely this word isn’t in sindhi language otherwise I would have translated what it means. We left Kerla at around 600 Hours, I was excited to see Sunrise in the desert – Had to continue on the road but after 30 KM Road disappeared and off roading started there was no sign of the path it was completely clueless area, without locals you cannot move, mobile network ( Telenor ) was playing hide and seek having difficulty to check Google maps but overall it was fun, – Don’t forget to download offline Google Maps be sure where main roads are otherwise might get yourself in trouble, hardly you will see any Motor bike crossing you after 15 minutes interval or so, if you are lucky otherwise don’t expect miracles in the merciless desert.
Finally reached at the closest point ( Chugiyo ) A small town with the population of 300 people – 4 Km away from Indo-Pak International Border – This region has witnessed two wars in 1965 and 1971 – lots of Muslims were forced to migrate from India after 1965 war and rest of them came after 1971. You won’t find traces of the battles, desert dunes don’t let footprints survive long, even the locals will not share the tales of the past here, people aren’t used to of intruders “Outsiders” here. Consider yourself an alien doesn’t matter you are Pakistani or any foreigner working for some NGO, when you are visiting this place you are an outsider for Thari people.
Thari culture is different from Sindhi Culture, There are commonly two types of Tharis Muslims and Hindus both are settled here, Ethnic difference matters because when I asked about the person from a stranger he promptly asked me is he Hindu or Muslim? These people communicate in Thari, they also speak Sindhi, Urdu and understand common English words easily, however they have no link with the outside world for them Thar is their world. They have very limited resources to depend on like Livestock, Due to shortage of water and no reservoirs land is widely unfertile. There are no vegetable markets nor slaughter houses around here to buy anything one has to reach Umarkot the nearest city which was around 95 KM away.
It costs Rs 100 to Rs 150 for an individual avail public transport there Potohar Jeeps ( SUV ) 4×4 can only cross this desert 95 km journey takes can take upto 3 to 4 hours to reach the city and after sunset you won’t find any of them heading back to these villages. People are bound finish all the tasks before sunset since there is no electricity here, there’s no night life.
Khokhrapar was 5km away every Friday Thar Express Train from Karachi to Munabao ( India ) crosses from here via Zeropoint which was 10 KM toward east of this town. Border is secured with fences from both ends heavily patrolled by Pak Rangers and Border Security Forces from Indian border side, Even then Smuggling cases happens frequently – I don’t want to mention what and how but It was quite interesting to know Locals are involved in it and they have deep connections with both armies. You won’t find sedans there due to sandy terrains, locals ( Thari people ) mostly have Motor bikes and almost all are stolen – 2016 model CD 70 was around Rs 9000 that’s it. There are no Petrol Pumps here for the fuel, available on the store on the cross roads in oil drums bit expensive Rs 80 per litre .
You will find Sindh Rangers Checkpoints in this Arid Zone, They are already aware of you before you know, Thar is being monitored heavily, they may not come in direct contact with you but don’t think they aren’t watching you. Avoid going beyond Khorkhrapar, From 3 KM Pakistan Army is securing and from 1 KM Sindh Rangers is guarding Indo-Pak Border, Outsiders are not allowed without a proper permission anywhere close to border area.
Lots of NGOs are working in Thar Desert area focused on health and education whereas Government don’t seems to be interested in these people, Even in 2016 there is no sign of Electricity and basic facilities as pure drinking water in this region. Thari people are considered as goats and donkies for the politicians only useful when votes are needed otherwise their lives don’t value much. There are no jobs for locals nor there’s any government activities going on, neither anyone willing to invest and make Tourist Resorts here like Indian counterpart have done.
Life is completely disabled and left out to face the extreme temperatures in a hostile and mystical desert. I returned back to Karachi with the sadness in my heart but with the will to do something for them, unfortunately we aren’t much worried about these needy people, I had fever so I couldn’t continue on this time but I have promised myself to return again and meet locals discuss their issues and contact NGOs – I might form one. Even a single biscuit brings smile on children’s faces, Instead of Candy Crush giving one candy means a lot to them.
A Dire need of proper nutrition specially for Mothers and children in The Thar desert, we need to wake up and make some resources to save 3 million lives living in unforgiving condition. Hardly some primary schools are running there apart from these local madarsa exists I hope they aren’t producing extremists, Thari’s aren’t literate and due to lack of resources they aren’t able to send their children to schools and collages almost 37% of the Sindh province is desert from Khokhrapar to Nagarparkar this entire region needs our attention.
My visit to Thar Desert – Khokhrapar, Sindh means a lot to me, I have experienced being there and fortunately enough to know the life over there from close. I will continue on to share about my experiences like I did before, If anyone willing to contact me concerning NGO or Exploring Life in Pakistan feel free to write at [email protected] . Don’t forget to share your feedback :) – Thanks for Reading .