Many of us might have heard about Cholistan desert and its surrounding areas but because of lack of knowledge we don’t know anything about this far flung region of Pakistan. Cholistan is a desert and almost is stretched upon an area of 26300 square kilometers. It is also connected to Thar Desert which is extended to Sindh and then into India. Cholistan is the only desert that exists in both Pakistan and India.
The meaning of Cholistan is Land of the Desert because the word “CHOL” has been derived from Turkish language which means desert. The way of life of Cholistani people is somewhat of nomadic or semi-nomadic type, they always move from one place to another and their stay is prolonged in case they found water and pastures in abundance for their animals.
The culture of Cholistan desert is so different and beautiful that it stands out completely. Men wear bright colored turbans and the women wear bright colored clothes with very discreet embroidery which is basically the speciality of this area.The biggest source of income is only cattle breeding and its related businesses. The demand of milk, butter and animal fats is met from this source. Around 1.6 million cattle are found in the area and they can be easily increased to a great level if only the government puts in special efforts to upgrade the productivity of this area. In the winters as animals are less in numbers and the weather becomes harsh, they switch to various artistic crafts such as cloth weaving, pottery and leatherwork. Pottery industry is thriving here due to its rich soil and different products like pitchers, Surahies, glasses and piyalas.
A super quality carpet wool is produced in the area. Beautiful rugs, carpets and other winter items are made out of it. Blankets are also made to meet the demand of harsh winter as the temperature falls below up to freezing point. The wool got from sheep is sold to get the revenue. Different types of textile products are produced in the region e.g Khaddar fabrics and fine quality khaddar bedclothes are made here.
The Seraiki language is dominant there which is a flavor of Lahnda dialect or Lahnda Languages grouping. Many sufi poets and saints belong to this region such as Khawaja Ghulam Farid who wrote a lot of poetry in the Seraiki language and helped the culture of this place to nurture.
Drawar Fort is the major landmark of Cholistan Desert, located 48 kilometres from Dera Nawab Sahib (once headquarters and the seat of the rulers of Bahawalpur state). The area was once well watered by the river Ghaggar now called the Hakra in Pakistan and known in Vedic times as the Sarasvati. All along the 500-km of dried up river are over 400 archaeological sites, which date back to the Indus civilization 4500 years ago and are clustered around Drawar Fort. The desert has an average rainfall of 5 inches a year and there is very little cultivation. The Drawar fort is a major tourist attraction and it attracts a lot of foreigners because of its heritage and its links to on of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world, the Indus Civilization. Before it became a tourist attraction, the Drawar Fort was the residence of the Nawab of Bahawalpur and there are still remains of Nawab’s quarters in the Drawar fort.
One comes across a chain of forts, built at 29 km intervals when traveling in the Cholistan Desrt, which probably served as guard posts for the camel caravan routes. There were three rows of these forts. the first line of forts began from Phulra and ended in Lera, the second from Rukhanpur to Islamgarh, and the third from Bilcaner to Khaploo. They are all in ruins now, and you can see that they were built with double walls of gypsum blocks and mud. Some of them date back to 1000 BC, and were destroyed and rebuilt many times.
Near the Drawar fort, the TDCP Cholistan Jeep Rally is organized every year since 2005. Over 100 trained desert drivers with modified cars compete in this rally and hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world come to see this. This was a great initiative on part of the government of Pakistan and this step has actually introduced this land as part of Pakistan and having a great culture of its own.
Pakistan is extremely blessed when it comes to the geography. Pakistan is one of the very few countries in the world which has mountainous peaks, a huge portion of ocean linked to it, access to warm waters all over the year and deserts in a comparatively small area. With all these blessings, pakistan is still part of the 3rd world and all the 1st world countries despite having so much area, have much less than this. Our unique heritage and specially the culture and lifestyle of the deserts can be a very unique selling proposition for Pakistan and the Pakistani people can earn a great deal of revenue just from promoting tourism in these places.