Brief notes on the Sahara and Ladakh deserts

Sahara:

Sahara is the world’s largest desert and also one of the hottest places on Earth. It is a hot desert occupying the northern part of Africa.Most people think of it to be one vast stretch of sand. But the truth is that the sandy desert is confined to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya. Here too there are variations like the fertile Nile valley running through the centre of Egypt.

Temperatures here may rise to 57 degree celsius. The whole region receives less than 7.6 cm of rainfall per year. There are many areas that do not receive rainfall for years.

In the midst of the desert are places where water is found. It may be a small well that has been dug out or it may be in the form of a lake. A township grows up around it. The oasis is an important meeting and resting place for people travelling across the desert.

In the parched and formidable desert people usually from a caravan to travel from place to place. A caravan is a large group of people and animals travelling together for days together.

In the desert of Sahara, the camel is the best form of travel. Even the most modern trucks or vehicles are no substitute for them. Camels are most suited to the desert life as they can go for long stretches without drinking water. They can survive on the dry and tough thorny cactus.

The Sahara is home to a number of nomadic tribes like the Tuaregs. Through many of them have taken to a settled life a great number still roam the desert with their herds. The camel is the most important animal not only as a mode of transport but also for providing milk. Besides camel, most people also keep goats, sheep and donkeys.

The diet of the people in these regions is mainly milk, cheese and meat. They are often traded for millet, which is then pounded and made into bread.

The nomads put up tents made of goatskin or palm fiber mats. Inside the home, there is hardly any furniture. Mats and folding cots are mainly used for sitting and sleeping. It is said that an entire household can be packed on a camel. How often a family moves, depends upon the weather and the quality of pasture. Although there is no demarcation, most tribes remain within their designated territories.

Ladakh:

If Sahara is a hot desert, Ladakh is a cold desert. This Himalayan area is one of the most remote regions of India and has the Karakoram Range in the north-west and the Himalayas to the south-west. The river Indus which rises in Tibet flows through the center of Ladakh. Situated at a high altitude, temperature may reach –45 degree celsius in winter.

In summer, the temperature rarely exceeds 27 degree celsius. Rainfall is very low. Because of scanty rainfall, this region faces acute shortage of water. The harsh climatic conditions do not support the growth of vegetation.

Just as the Sahara has oases in the middle of the vast stretch of sand, so also Ladakh has its oases. Since Ladakh lies in a rain shadow area, the only sources of water are the glaciers. Heavy snowfall in winter-feeds these glaciers and in summer when they melt, small streams carry down the waters to irrigate the fields and fill up the lakes.

In areas around the water source, people grow crops of barley, vegetables and fruits like apple, apricot and walnut. In some of the lower slopes, there are coniferous forests that yield the willow timber used for making cricket bats.