Gazing upon the sand dunes of the Desert National Park in Rajasthan, it is hard to comprehend that this landscape was once a throbbing tropical forest. Up until 60 million years ago, the region had towering trees, intricate river systems, and animals such as turtles, crocodiles, even dinosaurs from an earlier period. According to Unesco, fossil evidence of the Thar from the Jurassic Period indicates hot and humid climate, characterised by dense forests. The remains of these forests — “over 180-million years old” — can be observed at the Wood Fossil Park at Akal, near Jaisalmer. The Park offers a rare glimpse into our planet’s dramatic past life, and a reminder that humans as a species are relative newcomers to the Earth. (Homo sapiens has been around for less than 300,000 years.)
The Thar Desert of today is shaped by a stark absence of surface water. The vast, arid ecosystem is spread over 2,00,000 sq km, and includes parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat. It is characterised by sand, scrub, strong winds, and absurdly high day temperatures. To most humans, it can seem quite inhospitable, but there are a great many creatures, large and small, that have evolved, over several millenia, to thrive in precisely this habitat.
“They’re not always easy to spot,” says wildlife photographer and herpetologist Vipul Ramanuj, “but cracking the code of the desert is half the fun.” Ramanuj has been visiting the Thar for over twelve years now, for surveys, social conservation measures, and wildlife photo-tours, and knows the landscape and its inhabitants intimately. “It might seem like a barren habitat, but this could not be further from the truth,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Gujarat. This photo story is about the smaller creatures in and around Desert National Park, a protected region in Rajasthan that encompasses 3,162 sq. km.