Despite the challenges that the desert environment offers, people have settled all over the Thar and have innovated in their own small ways to make the arid sands habitable. There are agricultural and pastoral settlements; villages that have become pilgrimage centers; there are settlements along the river bank or wherever water is to be found, fortified shelters offer sanctuary , while jobs are to be found in mining towns and at seasonal fairs or melas. The central place is occupied by either a village well or a temple as in the case of the village Mukam where all social and cultural life revolves around the temple of Jambheswarji founded in 1593 on the samadhi (grave) of the saint. Water is, of course, the deciding factor in their location, except in the case of villages like Goriya which are situated on the Aravalli tract where water is plentiful.
The most colourful villages in the Thar are to be found on the Shekhawati tract. These have well-built houses, more often then not with painted walls and beautiful decorations and wall paintings. If the villages of the Thar are dotted with jhonpas, the cities feature a variety of architectural forms and structures. They depict either varying forms of adjustment with the inclement weather or intense love and pride for architectural richness apd extravagance. Some of the towns show excellent town-planning and settlement development. Although habitations are designed keeping in mind the climate, they are also products of the political and cultural history of the region.
Some self – sufficient rural villages persist even today and a compact settlement with its tank or well and a struggling bunch of acacias, tamarix and zizyphus in the midst of yellowish sand is still the dominant feature of the landscape. Just as water is the raison d’ etre for the location of villages, truly urban centres and cities are often associated with a fort perched on a hill, a palace surrounded by a haphazard collection of houses and enclosed by a city wall, the market occupying the central position on the roads joining the opposite gates.
Rajasthan’s economy is mainly agriculture-based. Agricultural practices in Rajasthan date back to the time of Indus valley civilization and observing them is an experience in itself to cherish for a lifetime. About 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and is dependent on farming. Cereal crops such as bajra, juar, wheat and barley cover the largest cultivated area.The Indira Gandhi or Rajasthan canal provides irrigation to the arid western districts of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. Ganganagar district is irrigated with water from the Ganga canal in the Punjab. Irrigation projects have also developed on the Chambal and Luni rivers. The western region grows predominantly kharif (monsoon) crops,while the eastern belt, which has better rains and soil, grows both kharif and rabi (winter) crops. Camels and sometimes buffaloes are used for pulling the plough and most of the farmers wait for the rains to water their fields. Three important crops grown here are wheat, corn and millets. Take a tour in the green field and watch women milking the cattle while the elderly and young take them out to pastures for grazing and when you are tired and feel thirst, take a bite of watermelon, which is a perfect way to quench your thirst.
Haats (Rural Bazaars)
The delightful and colourful bazaars of Rajasthan still have the distinct easy-going atmosphere, typical of the medieval times. Nothing much seems to have changed till today – not even the commodities in the market.
The numerous fairs and festivals in this sparsely populated state are essentially an opportunity for people from far and wide to converge and shop. In the electrically charged cacophonic atmosphere, one can pick up exotic trinkets, beads, bangles, old tribal silver jewellery, a range of handicrafts and of course, animals. This is true of the towns and cities as well. Chaotic and noisy, people jostling against each other, stray cows butting in, lots of bargaining.
In the old days, the bazaars were segmented product-wise. An entire lane of lac bangle makers, a market of utensil makers and so on. Although a few stray shops have cropped up, the tradition continues to date.