Cholistan Desert (Urdu: صحرائے چولِستان), Saraiki:صحرائے چولستان), also locally known as Rohi (روہی) sprawls thirty kilometers from Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan and covers an area of 26,300 km². It adjoins the Thar Desert extending over to Sindh and into India.
The word Cholistan is derived from the Turkish word Chol, which means Desert. Cholistan thus means Land of the Desert. The people of Cholistan lead a semi-nomadic life, moving from one place to another in search of water and fodder for their animals. The dry bed of the Hakra River runs through the area, along which many settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization have been found.
The Desert also has an Annual Jeep Rally, known as Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally. It is the biggest motor sports event in Pakistan.
Culture and traditions 
Local dialect 
The language of Cholistan also reflects a number of features of its historical and geographical background. The Saraiki language is an Indo-Aryan language of the Lahnda languages group, and is spoken in Cholistan as well as in a large part of central Pakistan. Though once a considered a dialect of Punjabi, it is considered a separate language now. One of the chief authors in the Saraiki language is Khwaja Ghulam Farid, a polyglot Sufi poet, who helped develop Saraiki's poetics. The Saraiki community diffused when Saraiki-speaking Hindus migrated to the neighboring Indian states of Bikaner and Jaisalmer during Partition and were replaced by Urdu-speaking Muslim refugees from India. However, since the majority of Urdu-speakers settled in the cities and few settled in rural Cholistan, the countryside maintains a strong Saraiki community.
Arts and crafts 
In a harsh and barren land where rainfall is very sparse and unreliable, Cholistanis rely mainly on their livestock of sheep, goats, and camel. However in cold nights of winter they huddle indoor and engage themselves in various arts and crafts such as textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery.
Local crafts 
As mentioned above, the Indus Valley has always been occupied by the wandering nomadic tribes, who are fond of isolated areas, as such areas allow them to lead life free of foreign intrusion, enabling them to establish their own individual and unique cultures. Cholistan till the era of Mughal rule had also been isolated from outside influence. During the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar, it became a proper productive unit. The entire area was ruled by a host of kings who securely guarded their frontiers. The rulers were the great patrons of art, and the various crafts underwent a simultaneous and parallel development, influencing each other. Mesons, stone carvers, artisans, artists, and designers started rebuilding the old cities and new sites, and with that flourished new courts, paintings, weaving, and pottery. The fields of architecture, sculpture, terra cotta, and pottery developed greatly in this phase.
The backbone of Cholistan economy is cattle breeding. It has the major importance for satisfying the area's major needs for cottage industry as well as milk meat and fat. Because of the nomadic way of life the main wealth of the people are their cattle that are bred for sale, milked or shorn for their wool. Moreover, isolated as they were, they had to depend upon themselves for all their needs like food, clothing, and all the items of daily use. So all their crafts initially stemmed from necessity but later on they started exporting their goods to the other places as well. The estimated number of livestock in the desert areas is 1.6 million.
Cotton and wool products 
Cholistan produces very superior type of carpet wool as compared to that produced in other parts of Pakistan. From this wool they knit beautiful carpets, rugs and other woolen items. This includes blankets, which is also a local necessity for the desert is not just a land of dust and heat, but winter nights here are very cold, usually below freezing points. Khes and pattu are also manufactured with wool or cotton. Khes is a form of blanket with a field of black white and pattu has a white ground base. Cholistanis now sell the wool for it brings maximum profit.
It may be mentioned that cotton textiles have always been a hallmark of craft of Indus valley civilization. Various kinds of khaddar-cloth are made for local consumption, and fine khaddar bedclothes and coarse lungies are woven here. A beautiful cloth called Sufi is also woven of silk and cotton, or with cotton wrap and silk wool. Gargas are made with numerous patterns and color, having complicated embroidery, mirror, and patchwork. Ajrak is another specialty of Cholistan. It is a special and delicate printing technique on both sides of the cloth in indigo blue and red patterns covering the base cloth. Cotton turbans and shawls are also made here. Chunri is another form of dopattas, having innumerable colors and patterns like dots, squares, and circles on it.
Camel products 
Camels are highly valued by the desert dwellers. Camels are not only useful for transportation and loading purposes, but its skin and wool are also quite worthwhile. Camel wool is spun and woven into beautiful woolen blankets known as falsies and into stylish and durable rugs. The camel's leather is also utilized in making kuppies, goblets, and expensive lampshades.
Leatherwork is another important local cottage industry due to the large number of livestock here. Other than the products mentioned above, Khusa (shoes) is a specialty of this area. Cholistani khusas are very famous for the quality of workmanship, variety, and richness of designs especially when stitched and embroidered with golden or brightly colored threads.
The Cholistanis are fond of jewelry, especially gold jewelry. The chief ornaments made and worn by them are Nath (nose gay), Katmala (necklace) Kangan (bracelet), and Pazeb (anklets). Gold and silver bangles are also a product of Cholistan. The locals similarly work in enamel, producing enamel buttons, earrings, bangles, and rings.
Love for colors 
The great desert though considered to be colorless and drab, is not wholly devoid of color. Its green portion plays the role of "color belt" especially after rains when vegetation growth is at its peak. Adding to that the locals always wear brightly colored clothes mostly consisting of brilliant reds, blazing oranges shocking pinks, and startling yellows and greens. Even the cloth trappings of their bullocks and camels are richly colored and highly textured.
Terra cotta 
The Indus Civilization was the earliest center of ceramics, and thus the pottery of Cholistan has a long history. Local soil is very fine, thus most suitable for making pottery. The fineness of the earth can be observed on the Kacha houses which are actually plastered with mud but look like white cemented. The chief Cholistani ceramic articles are their surahies, piyalas, and glasses, remarkable for their lightness and fine finishing.
In the early times only the art of pottery and terracotta developed, but from the seventh century onwards, a large number of temples and images were also built on account of the intensified religious passions and the accumulation of wealth in cities. The building activity reached to such an extent that some cities actually became city temples. In fact the area particularly came to be known for its forts, villas, palaces, havelis, gateways, fortifications, and city walls.
- Mughal, M.R. 1997. Ancient Cholistan. Lahore: Feroz and Sons.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Cholistan Desert|