We have media and environment/climate scientists screeching how the desertification of India and/or other parts of the world is extensive, spreading at a lightening speed as we lose the green cover steadily to rapid industrialization and urbanization and/or even global warming. That the ozone depletion is happening at an alarming rate… This sounds ominous and one presupposes arid regions of the world to be unfit for human inhabitation. Far from truth, even the Sahara in Africa which is the world’s largest desert sustains not only human life but also an exhaustive range of flora and fauna native to the terrain. Desert vegetation is an ecosystem as well and as good as any other. For a balanced ecology of Planet Earth, we need not only the rainforests and the tropics and tundra and savannas, but also the equally important and flourishing desert lands that within their bounds host quite an impressive array of wild species from foxes and hares to snakes and scorpions and lizards, apart from specific vegetation unique to this geographic region such as the cacti and other succulents and thorny bushes that thrive with almost no moisture content. Not to leave out the ship of the desert: the camels that can go on for months without water.
(No wonder in Tamil Sanga ilakkiyam, there is mention of Palai (desert) along with other classifications of landform such as Kurinji (hills), Mullai (forestry), Marudham (cropland) and Neidhal(coastal) even if by Palai, Thamizh Nad had only parched drylands to show).
Fifteen years I have been flying in and out of Middle East, residing here on and off. Finally got a taste of the wild today, with a drive to the deserts. There is this adjoining stretch parallel to sea in the south that serves as a bio-reserve which is left untouched (bio preserves are identified for protection by UNESCO the same way they certify World Heritage sites/structures in India such as our ancient temples for instance). This means, any human interference is not welcome in this protected sphere. No development as there is not a hint of civilization. This piece of land is preserved in its true element, the way it has been out of human reach for eons.
Recall such a reserve in Azerbaijan where even scrawling/etching in stone walls in caves by ancient humans (probably Neanderthal) is preserved to this day. A walk through the rocky surface that has withstood the wear and tear of time and climate is in recent memory. Not to be compared with temple architecture please!
An oil country, equally interesting was the crisscrossing of oil pipelines that were terrestrial therein. I expected underground laying. But obviously the scarcely populated breakaway nation from the former USSR could afford it. (More on this later). As someone who has been a resident of oil & gas rich country for over a decade, I have a natural curiosity in these matters. May be I cannot lend a scientific explanation to everything to the dot. But a mixed mumbo-jumbo is possible 😀
Back in our desert drive, we came upon tall shelfs that have stood mute witnesses to the sea erosion that ate away the territorial soil leaving this land parcel in its current state as we may find them today. The shelfs were abutting with their bottoms neatly (or sometimes raggedly) shaved. Like they were some tall sandy mushrooms with heads jutting like the buttons. This earthly projection was visible from afar as we drove in some kilometers. I thought of the vague outline of the Nilgiris or the Tirupathi segment of the Eastern ghats that you could follow from a distance like a shadow, once you would be in certain range. Like moth-eaten piece of cloth, the tell-tale signs were everywhere of this beautiful work of nature. Awe-inspiring. With minimal human imprint, we find something so profound in such a natural setting. It’s as if time stood still.
Not that I have not been to any other desert. The Sonoran deserts of the west coast of the US were a different vegetation over the Asian, stretching all the way from Arizona to California. Interspersed with the impressive and towering Sequoia standing tall like wise old men, the interesting landscape is a beauty that is unique and specific to this part of the world sporting probably the tallest cacti in the universe!
I’ve missed setting foot on the Thar desert of Rajasthan in India. A desert in our backyard with an interesting folk culture and rural life that we love to freeze in celluloid but something most of us have not experienced firsthand…
The deserts of Middle east have a vast expanse. From what little I glean from the men who have been here from building roads in the middle of nowhere to working the oil rigs, I reckon that the waves of dunes differ every few hundreds of miles. These are the toughest men of engineering. Physically and mentally. They have stories to tell me always… of the earliest oil men who lost their track in the deserts and succumbed to heat… of warring tribes… and so on… Oman and Saudi have the silkiest unblemished flow of desert being largest nations. Soil variation (deserts have limestone terrain that explain the non-seepage of surface rain water) lends a degree of difference in the desert pattern and even in vegetation. Oman is well known for the ‘wadi’ or the desert rivers (or perhaps streams) that can erupt in an instance (being seasonal) washing away anything in vicinity including landcruisers and camels in a blink of an eye. A wadi is also essentially like a watering hole or place. In colloquial we may term it an Oasis. A replenishing or watering spot for camels and goatherds. There is some vegetation usually in and around a wadi.
In Azer, the sight of oil pipelines running on the surface amazed me. I came to know, as it is mostly a barren country, this is possible. I learnt a few things about oil production onshore as well as offshore from men working them. Over years I have been hearing a lot in fact. Fortunate enough to see a few oil wells from a distance. A single well means, the pressure is good. This may be just a small shed like we have for motor shed in India (in our homes). A small roofed square piece of land, out there in the desert. Just like that. Boxed in with a single spout. Connected to the pipeline. In such an easy well, oil needed no thrust or external force to bring it to the surface. It was bubbly flowing out free with no pumping. Blessed are such oil wells or nations with such a cheap source of crude oil. Sometimes the oil may be in depth and would have to travel a distance to be brought to surface. Carbon-di-oxide and other gases may be used to bring up the oil in such cases. More points or a couple of oil wells may be clubbed in such an event under one roof to facilitate the mechanical procedure. This may look like an extended hut with tiled roof. Power is solar mostly. A very complex process this is. Even working the oilrig that will bore into the earth for probable source of oil is not without risk, executed with utmost safety precautions in place. If the oil explored needed CO2 to be brought out crossing various other levels of gases under terra (such as the highly volatile and combustible methane), then the CO2 itself has to be managed well, brought in via pipelines. A friend was detailing how like the hot steam condenses into water droplets, the CO2 too condenses into liquid that has to be checked and prevented at every stage to maintain the gaseous state. An oil well had a life of ten years on average after which its yield would start dropping eventually forcing a closedown. Most oil wells in Oman I learnt worked this way. I believe, (lpg) gas is mined pretty much the same way as oil. It is even more risky business because as we know, hot steam is of highest temperature over boiling water. What a technology and how this oil and gas make our lives so simple, far away from where they are mined. In India, Bombay High is the offshore oil exploration we know of.
For this one reason, the deserts are kind of divine to me. Pristine and mostly untouched, yet yield such a black liquid gold so that the humanity can have a better quality of life… We float so many, many political theories… Yet here I find something so profound… that makes the world go on… Despite me I am humbled and lost for words… Mother Earth yields us so… much… with no questions asked…
Interesting that close to the oil wells, camels graze as families! My husband has seen quite a few wild camel families in Oman unlike the domesticated ones of UAE or elsewhere. That is because, the desert there is endless almost. Oman is in my bucket list, let’s see…
Apparently there is one huge untapped oil and gas source in Russia beneath the ice sheet that is the largest in the world, but the cost of mining is discouraging. Even if there are many sources of oil and gas around the world, one goes for cost-effective means always.
My husband was also involved with oil and gas projects in Malaysia where oil was mined offshore. His project was to build massive oil storage tanks (big round ones on elevated platforms). It always used to beat me how the south east Asian nation that was equatorial and so greenish, could be an oil country at the same time. The oil produced there was of aviation quality.
As the world slowly moves over to other energy sources from the fossil fuels, may be the oil wells will become a thing of the past in a decade or more.
Moving over to the north coast, we came upon shallow beaches unspoilt and clean. On the way, we spotted some mangroves as well where one can go kayaking but considering the corona pandemic and the local visitors there already, we gave it a miss. There were historic sites with rock carvings by ancient man who walked this part of earth thousands of years ago. Not as extensive as in Azer but I found the scrawls in the rocky surface equally impressive. The geometric patterns are fit for case study. So does that mean the iron axes were already in vogue. Or was this in Stone age when the etching was done with stone weapons. The beaches in this coast are secluded and so very serene. Beautiful laidback setting for a winter picnic. Will return soon.
I would want to add a few pictures here, not much.
Everything is in my memory, and that is great!
My eyes were on the scraggy bushes and date palms numbering against all odds. Putting up with the heat and sand storms. Bravo to any wildlife that exists here, sustaining this wonderful delicate ecosystem and surviving the tough rigorous life…
I have been on desert safaris yet I think nothing can prepare us for the real desert scene.
A few bedouin make-shift shanty homes here and there spoke of the love of the nomadic tribes for the world’s most earnest way of life. It aches my heart to think that even these folks are forced to civilize and conform with the rest of the humanity