OVERVIEW OF CHOLISTAN DESERT
The Indus Valley in Pakistan, spanning along the River Indus, from the fertile plains of Punjab to the lower course of Sindh along, was the first cradle of civilization in the subcontinent, emerging in 2000 years BC. The basin is divided from that of the Ganges by a desert known as Cholistan in Bahawalpur Division, and Thar in Sindh. It is a part of great desert called Marusthali or Region of Death.
Cholistan is spread over 10,000 square miles, occupying about two third's area of present Bahawalpur Division. Administratively, it is divided between the three districts of Bahawalpur Division: Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, and Rahim Yar Khan. On its northern and western sides flows the River Satluj, the desert region of Rajisthan lies on its east and south, and its southwestern boundary is formed by the desert region of the Province of Sindh.
Cholistan is called Rohi in the local dialect. The word has a Turkish origin, Chol meaning a ' desert'. But Cholistan has not always been a desert. It is separated from the central tract of Bahawalpur Division by a depression called Hakra, which at one time carried the waters of a large river, which flowed all around its length and breadth. Thus the area was fertile, well cultivated, and well populated till the early twentieth century, when with the changes in the courses of the river Satluj and Sindh took place and turned it into a sandy barren land.
The history of Cholistan starts from the history of Indus Valley civilization, which prospered from about 2500 BC to 1500 BC around the Indus River. No one is sure about the people who formed Indus civilization. It is believed that they were Aryans, but there is also some evidence of the presence of the Proto-Australoids or some of the wild hill tribes of the sub continent in this area. However according to the latest analysis no less than six racial elements have contributed to build up the population of the sub continent.
The modern South India is usually a blend of Mediterranean and Proto-Australoids, the two chief ethnic factors in the Harrappa culture. The Harrappa religion, language, and culture suggest that the Harrappa folks were Dravidian. The fine sculptures, human figures engraved on the numerous seals found at Harrappa and Moenjo Daro also determine the various racial factors, but still the identification of the people of the Indus civilization and the nature of that society will always remain a secret. The reason may be that the area being on the riverside has always been dwelled by nomads, the people who had never known a city.
LIFE IN CHOLISTAN
Cholistan is a composed of dry, wet, and green area. Its southern area is called Greater Cholistan, where Tibbas rise to as much as several hundred feet. The northwestern portion called Lesser Cholistan is a loamy soil with abundance of vegetation. In the dry season the vegetation decreases but even a few drops of rains in the rainy season brings back the vegetation on which the desert dwellers' livelihood depends.
The economy of Cholistan depends on rain though on the whole it can be considered as a rainless tract. Rain falls mostly in summer, but is scanty and irregular, not exceeding six inches annually. Sometimes there is no rainfall for years, but only an inch of rain can bring miraculous transformation and turn the exhausted dry land into fresh and green pastures.
The ordinary Cholistani used to live in a Kacha house known as gopa or jhok that had roof covered with thatch of grass. But the Cholistani people's art of construction is projected through their fort building. These forts were first built in a line by the Rajput rulers in the Hakra depression as a defense against intruders. As these forts were merely used as check posts, these were made with mud having iron gateways, and did not have any worthwhile architectural designs or motifs attached to them.
In Greater Cholistan people store water in natural depressions or man-made ponds called Tobas. When the water in the Tobas is exhausted, people shift to their semi-permanent settlements in Lesser Cholistan where wells are available for water. These wells are the centers of great hustle and bustle, for people here are found gossiping while drinking or attaining water for themselves and their animals in a systematic way. Within months the wells gets dry, and the people have to move near canals and rivers till it rains and fills the Tobas and the wells again. The riverine areas not only avert the curse of famine, but also provide fodder to the cattle.
The areas in Lesser Cholistan are now irrigated by canals, and have got a refreshingly green wooded appearance. The vast system of irrigation canals originating in the Satluj River is responsible for magical transformation in the area, turning the rough sandy wastes, with scanty growth of dull desert plants into a vigorous green land that is well cultivated.
LANGUAGE IN CHOLISTAN
The language of Cholistan also reflects a number of features of its historical and geographical background. The local dialect was believed to be spoken by a rough, rude, and warlike people who liked to disobey every law and rule of grammar imposed by the so called super-cultured class of the Brahmans and their purified and gifted Sanskrit, which was the language of Indian Hindus.
The Saraiki language is an Indo-Aryan speech, and is spoken in Cholistan as well as in a large part of central Pakistan. It is no more a neglected language, once attributed to the camel-driving Jats and semi-nude Baloch tribes. It has always been as orthodox and conservative as the people who speak it. Even today the likes, dislikes, attitudes, and values of the people are the same as their forefather centuries back. Khwaja Ghulam Farid was a Sufi poet, who through his mystical writings and poetry not only developed the language a lot, but also gave it a boost. The language suffered a great loss when the Saraiki-speaking Hindus migrated to India during the Partition, and were replaced by the Muslim refugees from there. However, the majority of them lived in the cities and a very few in the Greater Cholistan. During the Partition, they moved to the safety of the neighboring Hindu states of Bikaner and Jaisalmar.