Deserts are amongst the most demanding ecosystems on the planet, which provide sustenance to thousands of life forms that have adapted to their arid environs.
The Thar Desert in Rajasthan that houses the 3,000-sq km large Desert National Park is one such zone. It covers almost 2,00,000 sq km of area. It may seem inhospitable and lifeless at first, but a closer look reveals a thriving ecosystem.
We were once travelling in a remote area a few hundred kilometres from Jaisalmer in a jeep, filming reptiles of the Thar Desert. A lonely but beautiful road built by the Border Roads Organisation was the only manmade structure around us.
Hours later we arrived at our destination — ancient ruins lying half buried in sand. We walked further into the desert away from the ruins. Kanhaiya Lal, our guide, knew of an area frequented by serpents around the Shiva temples there.
The searing heat was soon forgotten as we got a chance to capture mating sequences of desert snakes on camera. The temperature was now soaring over 50 degrees Celsius. Hot gusts of wind kicked up dust devils at regular intervals.
Suddenly, it started getting dark and fine dust enveloped us. The wind grew stronger, huge balls of desert brambles raced across the sand, driven by gusts of strong air currents.
“A sand storm! Let’s go!” I shouted. Gathering our equipment we rushed for the safety of the jeep.
The sand must have been travelling over a 100 kph and it hit us with great force. Every gust rocked the heavy vehicle like a toy. Visibility was nil. We waited for an hour for the storm to abate.
When we decided to head back, we were in for a shock. The road had disappeared and thick layers of sand carpeted everything.
One of us ran ahead, constantly poking the sand with a stick to make sure we stayed on the tarmac road. Though the storm was now abating, the air was still thick with sand. But minutes later we came to a shuddering halt in the sand, as we failed to see a turn and drove off the road.
In spite of five people pushing it, the jeep was helpless in the shifting sand. We sank deeper with every effort to drive out. And then we made another mistake. We switched on the vehicle’s air conditioner in order to keep cool, which choked the jeep’s air filters. Ten minutes later, the engine spluttered and died. How did we escape alive? Read all about the rescue in the next column.
(Pandey is a Green Oscar-winning wildlife filmmaker)