LUNI A rare river in the Thar desert

The Luni is one of the few rivers in Rajasthan, which flows westward and ends up in the Rann of Kachchh after traversing through parts of the desert

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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IT is a unique river, but many people in India are not very familiar about its existence. The Luni is one of the few west-flowing rivers, which originates at an elevation of about 700 m in the Aravalli ranges near Ajmer in Rajasthan and flows south-westwards for more than 500 km before entering the marshy Rann of Kachchh.
It is one of the few rivers that flows into the western part of Rajasthan, which is mostly desert land. Because of the high salinity of its water, the Luni is also known as Lavanaravi or Lavanavati (salt river in Sanskrit).
Near its origin it is known as the Sagarmati, but is called Luni after meeting its tributary, the Saraswati, which originates from Pushkar lake. After originating from the Aravallis, it flows south-west through the hills and plains of Marwar, enters the Thar desert, before flowing into the Rann of Kachchh.
The desert state of Rajasthan witnessed goods rains in the 2017 monsoons, resulting in heavy flow of water along the Luni. Thousands of residents living along its banks in Rajasthan feared that there could be a repeat of the 2006 floods, when many parts of Barmer district along the riverfront were inundated.

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FLASH FLOODS
Flash floods struck the normally drought-prone Barmer district and water levels in some villages, located atop sand dunes, went up as high as 25 ft. More than 1,200 people died in the floods and about 75,000 cattle also became casualties.
Many of the villagers had to be moved to camps as the ferocious Luni rushed across its banks and flooded villages and even towns. Unlike most rivers, the Luni expands its width during floods, instead of deepening the bed.
This is because of the soil along the banks, which can be easily flattened by the rushing waters. When it rains heavily in western parts of Rajasthan, thousands of farmers and residents in the area pray for their safety and wish that the river does not unleash its fury.
Four years later, there was similar flooding, though the casualties were low. Some of the villages and roads were blocked for a fortnight.
The Luni has a lone tributary on its right bank – the Jojari – and 10 tributaries on its left bank. The major ones include Guhiya, Bandi (Hemawas) and Jawai.

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JASWANT SAGAR DAM
One of the prominent landmarks along the river is the Jaswant Sagar Dam in Pichiyak near Bilaara in Jodhpur district. Maharaja Jaswant Singh got the dam built in 1892. The water from the dam is used for irrigating land in the district. It also ensures greenery of the lovely city of Jodhpur.
The lake surrounding the dam is also one of the largest artificial ones in India and irrigates nearly 50 sq km of land surrounding it.

Geologists and experts have been conducting research along the Luni, especially along a 100-km-long palaeo-channel in Bhaniyana in Jaisalmer district. The experts warn that growing human encroachment of the largely dry river could cause enormous problems.
Some are also discussing the prospects of linking the palaeo-channel to the Himalayan rivers, which would ensure regular water flow to the desert state from the mountains.