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An unusual landscape in Tamil Nadu is the Theri Kaadu, a red desert. Filled with minerals, it’s a stretch of land that cannot be seen anywhere else in Tamil Nadu. As far as the eyes can see, the colour red pervades in Theri Kaadu located in Tiruchendur, Thoothukudi.

Theri Kaadu has a different geological makeup and topography than rest of Tamil Nadu. The chemical composition of the soil here is different too.

On the southern bank of Thamirabarani are the villages of Nalumavadi, Pudhukudi, Sonaganvilai, Kayamozhi and Paramankurichi. Theri Kaadu is a spot in between these villages and is bound by the Bay of Bengal on one side. Theri Kaadu stretches for some 12,000 acres, ie, 50 sq km.

Here the feet that walks sinks in, slowing the walk. Access is via Tiruchendru-Tirunelveli road through Nalumavadi and Thisayanvilai.

A channel inside Theri Kaadu where rain water had found a course

Theri is a word that refers to a mound. Theri Kaadu is 15m above sea level. The wind can pile up 25 m sudden sand mounds on the surface. A trough can quickly become a mound of several metres height. The landscape can keep changing like this moment to moment.

The May-September monsoon brings good winds and occasional rains. At that time, we can see sand mounds moving.

Finding the direction can be a challenge. Wherever one turns, one would find these mounds, confusing us.

Theri Kaadu is not suitable for farming but palm trees and cashew plants are common here. But when drought hits these can wither away. The villagers put much hard work to plant palm trees and cashew plants to earn their livelihood.

During rains, water collects in pockets making temporary ponds and lakes. The area surrounding these waterbodies become farmlands. Locals call them Tharuvai Kaadu. At present, the villagers are raising flora like drumstick trees on these patches.

Researchers confirm the red Theri Kaadu has not been created by the marauding sea. The origins of this landscape are not yet clearly known.

The soil is in three layers here – on the surface is material that is 2,000 years old, below that 5,000 and 8,000 years old. Hard clay lies underneath the sand.

Researchers confirm the red Theri Kaadu has not been created by the marauding sea. The origins of this landscape are not yet clearly known.

The southwest monsoon keeps changing the environment here. A patch filled with trees can suddenly become filled with sand and become something else, according to Robert Caldwell. The British Tirunelveli collector EP Thomas in 1848 came up with the idea of planting palm trees. Due to his efforts, this area became palm tree land. Kudiraimozhi Theri filled with palm trees is now under the control of the wildlife department.

Archaeological excavations have found valuable artefacts. Burial urns have also been found. Stone age tools as well as steel knives and spears were found inside the urns. Research is ongoing regarding links between the red soil Theri Kaadu with Adhichanallur.

Rosy Starling by Narasimman Jayaraman wildlife photographer

Springs are found in sandy Theri Kaadu like oasis in the desert. One is located at Pudhukudi. In the blistering heat, the spring provides sweet water. Near the spring is the Arunchunaikatha Ayyanar temple. Many come here to worship. Without much water, the area is home to palm trees, prosopis julifera, pine trees, Tephrosia Purpurea (kozhinji) and son.

White breasted water hen ( photo credit: Narasimman Jayaraman wildlife photographer

At the mineral-rich Theri Kaadu, some unusual fauna can be found, an important one being the Fan Throated Lizard. Researchers say the lizard is a unique creature that can survive in the driest of conditions. It has a neck portion that looks like an umbrella. The saw-scaled viper is common, too.

Black rumped wood pecker ( photo credit: Narasimman Jayaraman wildlife photographer

Black Rumped Woodpecker, Common Lora, Spotted Owl, Green Bea Eater and White Breasted Water Hen are among the birds found here. Crimson Tip, Blue Tiger an Plain Tiger are a few butterfly types.

The Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis) is a Danainae butterfly found in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Taken at Kadavoor, Kerala, India.

Garnet sand, Ilmenite and Chalcenthite are some of the rare, valuable earths here. The infamous sand mining happens right here and has lucrative markets across the world.

Rampant sand mining has impacted the environment. The habitat of living beings is at stake. To prevent this, Theri Kaadu should be declared a protected area so the wildlife department can take care of it.

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