We have all heard about the different deserts of the world. Here, in India is our very famous Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert. Then we have the Sahara Desert covering most part of Northern African land, Gobi Desert in China, Atacama Desert in Chile, amongst many others. Apart from these there are many small desert lands in many countries of the world. One such desert is the desert of Namibia.
The word Namib derives its name from a local tribe ‘Nama’ which means a vast place. It extends for more than 2000 kilometres along the Atlantic coast South Africa, Namibia and Angola. It is widely believed that the Namib may be the oldest desert on the world having endured dry and arid conditions for around 80 million years. The desert has varied physiography consisting of sand near the coast and gravel plains and mountain hillocks towards the interior. The sand dunes which occur in this region are the second largest in the world, the first being the sand dunes of China, reaching a height of 300 metres tall and 32 kilometres wide. Temperature in the desert is fluctuating since it is very hot by day and cool and pleasant by night. In the daytime, the temperature hovers around 50 o C while night time could be freezing cold. However along the coast the temperature swings between 9 o C in the night to around 20 o C in the daytime. Ironically though, there are several rivers and occasional streams which flow through the Namib. These rivers have their origins in the interior mountains of Namibia and cut through the desert after summer rain storms. Most of the rivers do not end in the ocean as the water in them gets evaporated by the hot blazing sun. This desert is important as a mining location due to the deposits of tungsten, salt and diamonds found here. The Namib desert receives less than 10 mm of rainfall annually which leaves the land barren and dry. However the winds which come in from the Atlantic Ocean collide with hot air entering from the east, leading to foggy conditions over the desert region. This fog belt that envelopes the desert is the only source of moisture for both plants as well as animals. Sometimes this fog proves to be a deterrent for ships and other maritime activities like fishing.
The desert of Namibia is hope to many species of plants and animals, some of which are exclusively found here and have adapted themselves very well to the climate of the region. The plants found here comprise of the black-backed jackal, spotted hyena, brown hyena, mountain zebras, desert elephats, baboons, fox and leopards. The Gemsboks is a species of antelope found exclusively in the desert of Namib. Also known as Oryxes, these antelopes can raise their body temperatures to 40 o C during the hottest time of the summer months. While the black-backed jackal are often seen on the coast of beaches scouting for marine prey, the brown hyena is seen in the interiors of the desert looking out for smaller items of food. Found in the Namib are different types of reptiles too like the lizards, geckos, sand snakes, side-winding adder, scorpions, spiders, beetles and fishmoths. Coming to birds, you can find here the Herero chat, lark, robin, cinnamon-breasted warbler, lesser honeyguide, pearl-spotted owlet, rockrunner, black-headed canary and the hornbill.
Although now the desert is mostly inhabited and inaccessible, there is evidence of humans living in the Namib right from the early stone age era. Even to this day, we can see the most documented evidence of mankind’s existence in this region in the many rock painting, tools and pottery that have been discovered through the centuries. Brandberg and Twyfelfontein are two places here which are home to the most famous of these rock paintings. A well-known tribe called ‘Topnaar’ have been long term residents of the Namib. Today, there are many scattered villages found along a river by name Kuiseb, which flows through the desert region.
Some of the tourist attractions of Namib are the Naukluft Mountain, Sossusvlei and Sandwich Harbour. The former is a part of the Central Namib desert and also includes the Namib Naukluft National Park, the largest park in Namibia and the 3rd largest on the African continent. This park is a sanctuary for the mountain zebras. One attraction which should not be missed while you are in the Namib Desert is the Sossusvlei which is home to one of the most dominant and widespread desert sand dunes of the world. The sand dunes here are shaped like a crescent of the moon and along the coast are also found clusters of sand dunes.
It is said that Sossusvlei has orange sand dunes surrounding white salt panes which gives rise to a spectacular scene, of fascinating landscape. While the Sandwich Harbour is a port along the Atlantic Coast, it is located within the boundaries of the Namib Naukluft Park. Unlike the name, the Sandwich Harbour is neither a harbour nor a port but a backwater lagoon.
The desert of Namibia is a world its own, and still lies unexplored by tourists. Now you know where to head for a vacation!