India is the largest country in South Asia; the Indian subcontinent juts out as a peninsula from the main Asian continent, forming a landmass which is surrounded by the Arabian Sea in the West, the Bay of Bengal in the East, and the Indian Ocean in the South. As might be expected from its location, India has been on the trading routes between Western and Eastern Asia for centuries, and has been invaded by many groups, from the Indo-Aryans, to Alexander the Great, to the Moguls, and the British. India’s neighbors include the state of Pakistan on the Northwest which comprises part of the Punjab which historically was an integral part of India. In the Northeast are Nepal, Bhutan and China; and on the South and East are Burma and Bangladesh. With the exception of China, the other states were historically part of various Indian empires or heavily influenced by Indian civilization.
The Northern border of India includes the Himalyas and a number of India’s river systems originate in these mountains. India stretches over 2,000 miles from these mountains to its southernmost point in the Indian Ocean. Thus both the terrain and climate show incredible variation, from some of the World’s highest mountains in the north to deserts and flat plains in the center and low lying coastal areas in the South. The center of the country contains the Gangetic plains, good agricultural land fed by the Ganges and other river systems. Further south, the land rises to form the Vindhya Mountains which create anatural boundary between the northern and southern parts of India. Western India contains the Thar Desert, one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world, while Eastern India has some of the world’s most fertile and productive land.
As the landscape varies, so too does the climate vary from cold and temperate in the northern mountains areas, to tropical in the South. The southern part of India has a monsoon climate, with a hot dry season from March to June, followed by a rainy season in the summer months. During the hot and rainy seasons, the British, who found this weather difficult to endure, built summer residences in the Northern more mountainous areas of India. These summer retreats are famous tourist destinations today.
India is over one-third the size of the United States but has a population more than three times larger, with just over one billion people. Thus, India is the second most populous country in the world, after China. This great population and the continuing high birth rate causes problems for the government and society as much additional money is needed just to provide the basics of food, housing, education and medical care to its population.
India also has a great variety of ethnic and linguistic groups. The two most prevalent groups are the Indo-Aryans, who migrated to India from the area that is now Iran several thousand years ago, gradually conquered the native peoples, the Dravidians, and pushed them further south. These Indo-Aryans brought with them the religions and cultural systems as well as the caste system which continues to shape India today. While Hindi and its variations is the dominant language of this majority group in India, other dialects are also spoken. The Dravidians were forced to move further south and make up the majority of the peoples in the 4 southern states. Tamil and other south Asian languages are spoken in this area. In addition, India hosts a great variety of tribal peoples, with their own customs and languages. For centuries, India was divided into various local, princely states; even under the great empires, much local autonomy existed. This helps to account for the variety of languages and dialects that are found in India. The 2001 census lists 18 major languages as well as a group of “other” languages which are spoken by an additional 31 million people.
The majority of Indians follow the Hindu religion and indeed, the terms Hindu and India are often used interchangeably. Hinduism has many variations, ranging from philosophical beliefs to worship of a variety of gods and goddesses. Over 80% of Indians follow one or another of the Hindu traditions. Despite the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims after Independence was obtained from Britain, about 12% of the inhabitants of India remain Muslims. There have been a number of tensions between the Muslim and Hindu groups, with violence occurring on both sides. About 2% of Indians belong to Sikh communities and these groups also are seeking an independent homeland in Kashmir; violence and tensions have flared at numerous times between Hindus and the Sikhs. Another 2 % of Indians practice one or another form of Christianity; according to legend, Christianity arrived in India shortly after the death of Christ and was brought by the disciple, Thomas. There are also small numbers of Buddhists, Jains, and Parsees (Zoroastrians).
India is a largely agricultural nation and has excellent agricultural land and a long growing season, in many areas, rice and other crops can be triple-cropped. In the past 4 decades, India has made great strides in agriculture and now not only meets it own grain needs but has a sizeable reserve of basic grains, mainly rice and wheat. This success was achieved in what is called the “Green Revolution” by bringing additional areas under cultivation, increasing irrigation projects, developing high yield seeds, and the use of fertilizer, pesticides and crop rotation techniques. Agriculture, consisting of grains such as wheat and rice, spices of various kinds, sugar cane, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, employees about 2/3’s of India’s population and accounts for 1/3 of the Gross Domestic Product.
In addition to agriculture, India has extensive natural resources, including the world’s fourth largest coal reserves. Other resources include diamonds, gold, iron, petroleum, and limestone. In addition, India still has forests which are home to a diverse wildlife including tigers, elephants, lions, reptiles and birds. These forests are endangered as people encroach upon them for fuel and land; as well, poaching of animals is a common problem and a number of India’s animals and birds are on the endangered species list.
India is seeking successfully to diversify its economy and is seeing rapid growth in the manufacturing and service sector industries. One of its most successful industries has been in the area of computer technology, especially the software industry; India has become a world leader in this area. In addition to these new modern industries, India’s traditional handicrafts continue to provide basic income for families in the rural area and such handicrafts as textiles, metalwork, leatherwork, embroidery, and hand made carpets continue to prosper.
India has made great strides in building her infrastructure and the communication system in the country’s urban areas is well developed; mobile telephones are increasing in use and among the young a mobile are the preferred means of communication. However, telephone lines are still inadequate in many rural areas and the demand for telephone connections far outstrips supply. India inherited an excellent railroad system from the British years; the network extends to all corners of the country and connects all major business centers. However, much of the track and rolling stock are old and outdated and accidents are common. India is in the process of creating a major national highway to facilitate the transport of goods across the country; it already has an excellent system of roads which connect towns, cities, and rural areas. However, in some areas, the roads are unpaved, in others they are terribly crowded and all roads have a variety of transport, ranging from buses, trucks and cars, to motorbikes, bicycles, and donkey carts. The ancient and the modern co-exist on India’s roads.
While New Delhi is the political capital of the country, the city of Mumbai on the west coast (previously known as Bombay) is the nation’s financial and business capital. India has a host of large cities including Kolkata (Calcutta), Bangalore, Chennai (Madras) and Hyderabad. All of these cities are business centers with well to do elites and all suffer from overcrowding due to migration from rural areas by people in search of a better life.
For a good printable map of India, please visit Mapquest Atlas