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India: The Land of Wonders

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India is the seventh largest country of the world in terms of area. The country occupies more than three million sq km (1 million sq mi). India is the second most populous country of the world, next to China. It has more than one billion inhabitants.

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Today, India is on the threshold of becoming a global superpower. It is already a leader of the developing countries. Indian democracy has been resilient in resolving regional and international crises for more than 60 years now. India is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Indian economy has greatly evolved since independence in 1947. The economic reforms of 1991 have attracted huge amount of foreign investment into the country’s industry and service sectors. The agricultural sector has also witnessed massive overhaul with foreign investors evincing keen interest to go in for joint investments.

Cultural Cauldron

India is a land of diversity, and hence a cultural cauldron. The diversity is due to the contributions of different communities and tribes to the rich Indian heritage. Tourists flock to India to witness the different cultures and biodiversity of the country.

Religion plays an important role in the life of the Indians. Though the majority of the Indians are Hindus, the country has people following many other various religious beliefs. About 83 percent of the people practice Hinduism, a religion that originated in India. Another 12 percent are Muslims, and millions of others are Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. It is against these immensely variegated natural, geographical, cultural and demographic attractions that India offers that the country is often called a sub-continent.

Languages

Besides the 18 major languages, more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects are spoken in India. The official languages are English and Hindi. Research has found that after every two kilometers, one comes across a dialect in India.

Walk Down Memory Lane

India was host to empires and powerful regional kingdoms for hundreds of years. In AD 1700, the British established rule in the subcontinent. Indian nationalism threw off the foreign yoke in 1947.

Ancient Civilization

India was host to the almost 1000-year old Indus Valley Civilization. The excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (in the Indus valley) have traced the Indian civilization to about 2500 BC. Flourishing till around the 1700 BC, it is the earliest known civilization of South Asia. It corresponded to the Bronze Age cultures of ancient Crete (Kríti), Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

The remnants of human settlements have been found throughout the Indus River valley now in Pakistan. Located westward along the coast to the Iranian border, the Indus Valley Civilization stressed from the Oxus River in northern Afghanistan, encompassing one of the largest geographical areas covered by a single Bronze Age culture. This civilization eclipsed following the onslaughts of the nomadic Aryan tribes probably from the northern Caspian Sea area, in 1500 BC. The victorious Aryans settled in the region.

The twin cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were divided into two distinctive groups of buildings, one of which was probably enclosed by a wall. Archaeologists have found blocks of buildings made of mud and brick. The streets separate the buildings. Large public buildings are characteristics of the twin cities. At one point of time, these buildings were identified as palaces, granaries, colleges, and temples; but subsequent researches have still not confirmed those interpretations.

Unfortunately, the social organization in this complex culture has still evaded interpretation. Nevertheless, the artisans demonstrated a high degree of specialization. The artifacts include stamp seals with a script that is yet to be deciphered; ornaments of gold silver and bronze as well as tools of bronze and silver, ceramic toys and figurines, a distinctive black-on-red pottery, and etched carnelian beads.

Researchers opine that complex ecological changes occurred in the Indus Valley area around 2000 BC. These factors forced the denizens to abandon their settlements. Ultimately, the basic characteristics of the civilization also underwent changes.

The Indus Valley witnessed a culture even after this social exodus. This late culture is known from the excavated small farming villages where the artifacts are similar to the earlier types, but they definitely demonstrate a regional variation.

Matriarchial Identification

The Indians deem their nation as ‘Mother India’. The very fact that the country is identified as a female entity reflects the traditional love, regard and respect the Indians (the majority of whom are patriarchal) have for the fairer sex. Among the Hindus, the majority of Indian population, almost all the religious rituals are complete only if there is active participation of the spouse.

Political Features

Located in southeastern Asia, the Republic of India is also known as ‘Bharat’ in Hindi. There are 28 states and seven Union Territories (including the National Capital Territory of Delhi). The capital of the country is New Delhi. The list of the Indian states and union territories along with their respective capitals are given below in an alphabetical order:

Land and Resources

Geographically, India consists of the Indian Peninsula as well as certain portions of the Asian mainland. The north-south stretch of India is 3,050 km (1,900 mi); while the east-west stretch is 2,950 km (1,830 mi).

Area

India occupies an area of 3,165,596 sq km (1,222,243 sq mi). This, however, excludes those portions of Jammu and Kashmir claimed by India but occupied by Pakistan or China.

Borders

India shares an international border of more than 15,200 km (9,400 mi) with other countries. It is bounded on the north by Bhutan, Nepal, China and Afghanistan; on the south by the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar (that separates it from Sri Lanka) as well as the Indian Ocean. On its east are Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Bay of Bengal; while Pakistan and the Arabian Sea are to its west.

Coastline

The country has 7,600 km (4,700 mi) of coastline, including the island territories, or 5,600 km (3,500 mi) of coastline without the islands. The coastal areas in the state of Orissa are known for marine fish farming.

Island Chains

The country also has two island chains – each constituting its own union territories. The Lakshadweep group of islands is located on India’s southwest coast; while the Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands lies east of the mainland between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Its southernmost island is only 200 km (120 mi) from the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Physical Features

The Indian Peninsula constitutes a triangular formation with the Himalayas the world’s highest mountains – on its north, east and west; the Indian ocean on its south; the Bay of Bengal on its south and south east; and the Arabian Sea on its west. The country encompasses a diverse landscape rich in natural resources. The river valleys have sustained agriculture-based civilizations for hundreds of years.

The varied topography includes the rain-drenched dense tropical forests of the seven North East States (of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura) to the barren Thar Desert of Rajasthan in the west. Several major rivers arising in the snow-capped Himalayas flow through the northern and eastern plain areas. These include the Brahmaputra in the east, the Ganges in the north, and the Indus in the northwest. The Brahmaputra River often over floods the plain areas in Assam during the monsoon season in summer. These perennial rivers carry fertile alluvial soil to the plains.

The Vindhya Mountain ranges roughly divide the northern plains from the southern region. The coastal regions have another series of mountain ranges like the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. The rivers here like the Krishna, Kaveri, and Tungabhadra, are however seasonal.

Physical Divisions

India has been broadly divided into three main physical divisions:
*The Himalayas
*The Gangetic Plain
*The Peninsular India.

The Himalayas

The Himalayan Range is the world’s highest mountain system. Agriculture and animal herding are the main economic activities in this sparsely populated region, including its foothills. This region extends 2,400 km (1,500 mi) along the northern and eastern borders of India. It is 160 to 320 km (100 to 200 mi) wide, and includes the central and eastern Himalayas, the Karakoram Range, and the ranges surrounding the Kashmir valley.

FORMATION: The Himalayas were moulded by ancient geological forces when the Indian plate (of the Earth’s crust) burrowed under the Eurasian landmass thereby creating the uplift. This physical movement is still pushing ever higher this northernmost boundary of India.

Among its summits, wholly or partly within India or within territory claimed by India and administered by Pakistan, are the K2 (8,611 m/28,251 ft) and Kanchenjunga (8,598 m/28,209 ft) — the world’s second and third highest peaks, after Mount Everest. Other prominent Indian peaks include the Nanga Parbat (8,125 m/26,657 ft), Nanda Devi (7,817 m/25,646 ft), Rakaposhi (7,788 m/25,551 ft), and the Kamet peak (7,756 m/25,446 ft).

The Gangetic Plain

Located south and parallel to the Himalaya, it is a belt of flat, alluvial lowlands. The width ranges from 280 to 400 km (175 to 250 mi). This wide-stretched region includes the most agriculturally productive land in India.

The river systems: The broad Gangetic Plain includes many river systems. It stretches from the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, through the Gangetic Plain, to the Assam Valley in the east. The Indus River and its tributaries (including the Sutlej and Chenab rivers) flowing through Punjab mark the western end of the Plain. The Gangetic Plain constituted by the Ganges River and its tributaries, drain the southern Himalayan slopes.

The Assam Valley: Separated from the Gangetic Plain by a chicken-neck land corridor near the West Bengal town of Darjeeling, the Assam Valley is watered by the Brahmaputra River. This perennial river system fed by many tributaries rises in Tibet and crosses into India at its northeast corner in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the only Indian river named after a male (the Hindu god of Lord Brahma). The Brahmaputra (meaning the ‘son of Lord Brahma) then flows through the Indian state of Assam — north of another Indian north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya — into Bangladesh.

The sprawling dry, sandy region of Thar Desert, extending into Pakistan, lies at the southwestern end of the Gangetic Plain.

Peninsular India

Lying south of the Gangetic plains region, Peninsular India is broadly divided into three sub-divisions:

*The Northern Peninsular region
*The Southern Peninsular area or the Deccan Plateau
*The coastal regions

The northern peninsula is constituted of mountain ranges and plateaus. Its rocky and uneven lands are sparsely populated. While coarse grains-farming (like millet) is common in the central part, herding is a major occupation in the west. The Aravalli Range runs on the eastern edge of the Thar Desert in a north-south direction. The low hills cut by valleys lie along the border between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in central India. The Narmada River flows southwest between the Vindhya Range and an associated plateau on the north, and the Satpura Range on the south. The plains of the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the eastern states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand also lie within this region.

The vast Deccan Plateau lies in the southern part of peninsular India. This triangular tableland is located among the Satpura Range, the gentler slopes of the Eastern Ghats and the steep mountain slopes of the Western Ghats. The average elevations are 600 m (2,000 ft), with outcroppings of 1,200 m (4,000 ft) occurring at certain points. The Western Ghats vary in height from 900 to 1,200 m (3,000 to 4,000 ft) at their northern end, while the Nilgiri Hills in the extreme south reach a height of 2,637 m (8,652 ft) at Doda Betta, their highest peak. The Eastern Ghats lying along the eastern flank of the Deccan Plateau is interrupted by the Krishna and Godavari river basins. The Eastern Ghats are much lower compared to the Western Ghats. The average elevations are 600 m (2,000 ft). The plateau is rockier than the northern extension of peninsular India. It is home to industrial enterprises. Otherwise, it supports a sparse agricultural population.

The Coastal Regions

Fertile seashore borders the Indian Peninsula. The west coast includes the thin Konkan shore in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the extensive Gujarat Plain in the north, and the Malabar Coast in the south. These areas support substantial populations of fishermen and farmers. Ancient trade routes to the west developed the cities and towns in this region into market centers for spices and textiles.

The broad alluvial plains of the east coast stretch from the Mahanadi River delta in the north to the Kaveri River delta in the south. These areas are intensely farmed.

Rivers of India

The major rivers of India have been tapped since ages for irrigation and agricultural activities. In fact, they are among the most extensive and oldest canal systems in the world. In the olden times, barrages were built to redirect flow of river water into fields, ponds and lakes. Another aspect of the rivers in India is that wide seasonal variations in water flow due to the effect of monsoon and silting come in the way of inland water navigation. Still several rivers are being used to a limited extent for water transport.

The rivers of India are divided into the following three groups:

* The great Himalayan rivers of the north
* The eastward-flowing rivers of the Deccan Plateau and peninsular India
* The westward-flowing rivers of central India

The Himalayan Rivers

The three great Himalayan rivers flowing across India are the Indus in the northwest, the Ganges in central India, and the Brahmaputra in the north-east.
The Indus originates in the Himalayas of western Tibet, flows through the Ladakh region (Jammu and Kashmir state), then enters Pakistan. It is about 2,900 km (1,800 mi) long. The waters of three of its tributaries — the Sutlej, Ravi, and Chenab – are diverted, under the Indus Water Treaty, for use in India.

The Ganges (also known as Ganga in India) rises in the Indian Himalayas and enters the Gangetic Plain northeast of Delhi. It is joined by its major tributary, the Yamuna, at Allahabad. It is about 2,510-km (1,560-mi). The main branch of the Ganges flows through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. Another of its branch meets the Bay in India, near Kolkata. Both the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers discharge enormous amounts of water especially during the monsoon season.

The Brahmaputra also rises in the Tibetan Himalayas, enters India through Arunachal Pradesh, flows through Assam state and then south through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. It is almost 2,900 km (1,800 mi) long.

The Eastward-Flowing Rivers of the Deccan Plateau and Peninsular India

Three principal rivers of the Deccan Plateau and peninsular India flow east into the Bay of Bengal. They are the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri. All of them rise in the Western Ghats of the Deccan Plateau.

The Godavari is the northernmost river. It is about 1,400 km (900 mi) long, and has a basin (the region drained by a river) one-third the size of the Ganges. It carries one-tenth of the amount of water the Ganges carries.

The Krishna empties into the sea not far south of the Godavari. It is about 1,300 km/800 miles long, and has a basin equal to the Godavari but carries only two-thirds of the amount of water.

The Kaveri is the smallest of the three rivers. It is almost 760 km/470 miles long, with a basin less than one-third the size of the other two rivers.

The Westwards-Flowing Rivers of Central India

The major westward flowing river is the Narmada. It is 1,289 km (801 mi) long with a basin of about five million cultivable hectares (about 12 million acres). However, only a small percentage of this land is presently irrigated. Flowing mainly through the state of Madhya Pradesh, it empties into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat state. The annual runoff is less than one-tenth that of the Ganges system. A major dam system is under construction to divert a significant amount of the river’s water for irrigation purposes in the state of Gujarat.

Other Important Rivers

India has several other important rivers. Their waters are used for irrigation and power generation. However, the amount of water stored for either of the purposes varies greatly from river to river depending, among other things, on the number of dams on the river.

Among the other important rivers mention may be made of the eight tributaries of the Ganges. Of them, five join the Ganges from the north. They are the Gandak, Ghaghara, Gumti, Kosi and the Sarda rivers. The ones the join from the south are Betwa, Chambal, and the Son rivers.

Three other rivers flow into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat. They are the Mahi, Sabarmati, and Tapi rivers. The Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and the Sutlej rivers flow west to join the Indus river in Pakistan. These five rivers form the Punjab (Hindi for “five”) basin of India and Pakistan.

The two rivers of Brahmani and Mahanadi rise in Orissa and Chattisgarh states to flow east into the Bay of Bengal.

Lakes of India

India has very few natural lakes. The Chilika Lake on the Orissa coast varies seasonally in volume. It is alternately salty and fresh. Some other important lakes are the Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan state and the Colair Lake in Orissa state. Both typically dry out totally before the monsoon begins. Small artificially created ponds called tanks feature in every village. They serve as sources of water for irrigation, bathing, and even drinking.

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