Official name : Republic of India
Area: 3,287,590 square kilometers (1,269,345 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Kanchenjunga (8,595 meters/28,208 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zones: 3:30 P.M. = noon GMT in West; 6:30 P.M. = noon GMT in East.
Longest distances: 3,214 kilometers (1,997 miles) from north to south; 2,933 kilometers (1,822 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 14,103 kilometers (8,744 miles) total boundary length; Bangladesh 4,053 kilometers (2,513 miles); Bhutan 605 kilometers (375 miles); China 3,380 kilometers (2,096 miles); Myanmar 1,463 kilometers (907 miles); Nepal 1,690 kilometers (1,048 miles); Pakistan 2,912 kilometers (1,805 miles)
Coastline: 7,000 kilometers (4,340 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
India is located in the southern part of Asia and borders the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal. It occupies most of the South Asian continent and is one of the largest countries on Earth and one of the most heavily populated. India consists of twenty-eight states and seven union territories.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Part of the southern border with Bangladesh is undefined, as is part of the border with China in the northeast (the McMahon Line). Since their creation as independent countries in 1947, India and Pakistan have disputed ownership of the northern regions of Jammu and Kashmir, a simmering conflict that has broken into fighting between the neighbors in 1948, 1965, and 1971, and continues to be a source of sporadic conflict. China also occupies portions of northeastern Jammu and Kashmir that are claimed by India, which caused fighting in 1962. A line of control divides Jammu and Kashmir, excluding the eastern sector along the Siachen Glacier.
India experiences a variety of different climate conditions due to its great size and varying terrain. The Greater Himalayan region has a dry, subarctic climate, but the valleys and outer ranges are temperate or subtropical. The inland of the peninsula ranges from subtropical to temperate. The coasts of the peninsula are humid and tropical.
India's four seasons are determined by the monsoons, a pattern of winds sweeping across southern Asia. There is a dry, cool season (winter) from December through March; a hot season (spring) in April and May; the rainy season (summer) from June through September; and a less-rainy season (autumn) in October and November. India's north has frost in the cool season and temperatures as high as 49°C (120°F) in the hot season. As an example of South India's climate, the city of Chennai has an average temperature of 28°C (83°F). Temperatures for the entire nation reach an average high of 38° to 40°C (100° to 104°F) and dip to an average low of 10°C (50°F).
India's weather is characterized by intense, sudden changes, such as the onset of the monsoon, flash floods, or violent thunderstorms. Cyclones from the Indian Ocean often affect the coastal areas in April through June and September through December. Rainfall varies extremely in India, from the Thar Desert which receives less than 13 centimeters (five inches) yearly, to Cherrapunji in the northeastern mountains, known as the world's rainiest place, with an average of 1,270 centimeters (500 inches) per year. Rainfall for the entire nation of India averages 105 centimeters (41 inches). Snow falls in the Himalayan area, which also produces hailstorms that sweep down over the peninsula. Dust storms affect many regions of India.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
One of the largest countries on Earth, as well as one of the most heavily populated, India is a nation of great geographic diversity. The extraordinary geographic variety of India can be divided into three main regions: the Himalayan mountain range of the north; the broad and flat alluvial plain of the Ganges River to the south of the mountains; and, even further south, the vast peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean, creating the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, with small island chains offshore. India's mountainous northeastern region is nearly separated from the rest of the country by Bangladesh and Nepal. India's wonderfully diverse geographical features, encompassing everything from snowy peaks to desert to rainforest, are at risk from environmental damage, mostly due to population pressure. Many local groups have organized to fight pollution and protect wildlife.
Local political parties changed the names of several well-known Indian locations during the 1990s. Most noteworthy of these changes are the cities of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Chennai (formerly Madras) and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and the state of Bangla (formerly West Bengal).
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
India's peninsula juts into the Indian Ocean, with the Arabian Sea on the east and the Bay of Bengal on the west. The country is situated on vital maritime trade routes between the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Eight Degree Channel separates the Lakshadweep islands from the small island nation of the Republic of Maldives. Inlets of the Indian Ocean surrounding India include the Arabian Sea to the west, the Laccadive Sea between the Indian peninsula and the Maldives to the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal in the east. In the northwest, the Gulf of Kachchh and the Gulf of Khambhat are inlets of the Arabian Sea. In the southeast, the Palk Strait separates India from Sri Lanka.
Islands and Archipelagos
Two groups of islands belonging to India lie on each side of the southern tip of the country. The areas and populations of these island chains are very small.
The eastern group, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, formed from an undersea mountain range, are located in the Bay of Bengal. The total land area of these lightly populated islands is roughly 8,287 square kilometers (3,200 square miles).
In the Arabian Sea are the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands. They are collectively named Lakshadweep. The total area of these small coral islands is only about 50 square kilometers (18.5 square miles). Most, although not all, of these low-lying small islands are occupied, and population density is high on the inhabited islands.
Not far south of where the India-Pakistan border meets the ocean, the broad and short Kathiwar Peninsula projects into the Arabian Sea. To the north of this peninsula lies the Gulf of Kachchh, and the Gulf of Khambhat extends to the south and east. The Gulf of Kachchh includes a Marine National Park, which is an effort to protect coral reefs and wetland wildlife habitat. South of the Gulf of Kachchh, the coast continues, with few inlets and a flat sandy shore, to its southernmost point, Cape Comorin. The southern section of this coastline is known as the Malabar Coast.
The eastern coast of India, on the Bay of Bengal, begins in the northeast at the fragmented Ganges River delta and continues generally southwest before curving to the south, at which point it becomes known as the Coromandel Coast. The Gulf of Mannar indents India's southern tip, where Cape Comorin joins the two coasts of the immense Indian peninsula.
6 INLAND LAKES
India's landscape contains a variety of lakes—salt water and fresh water as well as natural and artificial.
Chilka Lake is the largest lake in India, with an area of 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles). Wular Lake, in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, is India's largest freshwater lake (202 square kilometers/78 square miles). It contains large quantities of floating vegetation, and it is also an important source of fish and of irrigation water.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Indus River, rising in the Tibetan Himalayas of China, flows through Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir before entering Pakistan. The Indus has five principal tributaries, also of Himalayan origin, that are of importance to India: the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum. These rivers drain part of the Indian state of Punjab, whose name is derived from panch ab, meaning five waters or rivers.
South of Punjab and east of the desert region of western India is the most revered and mightiest of India's rivers, the Ganges. The origin of the Ganges is identified in an ice cave about 48 kilometers (30 miles) north of Nanda Devi, almost on the border with China. The river is about 2,510 kilometers (1,560 miles) in length. The Yamuna, the major tributary of the Ganges, also rises in the Himalayas. The Ganges has shifted its course many times over the years, and as it approaches the border with Bangladesh it branches into many streams and rivers to the south. They are the beginnings of the enormous Ganges Delta, most of which is found within Bangladesh. After entering Bangladesh, the Ganges merges with the Brahmaputra River before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Most of the course of the Brahmaputra is in China, but it enters India in its northeastern corner. The river then curves west and flows through northeast India in the Assam Valley along a narrow plain, before entering Bangladesh, where it merges with the Ganges.
South of the Gangetic Plain there are six major rivers. Four of these rivers—the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna, and the Kâeri—flow into the Bay of Bengal. Several of the rivers have waterfalls and cascades in their upper courses.
The Mahanadi River, which rises in Madhya Pradesh, is about 900 kilometers (560 miles) long and is an important source of irrigation water in Orissa state.
Only two major rivers of the peninsula flow into the Arabian Sea: the Narmada and the Tāpi. The Narmada rises in eastern Madhya Pradesh, flows through Gujarat State, then forms a thirteen-mile-wide estuary at the Gulf of Khambhat. The shorter Tāpi River follows a companion course south of the Narmada.
Below the state of Punjab and extending southwest along the Pakistani border is the sparsely populated Thar Desert. This desert covers most of the state of Rajasthan, and 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of its terrain of sand dunes and flat thorn scrub is protected as the Thar Desert National Park.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The Gangetic (or Indo-Gangetic) Plain lies at the foot of the Himalayan mountain barrier, extending from Assam and the Bay of Bengal on the east into Pakistan and to the Arabian Sea on the west. Covering some 776,996 square kilometers (300,000 square miles), it extends roughly 2,414 kilometers (1,500 miles) from east to west. The entire region is very fertile and very densely populated.
Other grasslands in India include the Terai region in the low mountains along the border of Nepal, which includes savannah and alpine grassland types. Bamboo grasslands occur across the Himalayan foothills, especially in northeast India.
India's forest cover is estimated at approximately 19 percent of the country. Madhya Pradesh in the center of the country and Arunachal Pradesh in the extreme northeast are the states with the most forest cover. There is a great range of forest types, including alpine scrub in the Himalayan regions; temperate evergreen in Jammu and Kashmir and other hill areas; tropical rainforest in the Western Ghats, northeastern states, and islands; and man-groves in the Sundarbans on the Bay of Bengal and in Gujarat.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The name Himalaya, which means "abode of snow" in Sanskrit, is given to the tremendous system of mountain ranges, the loftiest in the world, that extends along the northern frontiers of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The Himalayas are made up of three parallel ranges. The northernmost and highest are the Greater Himalayas. The world's tallest mountains are found in this range, with most peaks over 6,096 meters (20,000 feet). India's highest mountain is in this range, the five-peaked Kanchenjunga (8,595 meters/28,208 feet) on the border between Nepal and India. Other great peaks include Kamet (7,756 meters/ 25,447 feet) and Nanda Devi (7,817 meters/ 25,645 feet), which lie north of New Delhi and west of Nepal.
South of the Greater Himalayas is the Lesser Himalayas range. Their peaks are mostly between 1,524 and 3,657 meters (5,000 and 12,000 feet) in height; although some exceed 4,572 meters (15,000 feet). The Outer Himalayas are the southernmost and lowest of the three ranges, with peaks between 914 and 1,219 meters (3,000 and 4,000 feet) in height.
There are many other mountain ranges in India, although none nearly so large and high as the Himalayas. At the southern end of the country are the two mountain ranges called the Ghats. The Western and Eastern Ghats run parallel to the coasts and separate the interior plateau from the coastal plains. The mountains called the Western Ghats have an average elevation of 1,066 meters (3,500 feet). The Eastern Ghats are disconnected and much lower than the Western Ghats, averaging only about 610 meters (2,000 feet) in elevation.
The easternmost part of India, nearly separated from the rest of the country by Bangladesh, is very mountainous. The chief ranges here are the Barail Range and the Arakan Yoma Range along the border with Myanmar, whose highest peak is Saramati (3,866 meters/12,683 feet). These ranges are sometimes considered a southern extension of the Himalayas.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Zanskar, and Sikkim possess many deep canyons, as do the hill regions, such as Madhya Pradesh at India's center. The Brahmaputra River cuts a deep gorge through the mountains of northeast India, as does the Ganges at its source in the Himalayas
DID YOU KNOW?
The Silk Road is an ancient seven thousand-mile-long trading route that extended from east-central China through the present-day countries of India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It essentially connected the region of the Yellow River Valley in China to the Mediterranean Sea. From there, costly Chinese silk could be transported throughout the Roman Empire. The Silk Road served not only as a transportation route for trade but also as a route of cultural exchange, as travelers and traders from different regions shared religious, political, and social beliefs and customs.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The largest of India's plateaus are the central Malwa Plateau between the Aravali and Vindhya Ranges, the Chota Nagpur in the northeast of the peninsula, and the Deccan Plateau. The name Deccan, which means "south," is often applied loosely to all the elevated land of southern India. More properly, however, it refers to the western portions of the irregular central plateau. The Deccan is actually not a single plateau but a series of plateaus topped by rolling hills and intersected by many rivers. The Deccan plateau system averages about 762 meters (2,500 feet) in elevation in the west and about 305 meters (1,000 feet) in the eastern parts.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
India has a number of artificial lakes. In Tamil Nadu state, an extensive system of shallow irrigation reservoirs known as "tanks" has been maintained since the eighth century A.D. Nagarjuna Lake, on which the extensive Nagarjuna Dam is located, is the third-largest man-made lake in the world.
14 FURTHER READING
Dalal, Anita. India . Austin, TX: Raintree-Steck Vaughn, 2002.
Nicholson, Louise. India . Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2002.
Shrinivasan, Radhika. India . Marshall Cavendish, 2002.