India, a country that occupies most of South Asia. It is a constitutional republic that consists of 29 states, each with a substantial degree of control over their own affairs; 6 less empowered union territories; and the territory of the national capital of Delhi, which includes New Delhi, the capital of India. With about one sixth of the world’s total population, India is the second most populous country, after China.
It is known from archaeological evidence that a highly sophisticated urbanized culture, the Indus civilization, dominated the northwest part of the subcontinent from about 2600 to 2000 BC. From then on, India functioned as a virtually autonomous political and cultural arena, which gave rise to a distinctive tradition that was associated mainly with Hinduism, whose roots can be traced largely to the Indus civilization. Other religions, especially Buddhism and Jainism, originated in India – although their presence there is rather small – and over the centuries the residents of the subcontinent developed a rich intellectual life in fields such as mathematics, astronomy, architecture , Literature, Music and Fine Arts.
Throughout its history, India was intermittently disturbed by raids from beyond its northern mountain wall. Especially important was the arrival of Islam, brought from the northwest by Arabs, Turks, Persians and other raiders at the beginning of the 8th century CE. Eventually, some of those raiders stayed; in the thirteenth century, much of the subcontinent was under Muslim rule, and the number of Muslims was constantly increasing. Only after the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in 1498 and the subsequent establishment of European maritime supremacy in the region, India was exposed to important external influences that arrived by sea, a process that culminated in the decline of the elite of the subcontinent within the British Empire.
The direct administration of the British, which began in 1858, effected a political and economic unification of the subcontinent. When the British government came to an end in 1947, the subcontinent was divided along religious lines into two separate countries: India, with a majority of Hindus, and Pakistan, with a majority of Muslims; the eastern part of Pakistan separated to form Bangladesh. Many British institutions remained in place (such as the parliamentary system of government); English continued to be a widely used lingua franca; and India remained within the Commonwealth. Hindi became the official language (and several other local languages achieved official status), while a vibrant English intelligentsia flourished.
India remains one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. In addition to its many religions and sects, India hosts innumerable castes and tribes, as well as more than a dozen minority linguistic groups and hundreds of unrelated language families. Religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, still account for a significant proportion of the population; collectively, their numbers exceed the populations of all countries except China. Great efforts have been made to instill a spirit of nationality in such a diverse population, but tensions between neighboring groups have been maintained and, on occasion, have led to outbreaks of violence. However, social legislation has greatly contributed to alleviating the disabilities previously suffered by previously “untouchable” castes, tribal populations, women and other traditionally disadvantaged segments of society. In independence, India was blessed with several world-class leaders, especially Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who were able to galvanize the masses at home and bring prestige to India abroad. The country has played an increasingly important role in world affairs.
The increasing physical prosperity and cultural dynamism of contemporary India – despite the continuing internal challenges and economic inequality – are seen in its well-developed infrastructure and a highly diversified industrial base, in its group of scientific and engineering personnel (one of the largest in the world). in the rhythm of its agricultural expansion, and in its rich and vibrant cultural exports of music, literature and cinema. Although the country’s population remains largely rural, India has three of the most populated and cosmopolitan cities in the world: Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta) and Delhi. Three other Indian cities, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Chennai (Madras) and Hyderabad, are among the fastest growing high-tech centers in the world, and most of the leading software and information technology companies have offices in the India.
The history section of the articles Pakistan and Bangladesh discuss these countries since their creation.
The border of India, which is approximately one third of the coast, borders six countries. It limits to the northwest with Pakistan, to the north with Nepal, China and Bhutan; and to the east by Myanmar (Burma). Bangladesh to the east is surrounded by India to the north, east and west. The island country of Sri Lanka is located about 40 miles (65 km) off the southeast coast of India through the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar.
The land of India – along with Bangladesh and most of Pakistan – forms a well-defined subcontinent, separated from the rest of Asia by the imposing mountain wall of the northern Himalayas and by the mountain ranges adjacent to the west and east. In the area, India ranks as the seventh largest country in the world.
Much of the territory of India lies within a large peninsula, surrounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east; Cape Comorin, the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula, marks the dividing line between these two bodies of water. India has two Union territories composed entirely of islands: Lakshadweep, in the Arabian Sea, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
It is now generally accepted that the geographical position of India, the continental contour and the basic geological structure resulted from a process of tectonic plates: the displacement of huge rigid plates of the crust over the underlying layer of molten material on Earth. The land mass of India, which forms the northwest portion of the Australian Indian plate, began to move slowly northward towards the much larger Eurasian plate several hundred million years ago (after the old one broke away from the old supercontinent of the southern hemisphere known as Gondwana or Gondwana) When the two finally collided (about 50 million years ago), the northern edge of the Australian Indian plate was pushed under the Eurasian plate at a low angle. The collision reduced the speed of the approaching plate, but the subversion, or subduction, of the plate has continued in contemporary times.
The effects of collision and continuous subduction are numerous and extremely complicated. An important consequence, however, was the cutting of the rock from the crust from the top of the subversion plate. These slices were thrown at the northern edge of the Indian land mass and formed a large part of the Himalayan mountain system. The new mountains – along with large amounts of sediments eroded by them – were so heavy that the Indian-Australian Plate south of the mountain range was forced downward, creating a zone of cortical subsidence. The continuous rapid erosion of the Himalayas was added to the sediment accumulation, which was later transported by the mountain streams to fill the sinking zone and cause it to sink further.
The current relief features of India have been superimposed on three basic structural units: the Himalayas in the north, the Deccan (region of the peninsular plateau) in the south, and the Indogangetic plain (located above the subsidence zone) between the two. More information on the geology of India is found in the Asia article.
The Himalayas (from the Sanskrit words hima, “snow” and alaya, “abode”), the highest mountainous system in the world, form the northern limit of India. That large geologically young mountain arch is approximately 1,550 miles (2,500 km) long, which extends from the peak of Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 meters]) in the Pakistan-administered portion of the Kashmir region to the Namcha peak Barwa in Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Between those extremes, mountains fall in India, southern Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The width of the system varies between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 km).
Within India, the Himalayas are divided into three longitudinal belts, called Outer, Lesser and Great Himalayas. At each end there is a large curve in the alignment of the system, from which extend a series of low mountain ranges and hills. Those in the west are entirely within Pakistan and Afghanistan, while those in the east are found on both sides of the border with Myanmar (Burma). North of the Himalayas are the Tibetan Plateau and several Trans-Himalayan mountain ranges, of which a small portion, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state (in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir), are within the limits territorial of India.
Due to the continuous subduction of the Indian peninsula against the Eurasian plate, the Himalayas and the associated eastern mountain ranges remain tectonically active. As a result, mountains continue to rise, and earthquakes, often accompanied by landslides, are common. Several since 1900 have been devastating, including one in 1934 in what is now the state of Bihar that killed more than 10,000 people. In 2001, another earthquake (the Bhuj earthquake), further from the mountains, in the state of Gujarat, was less powerful but caused extensive damage, claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people and left more than 500,000 homeless. Still others – especially the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal – mainly affected those regions, but also caused widespread damage and hundreds of deaths in adjacent parts of India. The relatively high frequency and wide distribution of earthquakes have also generated controversy over the safety and convenience of several hydroelectric and irrigation projects.
The Outer Himalayas (the Siwalik Range)
The southern end of the three mountain belts is the Outer Himalayas, also called the Siwalik Range (or Shiwalik). The crests in the Siwaliks, with an average of 3,000 to 5,000 feet (900 to 1,500 meters) in height, rarely exceed 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). The range narrows as it moves eastward and barely distinguishes itself beyond the Duars, a region of plains in the state of West Bengal. Interspersed in the Siwaliks are flat valleys (duns) strongly cultivated with a high density of population. To the south of the range is the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Weakly indurated, largely deforested and subject to heavy rainfall and intense erosion, the Siwaliks provide much of the sediment transported to the plain.
The Lesser Himalayas
North of the Siwaliks and separated from them by a fault zone, the Lesser Himalayas (also called Lower or Middle Himalayas) rise to heights ranging from 11,900 to 15,100 feet (3,600 to 4,600 meters). Its old name is Himachal (Sanskrit: hima, “snow” and acal, “mountain”). The mountains are composed of both ancient crystalline and geologically young rocks, sometimes in an inverted stratigraphic sequence due to push failures. The Lesser Himalayas are crossed by numerous deep gorges formed by fast-flowing streams (some of them older than the mountains themselves), which are fed by glaciers and snow fields to the north.
The Great Himalayas
The northernmost, or highest, Himalayas (in antiquity, the Himadri), with peaks in general above 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) of elevation, are composed of ancient crystalline rocks and ancient marine sedimentary formations. Between the Great Himalayas and the Small there are several fertile longitudinal valleys; In India, the largest is the Kashmir Valley, an ancient lake basin with an area of approximately 1,700 square miles (4,400 square km). The Great Himalayas, which range from 30 to 45 miles (50 to 75 km) in width, include some of the highest peaks in the world. The highest in the range, Mount Everest (at 29,035 feet [8,850 meters], see the Investigator’s Note: Mount Everest Height), is on the China-Nepal border, but India also has many high peaks. Notable among them is Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet [8,586 meters]) on the border of Nepal and the state of Sikkim, which is the third highest peak in the world and the highest point in India. Other high mountains in India include Nanda Devi (25,646 feet [7,817 meters]), Kamet (25,446 feet [7,755 meters]) and Trisul (23,359 feet [7,120]) in Uttarakhand. The Great Himalayas are mostly on the line of perpetual snows and therefore contain most of the glaciers of the Himalayas.
Associated ranges and hills
In general, the various regional ranges and hills run parallel to the main axis of the Himalayas. These are especially prominent in the northwest, where the Zaskar Cordillera and the Ladakh and Karakoram mountain ranges (all in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) run to the northeast of the Great Himalayas. Also in Jammu and Kashmir is the Pir Panjal mountain range, which, extending along the southwest of the Great Himalayas, forms the western and southern flanks of the Kashmir Valley.
At its eastern end, the Himalayas give way to a series of smaller mountain ranges that run northeast-southwest – including the wooded Patkai Range and the Naga and Mizo Hills – that stretch along the borders of India with Myanmar and Southeast of Bangladesh. Within the Naga Hills, Lake Logtak, in the valley of the Manipur River, is an important feature. The hills of Mikir branch off from those hills to the northwest, and to the west are the hills of Jaintia, Khasi and Garo, which extend just north of the Indian-Bangladeshi border. Collectively, this latter group is also designated as the Shillong Plateau (Meghalaya).
The Indo-Gangetic Plain
The Ganges river basin (in India, mainly in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) forms the central and main part of the plain. The eastern portion consists of the combined delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, which, although mainly in Bangladesh, also occupy a part of the adjacent Indian state of West Bengal. This deltaic zone is characterized by annual floods attributed to intense monsoon rains, an extremely mild gradient and a huge discharge that rivers drowned by alluvium can not contain within their channels. The basin of the Indus River, which extends west of Delhi, forms the western part of the plain; the Indian portion is found mainly in the states of Haryana and Punjab.
The general slope of the plain is practically imperceptible, with an average of only 6 inches per mile (95 mm per km) in the Ganges basin and a little more along the Indus and Brahmaputra. Even so, for those who cultivate their soils, there is an important distinction between bhangar – the slightly higher land and backyard of older alluvions – and the khadar, the most fertile and fresh alluvium in the low alluvial plain. In general, the ratio of the areas of Bhangar to those of Khadar increases upstream along all the major rivers. An exception to the largely monotonous relief is found in the southwest portion of the plain, where there are swampy areas with ravines that focus on the Chambal River. That area has been famous for a long time for hosting violent gangs of criminals called dacoits, who find refuge in its numerous hidden ravines.
The great Indian desert, or Thar, forms an important southern extension of the Indogangetic plain. It is mainly found in northwestern India, but also extends to eastern Pakistan and is mainly an area of gently rolling terrain, and within it there are several areas dominated by shifting sand dunes and numerous isolated hills. The latter provide visible evidence of the fact that the thin surface deposits of the region, partially alluvial and partially transported by the wind, are supported by the much older Indian-Australian Plate, of which the hills are structurally a part.
The rest of India is designated, not exactly at all, as the Deccan Plateau or Peninsular India. In reality, it is a topographically varied region that extends well beyond the peninsula, that part of the country that stretches between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, and includes a substantial area north of the Vindhya Range, which is popularly has considered as dividing between Hindustan (north of India) and the Deccan (from the Sanskrit dakshina, “south”).
Having once been a segment of the ancient continent of Gondwana, that land is the oldest and geologically stable of India. The plateau is mainly between 1,000 and 2,500 feet (300 to 750 meters) above sea level, and its general slope descends to the east. Several of the Deccan’s mountains have been eroded and rejuvenated several times, and only their remaining peaks bear witness to their geological past. The main peninsular block is composed of gneiss, granite-gneiss, schists and granites, as well as geologically recent basaltic lava flows.
The Western Ghats
The Western Ghats, also called Sahyadri, are a chain of north-south mountains or hills that mark the western edge of the Deccan Plateau region. They rise steeply from the coastal plain of the Arabian Sea as a scarp of variable height, but their eastern slopes are much softer. Western Ghats contain a series of residual plateaus and peaks separated by mounts and steps. The Mahabaleshwar mountain resort (resort), located on a laterite plateau, is one of the highest elevations in the northern half, rising to 4,700 feet (1,430 meters). The chain reaches greater heights in the south, where the mountains end in several high blocks bordered by steep slopes on all sides. These include the Nilgiri Hills, with its highest peak, Doda Betta (8,635 feet [2,637 meters]); and the hills of Anaimalai, Palni and Cardamom, the three that radiate from the highest peak of the Western Ghats, Anai Peak (Anai Mudi, 8,842 feet [2,695 meters]). The Western Ghats receive heavy rains, and several important rivers, especially the Krishna (Kistna) and the two sacred rivers, the Godavari and the Kaveri (Cauvery), have their headwaters there.
The Eastern Ghats
The Eastern Ghats are a series of discontinuous low mountain ranges that generally run from northeast to southwest, parallel to the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The largest sector – the remnant of an old mountain range that was later eroded and rejuvenated – is located in the Dandakaranya region, between the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers. That narrow range has a central ridge, the highest peak is Arma Konda (5,512 feet [1,680 meters]) in the northeast of the state of Andhra Pradesh. The hills fade further to the southwest, where they are traversed by the Godavari River through a gorge 40 miles (65 km) long. Further to the southwest, beyond the Krishna River, the eastern Ghats appear as a series of low chains and hills, which include Erramala, Nallamala, Velikonda and Palkonda. Southwest of the city of Chennai (Madras), the Eastern Ghats continue as the hills of Javadi and Shevaroy, beyond which they merge with the Western Ghats.
The northernmost part of the Deccan can be called the peninsular promontory. That large ill-defined area lies between the southern peninsula itself (roughly demarcated by the Vindhya mountain range) and the Indo-Gangetic plain and the great Indian desert (beyond the Aravalli mountain range) to the north.
The range of Aravalli (or Aravali) runs from southwest to northeast for more than 450 miles (725 km) from a mountain node near Ahmadabad, Gujarat, northeast of Delhi. These mountains are composed of ancient rocks and are divided into several parts, one of which is Sambhar Salt Lake. Its highest peak is Guru Peak (5,650 feet [1,722 meters]), at Mount Abu. The Aravallis form a division between the streams that flow to the west, which flow into the desert or the Rann de Kachchh (Kutch), and the Chambal and its tributaries into the catchment area of the Ganges River.
Between the Aravallis and the Vindhya Range lies the fertile basaltic Malwa plateau. The plateau rises gradually to the south, towards the foothills of the Vindhya Range, which is actually a south-facing escarpment deeply eroded by short currents that flow into the valley of the Narmada River below. The escarpment appears from the south as an imposing chain of mountains. The Narmada Valley forms the western and main portion of the Narmada-Son Canal, a continuous depression that extends southwest-northeast, mainly at the base of the Vindhya Range, for about 750 miles (1,200 km).
To the east of the peninsular promontory is the region of the Chota Nagpur plateau rich in minerals (mainly within Jharkhand, northwest Odisha [Orissa], and the states of Chhattisgarh). It is a region of numerous escarpments that separate areas of undulating terrain. To the southwest of the plateau of Chota Nagpur is the plain of Chhattisgarh, centered on Chhattisgarh on the upper course of the Mahanadi River.
Most of the inner zone to the south of the peninsular promontory and the plateau of Chota Nagpur is characterized by an undulating terrain and generally low relief, within which extend several mountain ranges, some of them similar to mesos formations, in several directions. It occupies most of the northwest portion of the peninsula (most of Maharashtra and some surrounding areas of Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka) is the Deccan lava plateau. The table-like characteristics are especially characteristic of this large fertile area, which is crossed by the Satpura, Ajanta and Balaghat mountain ranges.
Most of the coast of India flanks the eastern and western Ghats. In the northwest, however, much of the Gujarat coast lies northwest of the Western Ghats, which extends around the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) and into the marshes of the Kathiawar and Kachchh peninsula (Kutch). Those tidal marshes include the Great Rann of Kachchh along the border with Pakistan and the Little Rann of Kachchh between the two peninsulas. Because the level of the marshlands rises markedly during the rainy season, the Kachchh peninsula usually becomes an island for several months each year.
The southernmost area, especially the stretch from Daman to Goa (known as the Konkan coast), is criss-crossed by rias (flooded valleys) that extend inland into narrow riverine plains. These plains are dominated by low-level lateritic plateaus and are marked by promontories and alternate bays, the latter often housing crescent-shaped beaches. From Goa to the south to Cape Comorin (the southern tip of India) lies the coastal plain of Malabar, which was formed by sediment deposition along the coast. The plain, which varies between 15 and 60 miles (25 to 100 km) wide, is characterized by lagoons and brackish and navigable channels.
The predominantly deltaic eastern coastal plain is a deep sedimentation area. For most of its length it is considerably wider than the plain on the western coast. The main deltas, from south to north, are the rivers Kaveri, Krishna-Godavari, Mahanadi and Ganges-Brahmaputra. The last one is about 190 miles (300 km) wide, but only about a third is inside India. Crossed by innumerable distributaries, the Ganges delta is a poorly drained region, and the western part within Indian territory has become dying due to changes in the Ganges canals. The tidal incursions extend far inland, and any small temporary rise in sea level could submerge Kolkata (Calcutta), located about 95 miles (155 km) from the head of the Bay of Bengal. The eastern coastal plain includes several lagoons, the largest of which, Lakes Pulicat and Chilka (Chilika), have resulted from sediments deposited along the coast.
Several archipelagos in the Indian Ocean are politically a part of India. The Union Territory of Lakshadweep is a group of small coral atolls in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Malabar. Far from the east coast, which separates the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, there are the considerably larger and mountainous chains of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, also a union territory; the Andaman are closer to Myanmar and the Nicobar closer to Indonesia than to the mainland of India.
More than 70 percent of the territory of India flows into the Bay of Bengal through the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system and a series of large and small peninsular rivers. The areas that flow into the Arabian Sea, which account for approximately 20 percent of the total, are partially within the Indus drainage basin (in north-western India) and partially within a completely separate set of well drainage basins to the south (in Gujarat, west of Madhya Pradesh, north of Maharashtra and areas west of the Western Ghats). Most of the remaining area, less than 10 percent of the total, is found in interior drainage regions, especially in the Great Indian Desert of the state of Rajasthan (another is in the Aksai Chin, a barren plateau in a portion of administered Kashmir for China but claimed by India). Finally, less than 1 percent of the area of India, along the border with Myanmar, flows into the Andaman Sea through the tributaries of the Irrawaddy River.
Drainage in the Bay of Bengal
The Ganges-Brahmaputra river system
The Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, along with their tributaries, drain about a third of India. The Ganga (Ganga), considered sacred by the Hindu population of the country, is 1,560 miles (2,510 km) long. Although its deltaic portion is mainly found in Bangladesh, the course of the Ganges within India is longer than that of any of the other rivers in the country. It has numerous main streams that are fed by runoff and meltwater from the Himalayan glaciers and mountain peaks. The main headwaters, the Bhagirathi River, rise to a height of about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) at the foot of the Gangotri glacier, considered sacred by the Hindus.
The Ganges enters the Indogangetic plain in the city of Haridwar (Hardwar). From Haridwar to Kolkata, numerous tributaries join it. Proceeding from west to east, the Ghaghara, Gandak and Kosi rivers, all of which emerge from the Himalayas, join the Ganges from the north, while the Yamuna and Son are the two most important tributaries to the south. The Yamuna, which also has a source of the Himalayas (the Yamunotri glacier) and flows approximately parallel to the Ganges along its entire length, receives the flow of several important rivers, such as Chambal, Betwa and Ken, which originate on the promontory peninsular of India. Of the northern tributaries of the Ganges, the Kosi, the most destructive river in India (known as the “Pain of Bihar”), deserves special mention. Because of its great uptake in the Himalayas of Nepal and its gentle slope once it reaches the plain, the Kosi can not discharge the large volume of water it transports in its maximum flows, and frequently floods and changes its course.
The seasonal flows of the Ganges and other rivers fed by the meltwater of the Himalayas vary considerably less than those of the peninsular rivers exclusively fed by rain. This flow consistency improves its suitability for irrigation and, when the diversion of water for irrigation is not excessive, also for navigation.
Although the total length of the Brahmaputra (approximately 1,800 miles [2,900 km]) exceeds that of the Ganges, only 450 miles (725 km) of its route are found within India. The Brahmaputra, like the Indus, originates in a trans-Himalayan area about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Mapam Lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The river runs eastward through Tibet for more than half of its total length before cutting into India at the northern boundary of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Then it flows south and west through the state of Assam and south to Bangladesh, where it empties into the vast delta of the Ganges-Brahmaputra. The narrow basin of the Brahmaputra in Assam is prone to flooding due to its large catchment areas, parts of which experience excessively heavy rainfall.
The peninsular drainage in the Bay of Bengal includes a series of important rivers, especially the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri. Except for the Mahanadi, the headwaters of these rivers are found in the high-rainfall areas of the Western Ghats, and cross the entire width of the plateau (usually from northwest to southeast) before reaching the Bay of Bengal. The Mahanadi has its source at the southern edge of the Chhattisgarh plain.
The peninsular rivers of India have relatively steep gradients and, therefore, rarely give rise to floods of the type that occur in the plains of northern India, despite considerable variations in the flow from dry to wet seasons . The lower courses of some of these rivers are marked by rapids and gorges, usually when crossing the eastern Ghats. Due to its pronounced gradients, underlying rocky terrain and variable flow regimes, peninsular rivers are not navigable.
Drainage into the Arabian Sea
A substantial part of northwest India is included in the Indus drainage basin, which India shares with China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Indus and its longest tributary, the Sutlej, rise in the trans-Himalayan region of Tibet. Initially, the Indo flows northwestward between imposing mountains and crosses the state of Jammu and Kashmir before entering the portion of Kashmir administered by Pakistan. Then it travels generally to the southwest through Pakistan until it reaches the Arabian Sea. The Sutlej also flows northwest from its source, but enters India further south, on the edge of the state of Himachal Pradesh. From there it travels westward in the Indian state of Punjab and eventually enters Pakistan, where it flows into the Indus.
Between the Indus and the Sutlej are several other main tributaries of the Indus. The Jhelum, the northernmost of these rivers, flows from the Pir Panjal Range to the Kashmir Valley and from there through the Baramula Gorge to Kashmir administered by Pakistan. The other three, Chenab, Ravi and Beas, originate in the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. The Chenab travels through the state of Jammu and Kashmir before emptying into Pakistan; the Ravi forms part of the southern border between Jammu and Kashmir and the states of Himachal Pradesh and, thereafter, a short stretch of the India-Pakistan border before entering Pakistan; and the Beas flows entirely within India, joining the Sutlej in the Indian state of Punjab. The area through which the five tributaries of the Indus flow has traditionally been called Punjab (from the Persian panj, “five” and “water”). That area is currently located in the Indian state of Punjab (which contains the Sutlej and the Beas) and the Pakistani province of Punjab. Despite the lack of rainfall in the Punjab plains, moderately high Himalayan runoff ensures a year-round flow into the Indus and its tributaries, which are widely used for canal irrigation.
Further south, another notable river that flows into the Arabian Sea is the Luni of southern Rajasthan, which in most years has transported enough water to reach the Great Rann of Kachchh in western Gujarat. The Mahi River also flows through Gujarat, as do the two major river rivers in western Peninsular India: the Narmada (drainage basin 38,200 square miles [98,900 square kilometers]) and Tapi (Tapti) 25,000 square miles [65,000 square miles] square kilometers] ]). The Narmada and its basin have undergone a multipurpose development on a large scale. Most of the other peninsular rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea have short courses, and those that flow westward from the headwaters of the Western Ghats have seasonally torrential flows.
Lakes and Inland Drainage
For such a large country, India has few natural lakes. Most of the lakes in the Himalayas were formed when glaciers excavated a basin or dammed an area with dirt and rocks. Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, is the result of a tectonic depression. Although its area fluctuates, Wular Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in India.
The internal drainage in India is mainly ephemeral and almost entirely in the arid and semi-arid part of north-western India, particularly in the Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan, where there are several ephemeral salt lakes, mainly Sambhar Salt Lake, the lake largest in India. Those lakes are fed by short intermittent streams, which experience flash floods during occasional heavy rains and become dry and lose their identity once the rains are over. The water in the lakes also evaporates and subsequently leaves a layer of white saline soils, of which a considerable amount of salt is commercially produced. Many of the largest lakes in India are reservoirs formed by river dams.
There is a wide range of soil types in India. As products of natural environmental processes, they can be broadly divided into two groups: in situ soils and transported soils. The in situ soils obtain their distinctive characteristics from the mother rocks, which are sifted by the flow of water, the sliding glaciers and the drifting wind and are deposited in terrestrial forms such as the valleys of the rivers and coastal plains. The sieving process of such soils has led to the deposition of materials in layers without any marked pedological horizon, although it has altered the original chemical composition of the soils in situ.
Among the in situ soils are red to yellow (including laterite) and black soils known locally as regur. After that, alluvial soil is the third most common type. Also significant are the desert soils of Rajasthan, the saline soils in Gujarat, the south of Rajasthan, and some coastal areas, and the mountainous soils of the Himalayas. The type of soil is determined by numerous factors, including climate, relief, elevation and drainage, as well as by the composition of the underlying rock material.
In Situ Soils – Red-to-yellow Soils
These soils are found in large areas not alluvial peninsular India and are formed by acid rocks such as granite, gneiss and shale. They develop in areas where rain filters soluble minerals from the soil and results in a loss of chemically basic components; A corresponding proportional increase in oxidized iron imparts a reddish hue to many of these soils. Therefore, they are commonly described as ferralitic soils. In extreme cases, the concentration of iron oxides leads to the formation of a hard crust, in which case they are described as lateritic soils (for later, the Latin term meaning “brick”). The strongly leached red to yellow soils are concentrated in the high-rainfall areas of the Western Ghats, the western Kathiawar peninsula, eastern Rajasthan, the eastern Ghats, the Chota Nagpur plateau region and other northeastern highlands. India Less leached red to yellow soils occur in areas of low rainfall immediately east of the western Ghats in the dry interior of the Deccan. Soils from red to yellow are generally infertile, but that problem is partly improved in the forest tracts, where the concentration of humus and the recycling of nutrients help to restore fertility in the upper layer of the soil.
Among in situ soils in India, the black soils found in the lava-covered areas are the most conspicuous. These soils are often referred to as regur but are popularly known as “black cotton soils”, since cotton has been the most common traditional crop in the areas where they are found. Black soils are derived from lava traps and extend mainly through the interior of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh on the Deccan lava plateau and the Malwa plateau, where there is moderate precipitation and an underlying basalt rock. Due to their high clay content, black soils develop wide cracks during the dry season, but their granular structure rich in iron makes them resistant to the erosion of wind and water. They are poor in humus but highly retentive of moisture, so they respond well to irrigation. These soils are also found in many peripheral tracts where the underlying basalt has been displaced from its original location by fluvial processes. Sifting has only led to a higher concentration of clastic content.
The alluvial soils are very widespread. They occur along the Indogangetic Plain and along the lower courses of practically all the main rivers of the country (especially the deltas along the east coast). The non-lactic plains along the coasts of India are also marked by narrow alluvial ribbons.
The new alluvium found in much of the floodplain of the Indogangetic is called khadar and is extremely fertile and uniform in texture; On the other hand, the old alluvium in the slightly elevated terraces, called bhangar, has patches of alkaline efflorescence, called using, that render some areas infertile. In the Ganges basin, the sandy aquifers that hold a huge reserve of groundwater ensure irrigation and help the plain to be the most productive agricultural region in the country.
India provides the most pronounced example of a monsoon climate in the world. The wet and dry seasons of the Indian monsoon system, together with the annual temperature fluctuations, produce three general climatic periods in much of the country: (1) hot humid climate from mid-June to the end of September, (2) fresh dry climate from the beginning of October to February, and (3) dry and hot weather (although usually with high atmospheric humidity) from about March to mid-June. The actual duration of these periods may vary for several weeks, not only from one part of India to another, but also from one year to the next. The regional differences, which are often considerable, are due to a series of internal factors, such as elevation, type of relief and proximity to water bodies.
A monsoon system is characterized by a seasonal inversion of the predominant directions of the wind and alternating wet and dry seasons. In India, the wet season, called the southwest monsoon, occurs from mid-June to early October, when winds from the Indian Ocean transport moisture-laden air across the subcontinent, causing heavy rains and, often, considerable flooding. Generally, about three-quarters of the country’s total annual rainfall falls during those months. During the driest months (called retreating monsoons), especially from November to February, that pattern is reversed, since the dry air of the Asian interior moves through India to the ocean. October and March to May, on the other hand, are typically periods of neglected breezes without strong predominant patterns.
The southwest monsoon
Although the winds of the rainy season are called southwest monsoons, they actually follow two generally distinct branches, one that flows initially eastward from the Arabian Sea and the other northward from the Bay of Bengal. The first begins by striking the west coast of peninsular India and ascending over the adjacent Western Ghats. By crossing these mountains, the air cools (thus losing its moisture capacity) and the rain deposits copiously on the windward side of the mountain barrier. The annual rainfall in parts of the region exceeds 100 inches (2,540 mm) and is as high as 245 inches (6,250 mm) in Mahabaleshwar on the crest of the Western Ghats. On the contrary, as the winds descend on the leeward side of the western Ghats, the moisture capacity of the air increases and the resulting rain shadow creates a semiarid terrain belt, largely with less than 25 inches (635). mm) of precipitation per year.
The monsoon branch of the Bay of Bengal traverses eastern India and Bangladesh and, in several areas, precipitates in much the same way as occurs throughout the western Ghats. The effect is particularly pronounced in the Shillong Plateau, where in Cherrapunji the average annual rainfall is 450 inches (11,430 mm), one of the heaviest in the world. The valley of Brahmaputra to the north also experiences a shadow effect of rain; however, the problem is mitigated by the adjacent Himalayas, which causes the winds to rise again, thus establishing a parallel ribbon of intense precipitation. Blocked by the Himalayas, the monsoon branch of the Bay of Bengal deviates to the west through the Gangetic plain, reaching Punjab only in the first week of July.
In the plain of the Ganges, the two branches merge into one. By the time they reach Punjab, their moisture is consumed to a large extent. The gradual reduction in the amount of rain to the west is evidenced by the decrease of 64 inches (1,625 mm) in Kolkata to 26 inches (660 mm) in Delhi and desert conditions further to the west. Over the northeastern portion of peninsular India, the two branches also collide intermittently, creating weak weather fronts with enough rain to produce fairly high precipitation spots (more than 60 inches [1,520 mm]) on the Chota Nagpur plateau.
Rainfall during the Retreating Monsoon
Much of India experiences infrequent and relatively weak precipitation during the retreating monsoon. An exception to this rule occurs along the southeastern coast of India and by a certain distance inland. When the retreating monsoon blows from the northeast through the Bay of Bengal, it picks up a significant amount of moisture, which is then released after returning to the peninsula. Therefore, from October to December, the coast of the state of Tamil Nadu receives at least half of its approximately 40 inches (1,000 mm) of annual precipitation. That rainy extension of the usually dry monsoon retreat is called the northeast monsoon or winter.
Another type of winter precipitation occurs in northern India, which receives weak cyclonic storms originating in the Mediterranean basin. In the Himalayas, these storms bring weeks of drizzle and cloudiness and are followed by waves of cold and snowy temperatures. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in particular receives much of its rainfall from storms.
Fierce tropical cyclones occur in India during what may be called the premonzon, early monsoon or postmonsoon periods. Native to both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, tropical cyclones often reach speeds of more than 100 miles (160 km) per hour and are notorious for causing heavy rains and storm surges as they cross the coast of India. The coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal are especially susceptible to such storms.
Importance to Agriculture
The monsoons play a fundamental role in Indian agriculture, and the considerable annual variability of rainfall, both in time and quantity, introduces much uncertainty into the yield of the country’s crops. Good years bring abundant harvests, but years of little rain can cause a total loss of crops in large areas, especially where irrigation is lacking. Large-scale floods can also cause damage to crops. As a general rule, the greater the average annual rainfall of an area, the more reliable is its precipitation, but few areas of India have an average rainfall high enough to be free from the possibility of an occasional drought and the consequent failure of the harvest.
Temperatures in India are generally the warmest in May or June, just before the cooling downpours of the southwest monsoon. A secondary maximum occurs often in September or October when precipitation decreases. The temperature range tends to be significantly lower along the coastal plains than in the interior locations. The range also tends to increase with latitude. Near the southern tip of India, the seasonal range is only a few degrees; for example, in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), in Kerala, there is an average fluctuation of only 4.3 ° F (2.4 ° C) around an annual average temperature of 81 ° F (27 ° C). In the northwest, however, the range is much higher, as, for example, in Ambala, in Haryana, where the temperature fluctuates from 56 ° F (13 ° C) in January to 92 ° F (33 ° C) in June . Temperatures also moderate where elevations are important, and many tourist cities in the Himalayas, called hill stations (a legacy of the British colonial government), offer a welcome relief from the sometimes oppressive heat of India. Occasionally, heat waves, like the one that spread to much of the subcontinent in mid-2015, can be highly deadly.
Plant and animal life – Vegetation
The flora of India largely reflects the distribution of rainfall in the country. Tropical forests of broad perennial and mixed, partially perennial leaves grow in areas with high rainfall; in successive less rainy areas there are moist and dry deciduous forests, shrubs, meadows and desert vegetation. The coniferous forests are confined to the Himalayas. There are around 17,000 species of flowering plants in the country. The physical isolation of the subcontinent, caused by its relief and climatic barriers, has resulted in a considerable number of endemic flora.
Approximately a quarter of the country is covered in forests. However, from the end of the 20th century, the depletion of forests accelerated considerably to make room for greater urban agricultural and industrial development. That activity has taken a toll on many plant species in India. It is believed that some 20 species of higher order plants became extinct and it is already considered that some 1,300 species are in danger of extinction.
Perennial evergreen and deciduous mixed tropical forests generally occupy areas with more than 80 inches (2,000 mm) of rainfall per year, mainly in the upper part of Assam, the western Ghats (especially in Kerala), parts of Odisha and the Andaman Islands and Nicobar The common trees in these high-rise multi-storey forests include species of Mesua, Toona ciliata, Hopea and Eugenia, as well as gurjun (Dipterocarpus turbinatus), which grows to heights that exceed 165 feet (50 meters) on the Andaman and Assam islands. . Deciduous deciduous forests of Kerala and the Himalayas of Bengal have a variety of commercially valuable hardwood trees, of which Lagerstroemia lanceolata, East Indian or Malabar, Kino (Pterocarpus marsupium) and rosewood are well known (Dalbergia latifolia).
Tropical moist deciduous forests are generally found in areas with rainfall between 60 and 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm), such as the northern part of the eastern Ghats, eastern central India and western Karnataka. Dry deciduous forests, which grow in places that receive less than 60 inches (1,500 mm) of precipitation, characterize the sub-humid and semi-arid regions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan, central Andhra Pradesh and western Tamil Nadu. Teak, salt (Shorea robusta), tree wood (Anogeissus latifolia), tendu, ain and Adina cardifolia are some of the main deciduous species.
Tropical thorn forests occupy areas in different parts of the country, although mainly in the northern Gangetic plain and southern peninsular India. These forests generally grow in areas with less than 24 inches (600 mm) of rainfall, but are also found in more humid areas, where deciduous forests have been degraded due to unregulated grazing, logging and shifting cultivation. In these areas, xerophilous trees (tolerant to drought) predominate, such as acacia species (babul and catechu) and Butea monosperma.
Important commercial species include teak and salt. Teak, the main species of wood, is largely confined to the peninsula. During the period of British rule, it was widely used in shipbuilding, and certain forests were reserved, therefore, as teak plantations. Sal is confined to the lower Himalayas, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam and Madhya Pradesh. Other species with commercial uses are sandalwood (Santalum album), fragrant wood that is perhaps the most precious in the world, and rosewood, an evergreen tree that is used for carving and furniture.
Many other species are worthy of mention, some due to the special ecological niches they occupy. The deltaic areas, for example, are bordered by mangrove forests, in which the dominant species called sundri or sundari (Heritiera fomes), which is not, properly speaking, a mangrove, is characterized by the respiratory roots that emerge from the water. the tides. The remarkable characteristics of the tropical landscape are the palms, which are represented in India by some 100 species. Coconut and betel nut (whose fruit is chewed) are grown mainly on the coasts of Karnataka and Kerala. Among the common trees of majestic aspect found in much of India are the mango, an important source of fruit, and two venerable species of Ficus, the pipal (famous as the Bo tree of the Buddha) and the banyan. Many types of bamboo (members of the grass family) grow in much of the country, with a concentration in the rainy areas.
The vegetation in the Himalayas can generally be divided into several elevation zones. Mixed evergreen and deciduous forests dominate hilly areas up to 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). The subtropical pine forests make their appearance on this level, followed by the temperate humid forests of the Himalayas of oak, spruce, cedar (Cedrus deodara) and spruce. The highest area of the tree, consisting of alpine shrubs, is up to a height of about 15,000 feet (4,500 meters). Rhododendrons are common at 12,000 feet (3,700 meters), above which are occasional junipers and alpine meadows. The zones overlap considerably, and there are broad transition bands.
India forms an important segment of what is known as the eastern, or Sino-Indian biogeographical region, which extends eastward from India to include the continent and much of Southeast Asian insular. Its fauna is numerous and very diverse.
The mammals of the submontane region include Indian elephants (Elephas maximus) – associated since time immemorial with the mythology and splendor of royal splendor – the large Indian rhinoceros with a horn, a great variety of ruminants and several primates. There are also numerous predators represented by several genera.
Wild herds of elephants can be observed in several areas, especially in renowned national parks such as Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, in Kerala, and Bandipur, in Karnataka. The Indian rhinoceros is protected in the Kaziranga National Park and the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.
Examples of ruminants include the wild Indian bison, or gaur (Bos gaurus), which lives in the peninsular forests; Indian buffalo; four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis), locally known as chousingha; blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), or Indian antelope; antelope known as nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) or bluebuck; and the Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), or ghorkhar. There are also several species of deer, such as the rare deer of Kashmir (hangul), swamp deer (barasingha), spotted deer, musk deer, deer facing (Cervus eldi eldi, an endangered species known locally as sangai or thamin) and mouse deer.
Among the primates are several monkeys, including rhesus and gray monkeys, or Hanuman, langurs (Presbytis entellus), found in wooded areas and near human settlements. The only monkey found in India, the gibbon hoolock, is confined to the rainforests of the eastern region. The lion-tailed macaques of the Western Ghats, with tufts of hair around their faces, are becoming rare due to poaching.
The carnivores of the country include cats, dogs, foxes, jackals and mongooses. Among the prey animals, the Asian lion, now confined to the Gir National Park, on the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat, is the only subspecies of lion found outside of Africa. The majestic tiger of India or Bengal (Panthera tigris tigris), the national animal of India, is known for its rich color, illusory design and formidable power. Of the five subspecies of tigers existing throughout the world, the Bengal tiger is the most numerous. Tigers are found in the forests of the Tarai region in northern India, Bihar and Assam; the Ganges delta in West Bengal; the oriental Ghats; Madhya Pradesh; and the east of Rajasthan. Once on the verge of extinction, Indian tigers have increased to several thousand, thanks in large part to the Tiger Project, which has established reserves in various parts of the country. Among other cats there are leopards, clouded leopards and several smaller species.
The Great Himalayas have a remarkable fauna that includes sheep and wild goats, Markhor (Capra falconeri) and ibex. Pandas and snow leopards are also found in the high parts of the mountains.
Oxen, buffaloes, horses, dromedaries, camels, sheep, goats and pigs are common domesticated animals. The brahman breed, or zebu (Bos indicus), a species of ox, is an important draft animal.
India has more than 1,200 bird species and perhaps 2,000 subspecies, although some migratory species are found in the country only during the winter. The amount of avian life in the country represents approximately one eighth of the world’s species. The main reason for such a level of diversity is the presence of a wide variety of habitats, from the cold and dry alpine tundra of Ladakh and Sikkim to the humid and entangled jungles of Sundarbans and the humid and wet forests of the Western Ghats. the northeast. The country’s largest rivers provide deltas and backwaters for the life of aquatic animals, and many smaller rivers drain inland and end up in saline lakes that are important breeding grounds for birds such as black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis), geese bearded (Anser indicus), and large crested grebes, as well as several types of terns, gulls, plovers and washerwomen. Herons, storks, ibises and flamingos are well represented, and many of these birds frequent the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, near Bharatpur, Rajasthan (designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1985). The Rann de Kachchh forms the nest of one of the largest flamingo colonies in the world.
Raptors include hawks, vultures and eagles. Vultures are ubiquitous consumers of carrion. Game birds are represented by pheasants, jungle birds, partridges and quail. Peacocks (peacocks) are also common, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan, where they are kept as pets. With resplendent feathers, the peacock has been adopted as the national bird of India.
Other notable birds in India include the Indian crane, commonly known as the sarus (Grus antigone); A large gray bird with crimson legs, the sarus is as tall as a human. Bustards inhabit the prairies of India. The great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), now confined to central and western India, is an endangered species protected by legislation. The capercaillie, pigeons, pigeons, parakeets and cuckoos are found throughout the country. The kingfisher, mainly non-migratory, that lives near bodies of water, is considered sacred in many areas. Hornbills, barbers and woodpeckers are also common, as are larks, ravens, charlatans and thrushes.
Reptiles, fish and insects
Reptiles are well represented in India. The crocodiles inhabit the rivers, swamps and lakes of the country. The estuarine crocodile (Crocodilus porosus), which reaches a maximum length of 30 feet (9 meters), although specimens exceeding 20 feet (6 meters) are now rare, it usually lives in the fish, birds and crabs of the deltaic regions muddy The long-nosed or gavial gavial (Gavialis gangeticus), a species similar to the crocodile, is endemic to northern India; It is found in a series of large rivers, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra and their tributaries. Of the almost 400 species of snakes, a fifth are poisonous. The kraits and the cobras are poisonous species especially disseminated. Real cobras often grow to at least 12 feet (3.6 meters) in length. The Indian python frequents marshy areas and pastures. Lizards are also widespread, and turtles are found throughout India, especially along the east coast.
Of some 2,000 fish species in India, about a fifth live in freshwater. Common edible freshwater fish include catfish and several members of the carp family, especially the mahseer, which grows up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) and 200 pounds (90 kg). Sharks are found in the coastal waters of India and sometimes travel inland through major estuaries. Commercially valuable marine species include shrimp, prawns, crabs, lobsters, pearl oysters and shells.
Among the commercially valuable insects are silkworms, bees and the lac insect (Laccifer lacca). The latter secretes a sticky and resinous material called lac, which produces shellac and a red dye. Many other insects, such as various mosquito species, are vectors of diseases (eg, malaria and yellow fever) or human parasites (eg, certain flatworms and nematodes).
The movement for the protection of forests and wildlife is strong in India. Several species, including the elephant, the rhinoceros and the tiger, have declared themselves in danger of extinction, and many others, large and small, are considered vulnerable or endangered. Legislative measures have declared that certain animals are protected species, and areas with a particularly rich floral diversity have been adopted as biosphere reserves. Virtually no forests remain in private hands. Projects susceptible to causing ecological damage must be approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change of the national government. Despite such measures, the reduced areas of forests, savannahs and grasslands provide little hope that India’s animal population can be restored to what it was at the end of the 19th century.