Discover India


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India is an Asian subcontinent that reaches into the Indian Ocean. With 1.3 billion people it is the second most populous country in the world. India is a land full of contrast, from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains in the north to the tropical forests of southern India.

Although most people speak English there are many dialects and languages next to Hindi, India’s national language. Over half a century after it had become independent from Great Britain, India has become one of Asia’s leading powers. However, the gap between rich and poor is still present and many millions of Indians live in extreme poverty.

Physical Geography and Landscapes

India is a peninsula that extends into the Indian Ocean. It is bordered in the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan and in the east by Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. In the north it has a common border with Bhutan, Nepal and China.

India got its present form millions of years ago when it started to drift away from the southern continent of Gondwana. After travelling northwards it collided with the Asia . During this period the world’s tallest mountains, the Himalayas, were formed. This process is still continuing as the Himalayas are getting higher and higher.

The Himalayan Mountain Range from the International Space Station
Image : NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This gigantic mountain system stretches across Asia for almost 2,200 kilometers. Several parallel ranges of mountains are divided by river valleys. 14 peaks have a height of over 8,000 meters.

South of the Himalayan Mountains lie vast plains which were created by the Indus River in the west and the Ganges River in the east. They extend across northern India for about 2000 km and are up to 300 km wide. The region is not only the heart of India’s fertile farming land but also the most densely populated region of the country. The Ganges is India’s most important river. The sacred river of Hinduism starts out in the Himalayan Mountains and winds its way to Calcutta, where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.


Boats on the Ganges River at Varanasi
Image: Jeeheon Cho from Surat Thani, ThailandCC BY 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The southern part of India is formed mostly by the Deccan plateau. This geologically oldest part of India lies, on average, a thousand meters above sea level. The plateau is bordered by two mountain ranges: the Western Ghats rise along the Arabian Sea and the Eastern Ghats are parallel to the Bay of Bengal.

Landscapes of India

India’s Climate

India’s climate is dominated by the monsoon winds. They blow constantly from June to September. Winds coming from the Indian Ocean absorb wet air on their way to the Indian subcontinent. During this period much of India receives heavy rainfall. The heaviest rain falls in the northeastern part of India, on the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. In some cases areas receive many meters of rainfall annually.

The monsoon is very important for India’s agriculture. It brings rain to normally dry areas so that crops like rice and corn can grow there. When the monsoon does not come or comes too late, much of India experiences a shortage of crops and food. During strong monsoon rains villages, roads and railway lines are often flooded.

In the winter time the monsoon changes its direction and blows as a dry, cool wind from the inner parts of Asia over the Himalayan Mountains to India. From October to February it can get very cold in the Himalayas.

From March to June it is dry but hot in India. Temperatures in the desert regions of northwestern India can rise up to 45°.

During the monsoon months, wet winds move towards India. They bring heavy rainfall to the Himalayan Mountains. The wet air moves up the mountains where it loses all of its moisture. On the other side of the Himalayas it is dry and warm.

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via Wikimedia Commons


People have been living in India for thousands of years. The first civilization developed in the Indus Valley. In the 8th century Islam started spreading to India and in the 13th century a kingdom was set up around Delhi.

The Mughals, a powerful group of Muslims, took control of India in about 1500. Within a century, its kingdom spread to all of India.

When the age of exploration began towards the end of the 15th century European navigators came to India. The Portuguese Vasco da Gama was the first explorer to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in his quest to reach southern and southeastern Asia. As time went on, British influence in India grew stronger and stronger. By the middle of the 18th century the Mughals had lost their power and the British East India Company not only controlled trade but also governed most of India.

Vasco da Gama sails around the Cape of Good Hope
Image: User:PhiLiPCC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

During the next hundred years Indians started rebelling against the British leaders. They were defeated in an open conflict and in the middle of the 19th century Great Britain decided to rule India directly.

At the beginning of the 20th century the nationalist movement in India became very strong. Most Indians thought the British did not treat them well, even though they built railway lines and factories. In 1920 Mahatma Gandhi became the leader of the Indian independence movement. He convinced his fellow Indians that the best way to fight the British was to protest in a peaceful way and not to use violence.

After World War II Great Britain agreed to grant India full independence. In 1947, the subcontinent was divided into two countries: India, with a Hindu majority and Pakistan, a land of Muslims. Shortly afterwards fighting broke out between these two religious factions. In 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Up to the present day the relations between India and Pakistan have been tense. One of the main conflicts is Kashmir, a province in the north, which is claimed by both countries.

Despite the fact that India has had problems with its many religious groups, the world’s second most populous country has been a stable democracy since it became independent.

Mahatma Gandhi


India’s Population Problems

People with different cultures and languages have been living together in India for thousands of years. While there are hundreds of different languages on the subcontinent the official language is Hindi, while most people speak English too. About 80% of the Indian population is Hindu. Muslims are the biggest minority.

Today India is the home to over 1 billion people. By 2050 it will surpass China as the most populous country in the world. Experts think that India will reach a total of 1.8 billion before population growth begins to decrease. In contrast to China’s one-child policy, family planning in India has not been consistent. In the 1970s and 80s the government tried to control population growth by forcing people to have sterilizations. Today, however, there are signs that population growth is slowing down. Contraception is becoming widely available in many areas and especially Indian women in rural areas are being more educated.

Every Indian woman gets almost 3 children, compared to a little over one child per family in the west. As in many Asian societies children are needed to do work and care for family members when they get older. Boys are more valuable than girls, who marry at an early age. About a third of India’s population is under 14, which makes it one of the youngest countries on earth. Apart from that India still has the largest proportion of people who cannot read and write.

Indian population compared to China

More than 70% of Indian people live in the countryside, in smaller villages and towns. As the rural population is becoming poorer more and more people are moving to the big cities where they live in overcrowded slums with no electricity or clean water. As a result, cities like Mumbai, Calcutta and New Delhi are exploding with people they have no jobs for.

Overpopulation in India is causing even more problems. An increasing population living on the same land will quickly use up the limited resources the country has. Medical conditions are getting worse and diseases are spreading faster. More and more Indians are living below the poverty line.

Flower Market in Calcutta
Image: Peter AndersenCC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Slums in Mumbai
Image : Sthitaprajna JenaCC BY-SA 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Caste System

A large part of Indian society still lives in a system dominated by castes. A caste is a social class which every Indian is born into. There are a few thousand castes in India and each one of them has their own traditions and customs. Once a person is born into a caste they cannot get out, or marry someone from a different caste. Castes have existed throughout Indian history and although they are based on Hindu beliefs, other religions live in castes too. The caste system tells people which jobs they can have and with which people they can have contact.

The caste system is based on four major classes. At the top are the Brahmins or priests. Below them are rulers, kings, soldiers and other people who work in the government. Then come bankers, businessmen and traders. At the bottom of the caste system are normal workers and farmers.

Each caste has certain rights and privileges. Everyone, for example, can get food from a Brahmin, but a priest himself is thought to be polluted if he receives food from a person of a lower caste.

A large group of people, called untouchables, live outside the caste system. Untouchables are often homeless people who live on the streets and under bridges. They do work that nobody else does and are often excluded in Hindu ceremonies. They are not allowed to drink water from a public fountain for fear of polluting the water for others.

Although the caste system is no longer officially allowed, it still exists, especially in the rural areas of India.

India’s caste system

Cities in India


Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is India’s most populous city. Millions of people live on an island which is connected to the mainland. Mumbai is the center of banking and business, as well as India’s film industry, Bollywood. Originally a Portuguese trading post, Mumbai was given to the British in the 17th century.


Today the city is divided. Old Delhi, with many historic buildings and mosques was built in the 1600s. New Delhi, which became India’s capital, was built in the early part of the 20th century. It is a designed city with many broad roads and government buildings.


Kolkata is the largest city in the eastern part of India. Also known as Calcutta, the city lies in the Ganges River delta, about 150 km from the coast. Today, it struggles with overpopulation and poverty .


Bangalore is regarded as India’s Silicon Valley. The city has many universities and research institutes.


Chennai is the biggest industrial and commercial center of Southern India.


The city developed into a major center of Islamic culture in India. In former times it was the center of pearl trading.

Lotus temple in New Delhi
Image: A.Savin, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Image:Ravikan Rao (Ravikiranr)CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

India’s Economy

As one of the largest countries in the world India has a thriving economy. But because of the many people that live in the country, their average income is still very low. In the first decades after becoming independent, India’s government controlled much of the economy, making it very difficult for foreign companies to invest freely. In the few decades this has changed. India has chosen a more capitalist way to go.


Over half of India’s people get their income from farming. The most important products are corn, rice, sorghum and wheat. Other products include tea, cotton, sugar cane and jute.

The Green Revolution in the 1960s made it possible for India to provide enough food for its population. New technology in farming, hybrid crops, the use of fertilizers, irrigation programs and more automation improved the quantity and quality of crops that farmers got from their land. India’s farms are small, mainly because they are split up among the children of a family when their father dies.

Cows are sacred animals in India and people respect them. As Hindus are not allowed to eat beef the south Asian country has almost a third of the world’s cattle. Cows can be seen roaming the streets almost everywhere. In many rural areas they are still used to plow the fields.

Rice farming in India
Image: Diganta TalukdarCC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Industry and Mining

India is one of the world’s biggest producers of iron ore and coal. As a result, the iron and steel industry is a basis for producing cars and other vehicles, ships and electrical goods. Although the textile industry is a traditional sector of the economy that the British built up, many clothes are still produced at home. Handicraft and hand-made jewellery are sources of income for millions of people.

The chemical industry is one of the fastest growing in India. Almost 13% of the country’s GDP comes from this part of the economy. It also caused the worst industrial accident in history. In 1984 a poisonous gas escaped from an American chemical plant in Bhopal, killing 20,000 people. A few years later the American company paid almost 500 million dollars to the victims and their families.

The Service Sector

In the last decades India has experienced a boom in the service sector. Today about half of the country’s money comes from it. India has a great reputation in the computer sector, producing millions of IT experts, who are welcomed all over the world because of their great skills. Software and computer technology from India have become very popular. Western companies hire these experts because they are cheaper than laborers at home.

In addition, India has become the world capital of call centers. This service is very popular in the west, especially among British and American firms. Other expanding areas of the service sector include telecommunications and banking.


India’s state-owned railway system goes back to the British colonial government of the 19th century. The British exploited India’s raw materials and built a big network of railway lines to get them to the coast. Today, millions of people travel by train, one of the cheapest ways of travelling, and the only means of transport that poor people can afford.

Although the Indian government has built many new roads in the past, a large number of Indians are still are without cars. Especially in rural India people often walk long distances and use carts for transport. Rickshaws are widespread in many Indian cities.

Railway Station in India
Image: Sridhar RaoCC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons


About 70% of India’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels. The country must import oil and gas to meet its energy demands. India also plans to increase the number of nuclear power stations, even though the Fukushima disaster has raised questions of the safety of nuclear energy. As the economy increases at a fast pace it is doubtful whether India’s electricity production can keep up.

Economic Problems

Even though India has made large steps in economic growth, many problems remain unsolved. Growing bureaucracy, unemployment and corruption are only a few. In contrast to the days when many Indians left their country to work in the developed world, more and more are coming back to settle down hoping to achieve a better standard of living in their home country.

Nuclear power plant in India
Image : Reetesh ChaurasiaCC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons



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