In area, India is the world's seventh largest country. It is bordered on the east by Bangladesh and Myanmar; on the west by Pakistan; and by Nepal, China (including Tibet), and Bhutan on the north. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in the extreme north, which is claimed by India, has long been the subject of hostile boundary disputes among India, Pakistan, and China.

Land Regions

India has three main land divisions: the Himalaya mountain system in the north; the Gangetic Plain of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers; and the peninsula of southern India.

The Himalayas. The great mountain wall of the Himalayas stretches for some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) across northern and northeastern India. The Himalayas consist of three parallel ranges--the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the Outer Himalayas. At their western end stands another lofty mountain range, the Karakoram.

The Great Himalayas and Karakoram have an average elevation of more than 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) and contain the highest mountains in the world, including K2 (or Mt. Godwin Austen), the world's second highest mountain peak. It is situated in the Karakoram, in a part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. At 28,250 feet (8,611 meters), K2 ranks second only to Mt. Everest, which lies on the border between Tibet and Nepal. The world's third highest peak, Kanchenjunga, on the border between the Indian state of Sikkim and Nepal, rises to 28,169 feet (8,586 meters).

The mountains of the Lesser Himalayas, though smaller, also reach considerable heights. They are crossed by numerous large valleys, some of which are fertile and of great scenic beauty. Indians who can do so visit hill stations (mountain resorts) here, such as Simla and Darjeeling, to escape the intense summer heat of the plains.

The low foothills of the Outer Himalayas lie between the Lesser Himalayas and the Gangetic Plain.

The Gangetic Plain. The lowlands of the Gangetic Plain, also known as northern plains, stretch in a wide arc across India. This is the country's most productive and densely populated region. All three of the great rivers that water these lowlands--the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra--are fed by the permanent snows and glaciers of the Himalayas.

Peninsular India. Southern India consists of a vast wedge-shaped peninsula covered mostly by a plateau called the Deccan. The plateau is separated from the Gangetic Plain by many hills varying in height and is bounded on the east and west by two low mountain ranges--the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats. The average elevation of the Eastern Ghats is about 2,000 feet (610 meters), although in some places the mountains rise to almost three times that height. The Western Ghats are more rugged, with elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 feet (900 to 1,500 meters).

The northwestern part of the Deccan is covered by vast lava flows from ancient volcanoes. Successive lava flows created what is known as the Deccan Traps, which look like giant staircases. They are actually weathered step-like, flat-topped hills, and they are a major scenic feature of the region.

The west coast of the peninsula is a land of small fishing villages, coconut palms, and spice gardens. In the hills a few miles inland are coffee, tea, and rubber plantations.

Rivers and Coastal Waters

Much of India is surrounded by major bodies of water--the Arabian Sea to the west, the Indian Ocean to the south, and the Bay of Bengal to the east.

The name "India" is derived from the Indus River, one of the great rivers of Asia. The greater part of the Indus basin now lies in Pakistan.

To Hindus, the Ganges is the most sacred of India's rivers. Its headwaters rise in the Great Himalayas, near the peak of Nanda Devi. The Ganges enters the plain through a gorge (opening) in the Outer Himalayas in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It flows due east, turns south, and with the Brahmaputra River flows through the nation of Bangladesh, finally emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

The Brahmaputra River sweeps around the eastern end of the Himalayas through a deep gorge. It flows through a region of tea gardens and rice fields in the state of Assam. From Assam it flows south into Bangladesh and then empties into the Bay of Bengal.

The Narmada, T[lamacr]pi, K[lamacr]veri, and Godavari rivers cross the Deccan plateau. Like the Ganges, the Narmada, K[lamacr]veri, and Godavari are sacred rivers of India. The K[lamacr]veri, also known as Dakshina Ganga (or Ganges of the South) is the second most sacred river of India. It has been harnessed for irrigation and hydroelectric power and supplies power to many areas in the state of Karnataka. The banks of the Narmada are lined with Hindu shrines and temples.

Climate

To understand the climate of India, one must understand the monsoon wind system. In winter, when the landmass is cooler than the surrounding water, the prevailing winds of the monsoon move from the subcontinent toward the ocean. These land winds are generally dry, and therefore no rain falls over most of India in winter. In summer, when the landmass is warmer than the surrounding water, the monsoon winds move deep into the subcontinent from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. The season of the summer monsoon brings a great deal of rain. The summer monsoon usually starts about the middle or end of June, with very heavy rain and violent thunder and lightning. Throughout the period between June and September, the southwest winds of the summer monsoon bring rain to most parts of India. The northwest winds of the winter monsoon bring rain only to the southeastern coast.

Temperatures vary widely from north to south. In January the days are generally warm and the nights cold. The average January temperature is less than 55°F (13°C) in the Punjab in northwestern India and about 75°F (24°C) in the state of Tamil Nadu. April and May, when the sun is directly overhead, are the hottest months. The average temperature for May is more than 100°F (38°C) in northwestern India and over 85°F (29°C) in the Ganges delta in east central India.

The amount of rainfall also varies greatly from region to region. It ranges from less than 10 inches (250 millimeters) a year in parts of the very dry northwest to over 450 inches (11,430 millimeters) at Cherrapunji in Assam in the northeast. Cherrapunji is one of the wettest spots on Earth.

Years when rainfall is unusual may be disastrous for the people of India. It can result in drought in one region and floods in another, with the loss of lives and the destruction of crops and property.

Natural Resources

India is rich in natural resources, particularly minerals. Its deposits of iron ore and coal are among the largest in the world. Most of India's iron ore is mined in the states of Bihar and Orissa. Its coal reserves, found mainly in West Bengal and Bihar, provide much of India's industrial energy needs. Petroleum is also being produced in increasing amounts, both inland and in offshore waters.

Indian mines produce large quantities of mica, manganese, copper, bauxite (aluminum ore), chromite (chromium ore), ilmenite (titanium ore), zinc, and other minerals essential to modern industry. Gold and silver are mined in Karnataka state. India also produces diamonds, emeralds, and other gems.

India's rivers provide the water resources for irrigation and hydroelectric power development. Underground waters are also an important source of water for agriculture. Forests cover over one-fifth of the country and are another valuable natural resource, producing timber and helping prevent the erosion (washing away) of soil.