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Steeped in ancient culture and mythology, blessed with vast and varied landscapes, shaped by early human civilisation and foreign occupations, birthplace of some of our most important religions, philosophies and schools of thought, home to more than a billion people and one of the world’s fastest growing economies: the story of India—Mother India, as she is referred to with reverence—is as old as it is fascinating.
The history of the Indian subcontinent is entwined with the history of modern humans’ earliest ancestors. Research by archaeologists and geneticists tells the story of human history on Earth by tracing the origins of humanity back to a single group of early modern humans who migrated from Africa to Asia and beyond. Around 70,000 years ago Earth was entering our most recent ice age, and sea levels dropped significantly as an increasing volume of water was becoming locked into giant glaciers. So much so that the sea separating the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula would have been mere miles at its narrowest point, enabling our human ancestors to make the journey by sea from the Horn of Africa over to modern-day Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.
Genetic evidence suggests that once reaching the Middle East the group splintered into two; one who stayed and one who continued on around the Arabian Peninsula, around the Persian Gulf and down the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, where groups continued all the way to Kerala in India’s far southwest. According to genetic evidence, descendants of this original African migrant group would go on to colonise the rest of the world, with the entirety of the world’s non-African population said to be descendant from these original pioneers. Sheltered by wide expanses of ocean to the south and also by the rugged spine of the Himalaya mountain system to the north, the Indian subcontinent would prove to be a fertile environment well suited to human habitation. These major geographical features would also culturally insulate India from other regions and peoples for a long time to come.
Almost everything that is known of early life in India is gleaned from archaeological evidence. The earliest artifacts found on the subcontinent are simple stone tools and flakes from northern Pakistan dating back to the start of the Lower Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) period—around 2 million years ago—and excavation of various sites has yielded stone hand axes and other tools dating to between 500,000 and 400,000 years ago. During the Middle Paleolithic period (approx. 300,000–40,000 years ago), the subcontinent’s humid climate conditions created a fertile hunting environment in what is now desert. During the Upper Paleolithic period (approx. 40,000–10,000 years ago), ancestor species to modern humans further developed stone technology for weapon and tool making and began creating painted and etched artworks on rock and stone surfaces. Evidence of Mesolithic cultures (approx. 10,000–5,000 BC) is found throughout the subcontinent, showing the development and interaction of different groups engaged in hunting and gathering, fishing, pastoral herding and small-scale agriculture. Artworks found in caves and rock shelters dating to this broad period depict hunting and gathering activities, plants and animals, religious iconography and scenes involving dancing and music making. If we skip ahead to archaeological findings from the 8th–7th millennium BC, we see advancement in tool and weapons making, architecture and the domestication of animals and agricultural crops, as well as the emergence of pottery and decorative arts including jewellery and small figurines.
The earliest known civilisation on the Indian subcontinent—that is, its first complex urban society—is the Indus Valley Civilisation, known as one of the three great civilisations of the ancient world along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Indus Civilisation, which spread over modern-day Pakistan, northwest India and northeast Afghanistan, was discovered after excavation of the town of Harappa in modern-day Pakistan. In keeping with the archaeological tradition of naming a hitherto-unknown civilisation after its first excavation site, the Indus Civilisation is also known as the Harappan Civilisation.
Like the Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the Indus is considered one of the world’s great ancient civilisations and one of the earliest known examples of a large urban society with sophisticated city planning, infrastructure and technology, and complex social, cultural and artistic traditions. The Indus Civilisation was the culmination of thousands of years of indigenous history, a blossoming of humanity that bears the roots of modern Indian culture. The Indus began to peter out by around 1700 BC, from which point the subcontinent enters the post-urban period and the development of modern Indian culture.
The earliest known literary account of Indian culture is the Vedas, a collection of four texts dating to between 1500–800 BC. Texts from the Early Vedic period consist largely of religious legends, incantations, spells and hymns, but by the Later Vedic period (800–500 BC), there were texts based on social and legal matters as well as religious, ceremonial and domestic activities. From around 500 BC onwards, Brahmin Indian texts start to become cross-referenced by other cultures—especially Buddhist historical texts—and thus we enter the early period of the subcontinent’s recorded history.
A major defining marker of early Indian society was the gradual change from clan-based tribal societies to small kingdoms with peasant underclasses ruled by monarchs or oligarchs. Along with this came the development of urban economies, new cities and infrastructure to service the administrative needs of each state. The evolution of the subcontinent’s urban societies saw the evolution of industry, the use of standard weights, measures and coins with the expansion of trade, and the development India’s unique caste system of social stratification.
Between the 4th and 6th centuries AD, the bulk of the subcontinent was ruled by the Gupta Dynasty, which covered central and northern India along with modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The Gupta era is known as a classical Golden Age of Indian culture, during which the subcontinent experienced a flowering of arts, culture and ideas. The successive Gupta monarchs were committed patrons of religion, arts and sciences and fostered great developments in art and literature, religion and philosophy, monumental architecture, engineering, mathematics and astronomy. The empire collapsed in 550 AD, and the post-Gupta era (550–750 AD) and centuries that followed was a volatile and complex period of political upheaval, as small kingdoms fought to unify warring states and claim the power once held by the Gupta Dynasty.
Up until the early 16th century, contact with Europe was limited to the occasional visit from travelers such as the Italian merchant-adventurer Marco Polo. However in 1510, the city of Goa on India’s western coast was attacked by invading Portuguese, becoming Portugal’s first territorial occupation in Asia. Goa became the Asian capital of the Portuguese Empire, flourishing as a powerful and wealthy city with a peak between 1575 and 1600.
By the year 1526, the Mughal Dynasty had arisen. The Mughals were a Muslim people of Turkic-Mongol origin who began an empire that would last until the arrival of the British, spanning most of the subcontinent at its peak. The Mughals retained control of most of India and Pakistan for over two hundred years—remarkable for the fact that a Muslim empire was peacefully ruling a Hindu-majority population—during which time they developed trade, sciences, complex systems of administration and governance, the arts and architecture. It was the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who in 1632 ordered the construction of a grand mausoleum for his beloved late wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It would take 22 years for the build to be completed, with the exquisite monument now being considered the pinnacle of Mughal architecture: the Taj Mahal. The iconic Red Fort in Delhi is another major architectural achievement of the Mughals.
During the 1600s, Britain, France and the Netherlands had each established trading posts on the subcontinent, wanting to gain access to India’s lucrative trade markets for spices, tea, silk, cotton and gemstones. However, it wasn’t until the death of emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 that the Mughal Empire began its collapse. The empire was plagued with economic problems, refusal by landowners to pay taxes, infighting between throne-aspiring nobles, treason, invasion and assassination. The British eventually overtook the declining Mughal Empire thanks to more disciplined armies, superior weaponry and military tactics, and a strong sense of Eurocentric confidence willing them to win. The period from 1760–1772 was one of disorder and corruption as British merchants part of the East India Company found themselves in new positions of power and potential wealth. The Mughal emperor retained influence but lacked power, with control of the judiciary but no army, and no access to funds to raise one.
After gradually losing its political and financial control over trade in India, the East India Company was abolished in 1857, following the First War of Independence (aka the Indian Mutiny). On 2 August 1858, the British parliament passed the Government of India Act, transferring power over India from the East India Company to the British government. Thus marked the beginning of the British Raj (rule) over India and modern-day Pakistan that would continue for nearly a century until independence was granted in 1947. Nepal had already become a British protectorate in 1815, as would Bhutan in 1866 and the state of Sikkim in 1890. The British Raj did not, however, cover the entirety of the subcontinent. Two-fifths of the land area was composed of 560 different principalities that were allowed to survive and self-govern. By allowing these principalities to retain their autonomy, and by financially incentivizing the princes of each state, the British were able to secure loyalty and support for their administration, which would act as a buffer against any further violent rebellions. In doing so, the British were able to rule a population of 300 million Indians with a paltry army of just 20,000 British soldiers.
With its densely populated provinces and trade/resource riches, British India was the known as the “jewel in the British crown”. Regarding the majority of the subcontinent that was under the Raj, Britain opted for a policy of religious nonintervention and generally mild social reforms. Britain’s interference in India’s economic, commercial and social affairs was controversial, and remains today as probably the most hotly debated topic in British colonial history. Positions of leadership were replaced with those willing to compromise with colonials and a new education system was established to disseminate English language and British values.
In 1885, a secular political party called the Indian National Congress was formed, with many regarding this as having been a watershed moment in the building of opposition to the Raj. The coming decades saw division between those who wished to fight for constitutional change, and those who wished to distance themselves from the Raj altogether; between those who pleaded for non-violence, and those who felt that violence against colonial oppression was justifiable and necessary. The latter party was led by Subhas Chandra Bose, who would go on to form the Indian National Army, and a growing push for Indian independence via nonviolent civil disobedience was championed by Mahatma Gandhi, who led several major national independence movements between 1920-22, 1930-34 and again in 1942. With Britain ravaged by World War II and facing mounting pressure from the US to end colonial occupation, the Raj began to swiftly unravel in the 1940s. Another key factor in the push for independence was growing religious separatism from Muslim Indians, who accounted for around 20% of the population. The Muslim League had already been petitioning for a separate homeland for India’s Muslim population, with the idea of Pakistan being first suggested in 1940.
Finally the decision was made to transfer power swiftly, and in 1947 the British parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, ending the British Raj. British India was partitioned and the new separate British Commonwealth nations of Pakistan and India were established on 14 August and 15 August respectively. However, the gifts of independence were not immediate. India’s economy was weakened and resources insufficient as scores of refugees scrambled to make a life after resettlement, an estimated one million innocent people had been killed as they fled their homes prior to the partition, and the violent demonstrations that had stormed British India prior to independence continued afterward. Despite the creation of Pakistan as a new homeland for India’s Muslims, a sizeable number of Muslims remained in the largely Hindu (but officially secular) nation of India, where to this day they account for its largest minority group. Also, the country’s Sikh population felt that they had no homelands of their own. Instead of taking political office, Gandhi chose to return to Delhi to walk barefoot through the streets and preach non-violent in a bid to stop the communal killings. Gandhi continued on his mission until he was assassinated outside a prayer meeting in January 1948.
Two years later on 26 January 1950, India was reborn as a secular constitutional republic, the nation that we know as India today. Elections were held every five years with India’s legislative branch modeled on the British parliament, but despite having universal suffrage and therefore the world’s largest voting public, India’s hard won independent democracy was stalled by illiteracy. A strong government focus on education means that great strides have since been made in India’s literacy rates, but significant regional and gender disparities still persist.
Even though India has retained its ancient and colourful cultural heritage, the British colonial legacy is undeniable, with British influence evident in modern India’s political and legal structures, education system, language, architecture and town planning, culture and sports. Sport played an especially important role in building a sense of Indian nationalism, with the British-origin game of cricket becoming a central aspect part of India’s national identity. Ugly reminders of colonial management of the subcontinent also persist, in regional tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence. But overwhelmingly, a visit to India tells not of wars and occupations, but of ancient human civilisation, deep spirituality and a vibrant, colourful culture that is uniquely Indian. Despite real challenges concerning overpopulation, poverty, corruption and environmental management, India is in a favourable position given its fast-growing economy and its enormous and youthful population. It can be crazy, crowded and downright confronting, but India is an incredible nation teeming with history, culture and promise.
Hindu 80.5%; Muslim 13.4%; Christian 2.3% (predominantly Roman Catholic); Sikh 1.9%; Other 1.8% (including Buddhist, Jain, Baha’i and Animist); unspecified 0.1% (2001 census)
Although India has no official state religion, religion is central to daily life and identity for the overwhelming majority of India’s population. More than 80% of the population adheres to Hinduism, with Islam being the second most popular religion with more than 138 million Indian Muslims, despite the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan during the 1947 partition of India
India is a deeply religious country, and is renowned for being one of the spiritual capitals of the world. Hinduism and Buddhism both originated here, as did Sikhism, Jainism and a host of important schools of thought that come under the umbrella term of Indian Philosophy. The central importance of religion to Indian culture and identity can be seen in the country’s art, architecture and daily customs
India is the birthplace of Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu system of traditional medicine, as well as Yoga, the ancient practice of combining physical movements, controlled breathing and spiritual meditations to transform mind and body. Huge numbers of foreigners flock to India’s many ashrams (monasteries) and yoga schools each year
Indian society is organised into a complex system of social stratification known as the caste system, with families being segmented into a hierarchy of hereditary social/occupational groups. According to the caste system, which has existed for thousands of years, a person is expected to marry within their caste and to follow certain rules regarding behavior and interaction with other castes
India’s huge population is spread over all but a tiny fraction of the country. The bulk of India’s landmass is taken up by cultivation, grazing, rural villages and urban settlements. The higher elevations of the Indian Himalaya are the only areas not in continuous use by humans
The contrast in living standards between India’s affluent, educated, urban-dwelling middle class and its poorest citizens is stark. India is home to a large university-educated middle class, but also to an estimated 300 million living in abject poverty. Daily life for affluent urban families doesn’t differ too much from their counterparts in Europe or North America, whereas for many rural communities daily life exists largely the same as it always has
The family is the most important social unit in Indian society. Extended families often share homes (or at least communal kitchens), children are an essential asset to the family, and the elderly are the respected heads of the family. After the family, the next most important social unit is the caste, and then the village
Men and boys enjoy higher status than women and girls in all areas of life, a privilege that extends to the disparity of health, education and welfare statistics between the sexes. The traditional family hierarchy extends from the eldest male in the household (highest position) down to the youngest female (lowest position)
Marriage is universal and is almost always arranged by family elders based on caste, familial ties and economic factors—although ‘love marriages’ are increasingly common in cities
Religion is an important part of daily life and respect should always been shown near temples, monasteries, mosques. Shoes and hats always must come off before entering a holy place, and you should be dress very modestly. Funeral processions, cremations and other important religious rites are sacred and personal matters for the families involved, and as fascinating as they are for foreigners, should not be treated as tourist spectacles.
Indians are very conservative in dress and visitors should try their best to assimilate by wearing modest attire. Shoulders and legs should be covered, and women especially will find that dressing in neat and modest clothing with limit unwanted attention.
Modesty extends to public displays of affection: kissing and canoodling in public are seen as sexual acts and are not acceptable to locals, especially in more conservative rural areas, where even hand-holding is a no-no.
Shoes should always be removed before entering someone’s home, and you should avoid ever touching or pointing at anyone with your feet.
As in many Asian and African countries, Indians traditionally eat with their right hand—but never the left hand, as this is reserved for wiping yourself after the toilet, taking off shoes and other unsavory tasks. You should not eat, pass food, wipe your mouth or shake hands with your left hand. It is customary to wash your hands before and after a meal, and washing water will be provided at any restaurant or kitchen. If in doubt, try to watch and copy locals.
As elsewhere in the Islamic world, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of prayer and sacrifice for India’s Muslims, during which people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Travelers visiting during the month of Ramadan should show respect to locals by not flaunting any of the above in public during daylight hours.
When greeting someone, some locals may offer to shake the hand, however, it is always appreciated if you can remember to follow the traditional South Asian custom of greeting, by pressing your hands together in a prayer pose, bowing your head slightly, and offering the greeting “Namaste”, meaning “I bow to the divine in you” in Hindi.
India’s calendar is packed with festivals and celebrations. As a deeply religious country, its many colourful festivals are the heart of its social and cultural calendar. The stories of India’s history, nature’s seasons and harvests, and the trials of the Gods and Goddesses from Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and other faiths are performed via song and dance, millions of people wash away their sins en masse in India’s rivers, prayers are cast, processions of chariots are drawn through town, and feasts are shared with friends and family. With multiple days of dances, markets and celebrations, festivals are usually major social event for locals, as well as being fascinating cultural experiences for visitors who are lucky enough to be around. The year is packed with vibrant festivals—religious and secular—and so this list is merely a starting point. Dates change each year based on lunar cycles (and the ancient Hindu calendar), so check online before planning your visit
Diwali is the five-day Hindu New Year festival, celebrated in October or November each year. Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, and the festival’s main feature is the lighting of countless candles, small lamps and fireworks, giving Diwali the name “Festival of Lights”. It’s an extremely atmospheric and joyful time to visit India!
Vasant Panchami falls in January-February each year, kicking off the spring festival cycle that is completed with the Holi festival. Vasant Panchami celebrates the Hindu goddess Sarasvati and the transition from winter to spring. India explodes into brilliant yellow during Vasant Panchami, with people dressing in bright yellow and offering yellow flowers to Sarasvati. Celebrations are more elaborate in northern India, where there is a more marked difference between winter and spring. In Punjab, Vasant Panchami is celebrated as the Basant Kite Festival, one of India’s many regional kite festivals.
Holi is a festival with similarities to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, in which social norms and caste/gender/age hierarchies are suspended for a day. Regardless of gender, age or caste status, everyone gathers in the streets during the Holi festival to throw brightly hued powders and coloured water at each other with reckless abandon. India’s usually strict social codes are disregarded for the day, and afterward, people bathe and dress in clean white clothes and visit family and friends, and things go back to normal. The explosions of brilliant colour make Holi one of the most exciting and photogenic of India’s festivals. Holi falls during spring each year, on the February-March full moon
Vijayadashami (aka Dussehra) is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it is celebrated as Dashain, the country’s most important and extravagant festival. Vijayadashami celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, the triumph of good over evil, and the beginning of the harvest season, in October each year. The many days of Vijayadashami are filled with different religious ceremonies and rituals and the preparation of special dishes
Although predominantly a Hindu nation, India still has a huge Muslim population of more than 138 million, who observe the important religious dates and festivals of the Islamic calendar as elsewhere in the Muslim world. The holy month of Ramadan is a time of prayer and sacrifice for Muslims, during which people abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset—so travelers should try not to flaunt any of these during daylight hours while visiting India during Ramadan. Ramadan falls in the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar, with dates changing each year
Eid Al-Fitr (or simply Eid) is the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan, a time for celebration to mark the end of a month’s sacrifice. People gather with loved ones to share special feasts, and children generally receive new clothing, small gifts and money from relatives. Eid Al-Adha (aka Eid Al-Hajj) is another important Islamic holiday, marking the end of the Hajj (Mecca pilgrimage season) and the start of the Feast of the Sacrifice
The major secular holidays are Republic Day (26 January) and Independence Day (15 August)
Total population is 1,236,344,631 (July 2014 estimate), growing at a rate of 1.25%. This makes India the second most populated country in the world, behind China
The median age is 27 years; with 28.5% aged 0-14 and 5.7% aged 65+.
Sex ratio is 1.08 males to 1 female
The urban population is 31.3% (2011), with an average annual rate of urbanisation of 2.47%
India is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on Earth, with thousands of different ethnic and caste groups
Despite the development of India’s caste system of social stratification, in which Indians have generally practiced endogamy (marrying within one’s own caste or ethnic group), intermarriage between various groups throughout India’s history is evident when looking at the complex ethnic mosaic that is modern India
Ancient India’s first organised urban society was the Indus Valley Civilisation, presumed to have been a Dravidian-speaking people. An early Aryan civilisation with linguistic affinities to Iran and Europe then invaded northern India before spreading across India. Subsequent invasions then came from groups including the Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Afghans and Turks. It is worth noting, however, that although invasions and occupations by Europeans—British, French and Portuguese—have left obvious cultural legacies, they have not significantly impacted India’s ethnic profile
The natural barriers formed by the rugged Himalaya mountain system to the north and oceans to the east, south and west have played a huge role in the distribution of India’s human settlements, giving space for a unique culture to develop
Indo-Aryan (72%); Dravidian (25%); Other (3%) (2000)
India’s huge landmass, long latitudinal span and range of elevations make for a wide variety of different climatic zones. Major factors moderating India’s climate are its mountain ranges, extensive coastline and the seasonally reversing prevailing winds to which the subcontinent is subjected.
India is the world’s best example of a monsoon climate, in which alternating wet/dry periods are caused by the seasonal reversal of prevailing winds. The wet/dry monsoon pattern creates three major seasons for most of India: a hot wet season from mid-June to late-September; a cool dry season from October to February; and a hot dry season from March to mid-June.
During the pre-monsoon, early monsoon and post-monsoon, India’s coastal regions are often battered with fierce tropical cyclones coming off the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. The fairly reliable patterns of rainfall brought by the monsoon cycle play a crucial role in Indian agriculture, but poor rainfall years and improper irrigation unfortunately leads to occasional years of drought in which whole crops can fail in some regions.
The rugged spine of the Himalaya in India’s northernmost reaches acts as a giant buffer, protecting India from the extreme cold of the Central Asian plateau and trapping moisture from the monsoon within the subcontinent.
Temperatures are generally highest in May/June and September/October, just before and after the southwest monsoon brings heavy rainfall. The moderating effects of the ocean bring significantly smaller temperature ranges to the coastal regions compared to the much wider temperature ranges of the interior regions and higher elevations.
In Delhi, average daily temperatures range from a minimum of 7.8°C (46°F) to a maximum of 20.8°C (82°F) in January, to a minimum of 28.3°C (83°F) to a maximum of 39.4°C (103°F) in June.
In Mumbai, average daily temperatures range from a minimum of 16.7°C (62°F) to a maximum of 30.7°C (87°F) in January, to a minimum of 26.4°C (80°F) to a maximum of 33.3°C (92°F) in June.
China (Tibet Autonomous Zone) and Nepal to the north; Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar to the northeast; the Bay of Bengal to the east and southeast; Laccadive Sea to the south; Arabian Sea to the west; and Pakistan to the northwest
3,287,263 sq km / 1,269,219 sq mi (7th largest country in the world), divided into 29 states and 7 union territories
India is ranked 155 out of 178 countries (with an improving trend) on the Environmental Performance Index (2014), which quantifies and benchmarks performance of government environmental policies and outcomes
Environmental issues include deforestation, desertification, overgrazing, soil erosion, air pollution from vehicle and industrial emissions, water contamination from agricultural pesticide runoff and raw sewage, lack of potable water, and general overstrain on natural resources due to huge population
Natural hazards include droughts, flash flooding, severe thunderstorms and earthquakes; as well as destructive flooding caused by monsoon rains
India is a signatory to various international environmental and conservation agreements
India is home to a broad diversity of flora and fauna, largely reflective of the country’s rainfall distribution
There are more than 17,000 different flowering plant species and a high level of endemism thanks to the subcontinent’s physical isolation. However, rampant expansion of agriculture and urban development has significantly depleted India’s forests
Himalayan vegetation is inherently linked to elevation. Alpine shrubs grow up to around 4,500 m (15,000 ft), above which there is nothing; rhododendrons, junipers and alpine meadows are common up to around 3,700 m (12,000 ft); forests of oak, fir, cedar and spruce below that; and then mixed deciduous-evergreen forests in the foothills from 1,500 m (5,000 ft) and below
Areas with high precipitation generally support mixed tropical forests and various varieties of bamboo, and areas of lower precipitation support dry deciduous forests, scrub and grassland
India’s forests produce many commercially valuable species of hardwood, including rosewood, teak, sandalwood and sal. India’s river deltas are fringed with ecologically rich mangrove forests, and the tropical coastal regions are known for their many palms. Other iconic species that dot the landscape include the mango, peepal (aka Bodhi Tree) and banyan trees. The Valley of Flowers National Park, set high in India’s West Himalaya, is renowned for its beautiful meadows carpeted with native alpine wildflowers
India is home to a diverse variety of wildlife, including exotic species such as the Indian elephant, Indian rhinoceros, Asiatic lion, Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, crocodile, king cobra and Bengal tiger. Ruminants include wild bison, buffalo, and various antelope and deer species. Primates include monkeys, langurs, gibbons and lion-tailed macaques. Carnivores include wild cats, dogs, mongooses and jackals. Once on the verge of extinction, conservation efforts have now made the majestic Bengal tiger the most numerous of the world’s five surviving tiger species
India’s varied landscapes support a huge variety of birdlife, with an estimated one-eighth of the world’s total bird population. There are over 1,200 species and 2,000 subspecies of birds, with many species to be found in the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Keoladeo National Park near Rajasthan. India’s vast deltas and rivers support a wide range of aquatic birds, fish and insects. Coastal regions are home to commercially important marine species such as prawns, shrimps, crabs, lobsters and pearl oysters
Common domesticated animals include Brahman cattle, oxen, buffalo, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and camels
India’s major defining geographical features are its mountains, extensive coastline and many rivers. The country can be divided most broadly into three major zones upon which all other features sit: the Himalaya to the north, the Indo-Gangetic Plain in the centre and the Deccan Plateau to the south
The Indian subcontinent, once attached to the Gondwanaland supercontinent, broke away several hundred million years ago and began slowly drifting towards the much larger Eurasian landmass, where it finally impacted with the Eurasian plate some 50 million years ago, causing the series of violent eruptions that gave birth to the rugged Himalaya mountain system, the highest mountain chain on Earth. It is here in the Indian Himalaya that we find India’s highest point—and the world’s third highest— Kanchenjunga (8,598 m / 28,209 ft). The Himalaya (meaning “snow abode” in Sanskrit) is home to rugged snowcapped peaks, glaciers and glacial lakes, and is largely uninhabited. Adjoining mountain ranges run to the east and west of the Himalaya, creating an effective barrier to weather from Central Asia
The Tarai (or Terai) is a lowland strip of tropical and subtropical alluvial plains running parallel with the lower ranges of the Himalaya, straddling the border between northern India and southern Nepal
The Indo-Gangetic Plain is a vast alluvial plain watered by the Indus and Ganges river basins; fertile and monotonously flat. The sandy Thar Desert (aka Great Indian Desert) extends from the south of the plain into Pakistan
The bulk of India’s territory juts out from the Eurasian landmass as a peninsula bordered by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east. India’s territorial claim includes the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep archipelago. The Deccan Plateau contains the bulk of the Indian peninsula, gently sloping eastward
More than 70% of India’s landmass drains into the Bay of Bengal, with the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers being the major systems. The Ganges, considered sacred by India’s Hindus, runs a course of 2,510 km (1,560 mi) through India, starting high in the Himalaya and flowing southward and then turning eastward to Bangladesh, where most of its delta sits. The Kosi, one of the northern tributaries of the Ganges, is India’s most destructive river, often causing devastating flood damage. The Sambhar, an ephemeral salt lake that runs dry in the hot months, in India’s largest lake. Wular Lake in the Jammu/Kashmir regions is India’s largest freshwater lake
Agra Fort (1983)
Ajanta Caves (1983)
Ellora Caves (1983)
Taj Mahal (1983)
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (1984)
Sun Temple, Konârak (1984)
Churches and Convents of Goa (1986)
Fatehpur Sikri (1986)
Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986)
Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986)
Elephanta Caves (1987)
Great Living Chola Temples (1987)
Group of Monuments at Pattadakal (1987)
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989)
Humayun's Tomb, Delhi (1993)
Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi (1993)
Mountain Railways of India (1999)
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya (2002)
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003)
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park (2004)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004)
Red Fort Complex (2007)
The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010)
Hill Forts of Rajasthan (2013)
Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat (2014)
Kaziranga National Park (1985)
Keoladeo National Park (1985)
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (1985)
Sundarbans National Park (1987)
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988)
Western Ghats (2012)
Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area (2014)
World Youth Adventures can tailor make a school expedition to India to your school’s budget and curriculum requirements.
Talk to us about your next school expedition, or if you need some ideas check out the trips below.