Sights and Sounds of India | National Geographic

India is the 2nd most populous country in the world. The northern frontiers of India are defined largely by the Himalayan mountain range, where the country borders China, Bhutan, and Nepal. India is composed of six regions, each with distinct physical geographies.

India's geography
India’s geography

Region 1: The Himalayas act as a barrier to the frigid winds flowing down from Central Asia. Because of this, northern India is kept warm or only mildly cooled during winter; in summer, the same barrier makes India relatively hot.

Kedar Range

Region 2: The Peninsular Plateau contains mountain ranges (Aravalli, Vindhayachal and Satpura ranges), ghats and plateaus like the Deccan Plateau.

The Vindhya range separates Northern India from Southern India (see the map above).
The Vindhya range separates Northern India from Southern India (see the map above).

Region 3: The Indo-Gangetic Plain is the world’s most extensive expanse of uninterrupted alluvium formed by the deposition of silt by the numerous rivers running through the area (Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra). The plains are flat making it conducive for irrigation through canals. The area is also rich in groundwater sources. The plains are one of the world’s most intensely farmed areas and is also one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

Alluvium comes from the Latin alluvis (from alluere) which means “to wash against.” It is loose soil or sediment that has been eroded and reshaped by water in some form.

The Dakshineswar Kali Temple (in Kolkata) is located in the Indo-Gangetic Plain

Region 4: The northwest of India is home to the Thar Desert (also known as the Great Indian Desert).

Thar Desert
Thar Desert
Huts in the Thar Desert

Region 5: The coastal plains and ghats feature forests and wide stretches of land along the ocean (on the west) and the Arabian Sea (on the east).

Dudhsagar Falls is in Goa, in the Western Ghats.
Dudhsagar Falls is in Goa, in the Western Ghats.

Region 6: India has islands – the two major island formations are Lakshadweep (off the southwestern coast of India) and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (in the Bay of Bengal).

Bangaram Island, Lakshadweep – CC BY-SA 4.0
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Andaman and Nicobar Islands (in the box to the right)
Andaman Islands

With such a huge area and so many different regions and climates, you can imagine that India also has a very high biological diversity (which is a fancy term for lots of animals and plants). India has the majority of the world’s tigers and is also home to lions. In fact, India is the only country in the world where lions and tigers coexist in the wild. You can also find the Great Indian Rhinoceros, the Indian elephant, water buffalos, different types of monkeys, all sorts of beautiful and interesting birds and more.

India has the majority of the world's wild tigers.
India has the majority of the world’s wild tigers.
The Nilgiri langur is found in the Western Ghats of South India.
The Nilgiri langur is found in the Western Ghats of South India.
Asiatic lioness
The Indian rhinoceros has one horn. They live in a narrow grassland at the base of the Himalayas and other areas. It’s considered a threatened species.
allas’s Cat Makes an Appearance | Wild Cats of India | National Geographic Wild UK

India and Colonialism

India is considered the world’s largest democracy. European colonizers of South Asia included the Dutch, Portuguese, French, and, finally, the British. In search of raw materials, cheap labor, and expanding markets, Europeans used their advancements in technology to take over and dominate the regional industrial base. The East India Company was a base of British operations in South Asia and evolved to become the administrative government of the region by 1857. The British government created an administrative structure to govern South Asia. Their centralized government in India employed many Sikhs in positions of the administration to help rule over the largely Muslim and Hindu population. The English language was introduced as a lingua franca for the colonies.

This is a portrait of an East India official (William Fullerton) who lived in Calcutta, India in the 1700's. He was the only Englishman to survive the massacre of the English during the war with Mir Kasim of Murshidabad.
This is a portrait of an East India official (William Fullerton) who lived in Calcutta, India in the 1700’s. He was the only Englishman to survive the massacre of the English during the war with Mir Kasim of Murshidabad. 

In truth, colonialism did more than establish the current boundaries of South Asia. Besides bringing the region under one central government and providing a lingua franca, India’s colonizers developed the main port cities of BombayCalcutta, and Madras (now called MumbaiKolkata, and Chennai, respectively. The names of the port cities have been reverted to their original Hindi forms).

Cities of India with name changes

The port cities were access points for connecting goods with markets between India and Europe. Mumbai became the largest city and the economic center of India. In 1912, to exploit the interior of India, the British moved their colonial capital from Kolkata, which was the port for the densely populated Ganges River basin, to New Delhi. Chennai was a port access to southern India and the core of the Dravidian ethnic south.

Britain exploited India by extending railroad lines from the three main port cities into the hinterlands, to transport materials from the interior back to the port for export. The Indian Railroad is one of the largest rail networks on Earth.

The People of India

In 2020, India had more than 1.38 billion people, which is about one-sixth of the human population of the earth.

Women in sari at an adult literacy class in Tamil Nadu.

India is notable for its religious diversity, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism among the nation’s major religions. An 80 percent majority follow Hindu beliefs. About 13 percent of the population is Muslim. Thirteen may not seem like a high percentage, but in this case, it equates to about 140 million people. This is equivalent to all the Muslims who reside in the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt combined. India is sometimes called the third-largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan, because of its large Muslim minority.

Here’s a brief overview of Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, three religions that originated in India:

OWN: Introduction to Jainism | Belief | Oprah Winfrey Network
Note: A naked Indian man is shown in a sitting position with no nudity shown.
Introduction to Buddhism | Belief | Oprah Winfrey Network
Introduction to Hindusim | Belief | Oprah Winfrey Network

India essentially has two lingua francas: English and Hindi, of which Hindi is the official language of the Indian government. You can learn Hindo for FREE with Duolingo! Here’s what it sounds like via this quick lesson on self-introduction:

Learn Hindi – Hindi in Three Minutes – Self Introduction

India has twenty-eight states and fourteen recognized major languages. It’s also the home to several hundred unofficial languages, some of which are endangered. The languages of northern India are mainly based on the Indo-European language family. Languages used in the south are mainly from the Dravidian language family. A few regions that border Tibet in the north use languages from the Sino-Tibetan language family.

Notice how in the north, India's language is Indo-Aryan. In the south, it's Dravidian.
Notice how in the north, India’s language is Indo-Aryan. In the south, it’s Dravidian.

While we are talking about people, let’s take a look at the Hindu caste system. A caste is a system that divides people into social classes and fixes their place in society. A person is born into their caste is not allowed to leave it or marry someone from another caste. At the top are the Brahmins (priests). Below them are the rulers, soldiers, and other people who work in the government. Below them are traders, bankers, landowners, and businessmen (skilled workers). Below them are the servants, and farmers (unskilled workers). At the very bottom are the untouchables (dalits) – the street sweepers, latrine cleaners, those who cremate the dead, etc.

Caste system

This 3000-year-old system was outlawed in 1955, but caste identities are still strong and there is still discrimination practiced to this day.

Mundi: The Caste System in India
Note: This is a long video, but it explains the issues some Indians face due to the caste system, even though it’s now illegal.

Family values are important in the Indian tradition, and a large majority of Indians have their marriages arranged by their parents. One issue though are that child marriages are common in rural areas. Another issue is that female infanticide and abortions performed on female babies are often performed. This has skewed gender ratios in some areas (where there are more living boys than girls). Boys are preferred due to India’s societal belief (in general) that women are inferior and are often seen as a burden.

Warning: The following video may be disturbing to some as it mentions child abuse (how a baby girl died due to abuse) and talks about sex-selection abortions (nothing graphic is shown or mentioned). View with caution, and if you do watch it, make sure younger children aren’t present.

CNN: India: The most dangerous country in the world to be a girl

Traditionally, family size was large. Large family size results in a swell of young people migrating to urban areas to seek greater opportunities and advantages. In modern times, family size has been reduced to about three children, an accomplishment that did not come easily because of the religious beliefs of most of India’s people. If current trends continue, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world in about fifty years.

Rural and urban life within the Indian Subcontinent varies according to wealth and opportunity. While concentrated in specific areas across the landscape, in general, the population in rural areas is spread thinly.

Rural India
Rural India

In urban areas, the populations are very concentrated with many times the population density found in rural areas.

Dharavi settlement (one of the world's largest slums) in Mumbai
Dharavi settlement (one of the world’s largest slums) in Mumbai

India has six world-class cities: Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. There are many other large cities in India; in 2010, India had forty-three cities with more than a million people each.

City Skyline from Hoogly Bridge, Kolkata
City Skyline from Hoogly Bridge, Kolkata

Bangalore is considered one of the biggest tech hubs in India:

Optional video: Journey Through India: Bangalore | CNBC International

India’s interior is mainly composed of villages. In rural villages, much of the economy is based on subsistence strategies, primarily agriculture and small cottage industries. The lifestyle is focused on the agricultural cycles of soil preparation, sowing, and harvesting as well as tending animals, particularly water buffalo, cattle, goats, and sheep. About 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and makes a living in agriculture. About 35 percent of the population—which is equal to the entire US population—is urbanized. India is rapidly progressing toward urbanization and industrialization. Changes in technology, however, tend to be slow in dispersing to the rural villages. More than half the villages in India do not have road access for motor vehicles. For residents of those villages, walking, animal carts, and trains are the main methods of transportation. Agricultural technology is often primitive.

Farmer Tilling a Field with Oxen in Rural India
Farmer Tilling a Field with Oxen in Rural India

India’s cities are dynamic places, with millions of people, cars, buses, and trucks all found in the streets. In many areas of urban centers, traffic may be stopped to await the movement of a sacred cow or a donkey or bullock cart loaded with merchandise. Indian cities are growing at an unsustainable rate. Overcrowded and congested, the main cities are modernizing and trying to keep up with global trends.

Monsoons are critical for the success of India’s agricultural crops during any given season. Because the rainfall of many agricultural areas is tied to the monsoon rains of only a few months, a weak or delayed rainfall can have disastrous effects on the agricultural economy. Agricultural products include commercial crops such as coffee and spices (cardamom, pepper, chili peppers, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, and so on). An important product for perfume and incense is sandalwood, harvested primarily in the dense forests of the state of Karnataka, in southwestern India. Bamboo is an important part of the agricultural harvest as well. Of course, rice and lentils provide an important basis for the local economy.

Cardamom fruits and seeds
Cardamom fruits and seeds
Besides use as a spice in foods, cardamom with cinnamon is consumed in hot tea in India and other nearby countries.

A large number of educated young people who are fluent in English are changing India into a “back office” target for global outsourcing for customer services. These customer services focus on computer-related products but also include service-related industries and online sales companies. The level of outsourcing of information activity to India has been substantial. Any work that can be conducted over the Internet or telephone can be outsourced to anywhere in the world that has high-speed communication links.

Exclusive Webisode: Inside an Indian Call Center | Oprah’s Next Chapter | Oprah Winfrey Network

Cinema makes up a large portion of the entertainment sector in India. India’s cinema industry is often referred to as “Bollywood,” a combination of Bombay and Hollywood. Technically, Bollywood is only the segment of the Indian cinema that is based out of Bombay (Mumbai), but the title is sometimes misleadingly used to refer to the entire movie industry in India. Bollywood is the leading movie maker in India and has a world-class film production center. In the past few years, India has been producing as many as one thousand films annually. Their popularity extends beyond South Asia. Indian movies with modest dress, lack of explicit sexual scenes, and a focus on drama are popular in places such as Egypt, the Middle East, and other African countries. 

Here’s a clip of Bollywood dancing from the movie Bride and Prejudice:

Food is an important aspect of the culture of societies, and there are clearly distinctions between the cuisine of the north and of the south in India. Indian cooking is primarily vegetarian, emphasizing aspects of Hinduism. However, many dishes, particularly in North India, contain goat, chicken, lamb, fish, and other meats.

A Bengali meal. Bengalis often stew fish in sauces based on coconut milk or mustard.

Beef is not eaten by Hindus, while pork and some species of fish are not traditionally eaten by Muslims. North India has more wheat-based products and less rice. Their dishes are prepared with spices and herbs, including black and chili peppers. Northern Indian food is characterized by its use of dairy products (yogurt; milk; paneer, or homemade cheeses; and ghee, or clarified butter). Onions, ghee, and spices are the common base for different types of salans or curries (gravies). Griddles are used for preparing different types of flat breads—chapattis, naan, and kulcha. Rice, lentils, and chickpeas are a staple part of the diet in North India.

Rajma-chawal, curried red kidney beans with steamed rice
A full-course Sadya is the ceremonial meal of Kerala eaten usually on celebrations and is served on a plantain leaf.

Food in the southern parts of India includes more rice as a staple, and seafood (fish and prawns) is common along the coastal areas. Coconut oil is used as a basis for cooking. Sambar, a stew made of peas and vegetables, is an important staple of the region as are rice and idlis, which are a type of cake or bread made from steaming fermented black lentils. Chili peppers are also common in South Indian cooking.

Home-made idlis with chutney and sambar

India has its share of environmental problems. Water pollution along the Ganges is severe and affects the largest concentration of people in India.

France 24 English: Sacred but polluted: River Ganges drowns in a sea of rubbish

India is the second-largest consumer of coal in the world, coal that is mainly burned to produce electricity. Burning coal adds significantly to air pollution. A rise in the number of vehicles in use, combined with few emission controls, also adds to the air pollution in urban areas. Deforestation continues in many rural areas.

Before we wrap up India, let’s look at a few additional things it’s famous for:

Gandhi lead the successful nonviolent campaign for India's independence from British rule.
Gandhi lead the successful nonviolent campaign for India’s independence from British rule.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by a Mughal emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by a Mughal emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife.
Temples and shrines
Pachisi is a game that originated in India. Parcheeesi is an American adaptation of this game.
Pachisi is a game that originated in India. Parcheeesi is an American adaptation of this game.

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Next: Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives

Additional information and image credits:

India map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0,
Indian language families
By The original uploader was Kitkatcrazy at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Sreejithk2000 using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0,
By Elliott & Fry (see [1]) –, Public Domain,
Taj Mahal
By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Kedarnath range
By Kaustabh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
geography of India
By Nichalp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
CC BY-SA 2.5,
Indo-Gangetic Plain|
By Jeroen –, CC0,
Dakhshinerswar temple
By The original uploader was Nikkul at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 2.0,
Thar Desert
By sushmita balasubramani – Flickr: the vast expanse of the Thar desrt, CC BY 2.0,
Thar Desert map
By Dbachmann, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Huts in the Thar
By LRBurdak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Dudhsagar Falls
By Purshi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Lakshadweep islands map
CC BY-SA 3.0,
2nd map
By –, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Bangaram Island
By The.chhayachitrakar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Andaman and Nicobar map
CC BY-SA 3.0,
Andaman islands
By Venkatesh K from Bangalore, India – Heavenly view, CC BY 2.0,
Wildlife in India
By Stephenekka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Asiatic lioness
By Sumeet Moghe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Nilgiri langur
By N. A. Naseer / /, CC BY-SA 2.5 in,
Indian rhinoceros
By Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography,, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) – Own work, FAL,
East India official
By Dip Chand (artist) –, Public Domain,
Rajdhani Express
By Superfast1111 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Indian school
By McKay Savage – Flickr: HiH – Literacy Programme – 01 – 08-02-04, CC BY 2.0,
Rural India
By TeshTesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By DasAritra – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Cow plow Annadatha – CC BY 2.0.
Cardamom tea
By Mohammed Tawsif Salam – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
CC BY-SA 3.0,
Bengali meal
By Nandinissaha – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Rajma Chawal
By Barthateslisa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Indian cuisine
By Augustus Binu, CC BY-SA 3.0,
By Soumya dey, CC BY-SA 3.0,
By Bikashrd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Pachisisi game
By Micha L. Rieser, Attribution,

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