The Republic of India, which lies across the Tropic of Cancer, comprises most of the Indian sub-continent. India is, by area, the seventh largest country in the world with the Indian mainland covering an area of 3,287,782 sq.km. From north to south, the country measures 3,214 km and from east to west 2,933 km. India's land frontiers are approximately 15,200 km long and its coastline is about 6,100 km.
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Below the broad territorial expanse of northern India is peninsular India, with the Arabian Sea to its west and the Bay of Bengal to the east. Just south of peninsular India is Sri Lanka, separated from the mainland of India by Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands in the Arabian Sea are integral parts of the Indian territory.
India's great landmass is divided into four fairly clear regions: the northern mountain region, the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the desert area and the southern peninsular. The mountain region, which stretches along almost the entire northernmost part of the country, comprises three almost parallel ranges extending over a distance of around 2,400 km. In these mountain ranges are found some of the highest peaks in the world.
The Peninsular plateau, separated from the Indo-Gangetic Plain by the Aravalli, Vindhya, Satpura, Maikala and Ajanta mountain ranges, is flanked by the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats, the former averaging about 600 metres in height and the latter around 1,000 metres (with certain peaks over 2,000 metres). Joining both Ghats at the southern point of the great plateau are the Nilgiri Hills. The country has many large rivers, the most important of which are the Ganges, Jamuna, Brahmaputra, a stretch of the Indus, Godavari, Krishna, Mahanadi, Narmada and Cauvery. All these rivers are navigable in parts.
India with its varied terrain and climatic conditions can be broadly defined as having four climatic seasons : Winter (December to February), Summer (March to May), South-West Monsoons (June to September) and Post-monsoon season (October to November). The winter months are pleasant throughout India with bright sunny days, except in the mountainous regions of the North where the temperature can fall steeply associated with heavy snowfalls
The summer months are hot in most parts of India. The hill resorts of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, the Garhwal and Kumaon hills, Sikkim, West Bengal and the Nilgiri hills gain popularity during the summer holiday season when educational institutions are closed. The south-west monsoon usually breaks around the beginning of June on the west coast and reaches elsewhere later. India receives the major share of its rainfall between June and September. The post-monsoon season is generally the most pleasant time of year throughout the country.
Forests in the western Himalayan region range from conifers and broad-leaved trees in the temperate zone to silver fir, silver birch and junipers at the highest level of the alpine zone. The temperate zone of the eastern Himalayan region has forests of oaks, laurels, maples and rhododendrons, among other species.
Vegetation of the Assam region in the east is luxuriant with evergreen forests, occasional thick clumps of bamboo and tall grasses. The Gangetic plain is largely under cultivation. The Deccan tableland supports vegetation from scrub to mixed deciduous forests. The Malabar region is rich in forest vegetation. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have evergreen, mangrove, beach and diluvial forests. Much of the country's flora originated three million years ago and are unique to the sub-continent.
The population of India crossed the billion mark at the turn of the millenium. The mammoth census of 2001 is in the process of being compiled. In 1996, the population was 945 million with 73% in rural areas. In terms of population, India is the world's second-largest country, after China. 16% of the world's population lives in India. The average population density is 320 per sq km (in 1996), though it reaches 6,888 per sq km in the larger cities. The population growth rate for the period 1980 - '96 has been 2% p.a., with life expectancy at 63 years (62 for men and 63 for women). Infant mortality has declined from from 139 per 1,000 live births in 1972 to 65. By 1996 41% of married women were using contraceptives. The sex ratio is 93 females to 100 males.
Compiled by Romola Butalia
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.