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Flag of IndiaThe Indian subcontinent, of which India the country, takes up by far the greatest part, lies between Africa and Arabia to the west and South East Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia) to the east. India has a long coastline, washed by the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. In the north the Himalaya mountain range separates it from China and Nepal. The island of Sri Lanka, once called Ceylon, lies a short distance to the south and east of the southernmost tip of India.

Countries sharing borders with India are Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma).

The capital is New Delhi; other major cities are Bombay, Calcutta, Chandigarh, and Madras.

The country’s longest river is the Brahmaputra; the second longest is the Ganges.

India has a variety of geographical features: mountain ranges, valleys, desert regions, tropical rain forests, fertile plains and a dry plateau.

There are wide climatic variations from snow-covered mountains in the north through cool hill country to dry plains and jungles with extreme tropical heat. India has a monsoon season which begins in the south in June, moving north to cover the whole country by the end of the month.

The variety of the terrain is reflected in the many species of flora and fauna of India.

Some of the different types of trees are banyans, figs, oak, teak, palms, cedar and pine. Bamboo is one of the many plant species; flowering plants include magnolias, orchids and rhododendrons. The lotus flower is India’s spiritual flower.

The tiger is India’s national animal. Other animals are antelopes, buffalo, deers, goats, bears, leopards, elephants, monkeys, wolves, crocodiles, and snakes.

There are hundreds of species of butterflies and over two thousand species of birds: cranes, storks, kingfishers, herons, pelicans, ospreys and parrots. The peacock is India’s national bird.

Many trees have been cut down for fuel and for industrial and agricultural development. Deforestation has contributed to soil erosion: soil is washed into the rivers.

Many of India’s rivers are polluted by sewage and pesticides. Water borne diseases like cholera and typhoid are a danger to people using the water.

The government has intervened to cut down on air pollution. There is a tree planting programme and a number of national parks.

The first laws governing conservation of particular animals and forests were issued by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC.

Tigers have been hunted for many years and by 1970 it was estimated that only seven hundred existed. The tiger, is now a protected species; the rhinoceros is also endangered but the Indian cheetah is now extinct. (2000)

The early Indian civilization of the Indus valley produced the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro (now part of Pakistan), built from mud brick. Mohenjo Daro is famous for its giant granaries, drainage systems and the Great Bath which measured thirty-nine by twenty-three feet.

The lavishly decorated Hindu temples, such as those at Hoysala in Karnataka are representative of one of the most famous styles of Indian architecture. Islam, though opposed to the representative sculpture of Hindu art, brought its own architectural style, typified by mosques, minarets and geometric decoration.

The Moghuls built many beautiful palaces and gardens. The Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal and India’s largest mosque as well as many other buildings.

European style architecture is a reminder of the days of the British Raj. One of the most famous examples of modern architecture is the town of Chandigarh, built in the 1950s from plans made by Le Corbusier, the French architect. Lutyens was responsible for the planning of New Delhi.

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