India: About India – Part 1

2015-06-12

Introduction, geography, climate, and population

Introduction

One of the most striking features about India, which any foreign traveler must appreciate, is the size and diversity of this country. Given its vastness and variety, there is no single way to understand India. In fact, one observer once commented that ‘India as a nation exists only in the minds of its population.’ Many travelers find India unpredictable and confusing because they fail to grasp this point. The following paragraphs will give a perspective to understand one’s experience of India.

Geography and Climate

India is the seventh largest country in the world in terms of size, with a total landmass of 3,287,590 sq km. Located in South Asia, it has land boundary of 14,107km with its neighbours [Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan] and a coastline of 7,000km, which stretches across the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.

On average, the Indian climate varies from tropical to temperate. However, in reality, India has a multiplicity of climates and terrains across its regions, which ranges from snow-peaked Himalayas in the north, desert in the west, thick rain forests in the north-east, flat green pastures in the Gangetic planes, and plateaus in south and central India.

In general, October to March is a better period to visit India, which marks the winter season. During this time, the temperature can go as low as 2-3oC in the Northern mountains of India. However, in most other parts of the country, it is normally a comfortable 15-25oC. Indian summers [April to June] can be very hot, with the temperature reaching 50oC in many locations.

Population and Ethnic Composition

The population of India is more than 1 billion, which makes it the second most populous country in the world [after China]. Virtually all major world religions and ethnic strains can be found in India, though a majority of Indians come from the Indo-Aryan race [72%], followed by Dravidians [25%].

82% of Indians are Hindu. Hinduism, however, is far from a homogeneous religion; it consists of a multiplicity of creeds and faiths, which are further divided among many castes, sects and subsects. The caste system in Hindu society is hierarchical in nature, and has a deep influence on the behaviour and lives of people.

The other major religions, represented in Indian society, are Muslims [12%], Christians [3%], Sikhs [2%], Buddhists, Jains and Parsis. In addition, more than 300 local tribes constitute 8% of the Indian population.

Since different religions are concentrated in different parts of the country, the cultural values and norms also widely differ. For instance, Muslims are a majority in Kashmir, Sikhs are concentrated in Punjab, there are larger proportion of Christians in certain states of North-Eastern India, and so on.

Given the large size of the population, even small proportional representation is actually quite large in real numbers. For instance, though only 12% of the total, India has the third or fourth largest Muslim population in the world [depending on the source]. Similarly, though representing less than a percent, there are 5 million Buddhists in India.

Though India has a secular political structure, religion plays an important role in the personal lives of people, and often influences relationships and business dealings.

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