India is a large, triangular-shaped country in southern Asia, buttressed by the long sweep of the Himalaya in the north and protruding into the Indian Ocean in the south. It’s bordered by Pakistan to the north-west, China, Nepal and Bhutan to the north, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Sri Lanka is the teardrop-shaped island hanging off its southern tip. India covers a land area of some 3,287,000 sq km, though disputed borders with Pakistan and China make this figure somewhat arbitrary. It is the seventh largest country in the world.
Northern India contains the snow-bound peaks and deep valleys of the Himalaya and the vast Gangetic Plain, which separates the Himalayan region from the southern peninsula and stretches from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. South of the plains, the land rises up into a triangular-shaped plateau known as the Deccan, which ranges in altitude from 300m to 900m. The plateau is bordered by the Eastern and Western ghats, ranges of hills which run parallel to India’s eastern and western coasts and separate the fertile coastal strips from the interior.
Wildlife in India is often purported to have enjoyed a privileged and protected position thanks to the religious ideals and sentiments of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, but much of this tradition has been lost. Extensive hunting by the British and the Indian rajahs, large-scale clearing of forests for agriculture, poaching, pesticides and the ever-increasing population have had disastrous effects on India’s environment. Only around 10% of the country still has forest cover, and only 4% is protected within national parks and reserves. In the past few decades the government has taken serious steps to improve environmental management and has established over 350 parks, sanctuaries and reserves.
The highlights of India’s fauna are its lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, elephants and rhinoceroses, but the country is also home to a rich variety of deer and antelope, wild buffaloes, massive Indian bisons, shaggy sloth bears, striped hyenas, wild pigs, jackals and Indian wild dogs. Monkeys include rhesus macaques, bonnet macaques and long-tailed common langurs. The reptilian world boasts magnificent king cobras, pythons, crocodiles, large freshwater tortoises and monitor lizards, while the diverse birdlife includes large hornbills, serpent eagles and fishing owls, as well as the elegant national bird, the peacock.
Climate varies greatly, from the arid deserts of Rajasthan to the cool highlands of Assam, allegedly the wettest place on earth. But basically India has a three-season year – the hot, the wet and the cool. The heat starts to build up on the northern plains around February and by April it becomes unbearable. The first signs of the monsoon appear in May with high humidity, short rainstorms and violent electrical storms.The monsoon rains begin around 1 June in the extreme south and sweep north to cover the whole country by early July. The monsoon doesn’t really cool things off, but it’s a great relief – especially to farmers. The main monsoon comes from the south-west, but the south-eastern coast is affected by the short and surprisingly wet north-eastern monsoon, which brings rain from mid-October to the end of December. The main monsoon ends around October and India’s northern cities become crisp at night in December. In the far south, where it never gets cool, the temperatures are comfortably warm rather than hot.