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The Lowdown On India: What You Need To Know Before You Go

By: Tom Malone

India is a country full of history, people, and ever-changing culture. Before you go explore this incredible country, brush up on the basic geography, history, economics, and government of the world's second-most-populated nation.

Geography:

Physical Geography
Located in southern Asia, the Indian subcontinent borders the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, along with the countries of Pakistan and Burma.

The Eastern and Western Ghats provide protection from the sea winds and allow humidity to sit. The Himalayas to the North block cold northern air from accessing India, which keeps the country warm year round. India’s extensive coastline provides the country with ample trading routes and southern sea winds. India’s major river, the Ganges, provides water for India’s massive population.

The country’s lowest elevation comes at the Indian Ocean (0 feet above sea level), while it’s highest elevation comes in at 8,598 meters above sea level in the Himalayas.

The country features a massive plain (grassland) in its center and densely vegetated jungle to the east and west. It’s northern regions can grow cold due to high elevation.

In terms of land area, India occupies about one-third of the landmass that the United States occupies.

Human Geography
  • Population Density
    • India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (a lot of people in a small space)
    • About three times the population of the United States
    • Second largest population of any country in the world
      • 1.3 billion people
  • Major Cities
    • Bangalore
    • Mumbai (Bombay)
    • New Delhi (Capital City)
  • Languages
    • Hindi, spoken by 41 percent of the population, is the language of the people.
    • English serves as the official language of government and business.
  • Religions
    • 80 percent of Indians practice Hindu
    • 15 percent practice Islam


History:

Ancient Cultures
The Ganges River provided opportunity for agriculture (and ancient culture) to thrive in India thousands of year ago.

Since India was positioned between China and Africa, it served as a profitable trading stop between dozens of civilizations, which brought incredible wealth to the subcontinent. Once Europe became involved in Indian Ocean sea trading, it began to trade ideas with cultures that had been interacting with one another for centuries, which caught Europe up to speed with sea trading techniques.

Colonization
In 1612, the East India Trading Company (a British company) began exporting tea from India to Britain. The company saw incredible profits and eventually, it essentially controlled India.

In 1858, the British government formally took control of India. India became a colony of Britain; English became the official language of India’s government and business.

During British rule, Indians were taxed heavily and coerced into purchasing British goods. These taxes went toward the British Empire’s profit, not Indians’. Oftentimes, Indians were treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

Gandhi
An Indian lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi decided that poor economic and humanitarian British treatment of Indian subjects had gone on long enough. He protested various taxes aimed at exploiting Indian people.

Due to his non-violent methods of protest, Gandhi gathered quite a following of supporters. He became an advocate for peace throughout the world (even writing to Adolph Hitler asking him to stop his invasions of European countries).

Gandhi earned the name “Mahatma” (a title of respect) from his continually triumphant efforts in earning increased rights for the Indian people through non-violent resistance. He was a proponent of being self-reliant and living a simple lifestyle.

After he helped gain Indian independence in 1947, he was assassinated, but his legacy of non-violent resistance inspired great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to practice the same methods in order to promote peace throughout the world.

Independence/Split India & Pakistan
When India gained independence from Britain in 1947, it split the massive British colony of India into two main separate countries: India and Pakistan. India would serve as a primarily Hindu country and Pakistan would serve as a primarily Islamic country.

Economics:

Technology Boom
Due to India’s comparative advantage, it has become a major center for technological business. Most major technology companies utilize English as a primary language; since India was formerly a British colony, its citizens’ English skills are extremely good. India’s cost of living is much lower than that of the United States, so technology companies can pay lower wages to Indian workers without sacrificing their quality of life. Also, India’s massive population provides a large amount of qualified, educated workers to pull from (India has the second-largest labor force in the world).

Imports
  • $472.8 Billion
  • Oil
  • Machinery
  • Steel

Exports
  • $329.6 Billion
  • Vehicles
  • Apparel
  • Cereals

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • $7.411 Trillion
  • $5,800 (per capita)

Major Trading Partners
  • China
  • United States
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Saudi Arabia

Currency
  • Rupee
  • 1 US Dollar = 61 Rupees

Government:

Current Government
  • Type: Federal Republic
  • Capital City: New Delhi
  • States: 29 (plus 7 Union Territories)
  • Independence Day: August 15, 1947
    • India was no longer a British colony, but its own country
  • Chief of State: President
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister
  • Three Branches of Government: (Similar to United States)
    • Executive
    • Legislative
    • Judicial
  • Major Political Parties: Dozens (unlike the United States, which has two major parties)

Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens
  • Anyone 18 years and older can vote
  • Common Law system based on English model
  • Certain laws/liberties apply to Hindu, Muslim, and Christian population
  • Military service is not mandatory

Slums
The Dharavi slum lies in the city of Mumbai (the world’s most densely-populated city). It’s one square mile and contains over one million people who live in destitute poverty. Click here to virtually explore the Dharavi slums.

*Photo Credit: Biography
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