you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies, thrive on sensual
overload, and have a firm grasp of the absurd, then India is one
of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth. No
matter how willing you are to step outside cultural bias and give
up the joys of using toilet paper, India will still manage to sideswipe
you with its size, clamour and diversity. Nothing in the country
is ever quite what you expect, and the only thing to expect is the
unexpected which comes in many forms and will always want to sit
next to you. India is a litmus test for many travellers and some
visitors are only too happy to get on an aircraft and fly away,
but if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies, thrive on
sensual overload, and have a firm grasp of the absurd, then India
is one of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth.
and Pakistan continue to trade insults and, occasionally,
bullets across the disputed Kashmiri border. Indian armed
forces and Kashmiri separatists have also been involved in
violent clashes in the state. Lonely Planet advises that travellers
do not visit the western part of Jammu & Kashmir
state, especially Jammu, Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley,
and Kishtwar in the Zanskar region. Foreign travellers in
this area have been targeted by Kashmiri separatist groups
and several have been kidnapped or killed.
unrest is also occurring in the north-eastern states. Terrorist
attacks have resulted in bombed trains, buses and bridges,
and there have been a number of political killings. Official
sources encourage putting off holidays or business travels
to the states of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur, and
due caution should be exercised if travelling in Arunachal
Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Particular care should also
be taken when travelling to parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
given the prevalence of local banditry.
require permits from the Indian government to visit the states
of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland
in the north-east. In the Indian Himalaya, parts of Kullu
District and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh, and areas
of Uttar Pradesh, also require authorisation. Other areas
requiring permits include the Pakistan-India border region
west of National Highway No 15 in Rajasthan, the Andaman and
Nicobar Islands, and the Lakshadweep Islands.
and armed robbery of ships in the seas around the Indian coast
is becoming a regular occurence. Crews of all ships need to
exercise extreme vigilance.
country name: Republic of India
Area: 3,287,590 sq km (1,229,737 sq mi)
Population: 1 billion
Capital city: New Delhi
People: 72% Indo-Aryan, 25% Dravidian, 3% other Language:
Hindi Religion: 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh,
0.7% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.4% other
Government: Federal Republic
President: Kocheril Raman Narayanan
Prime Minister: Atal Bihari Vajpayee
GDP per head: US$370
Annual growth: 5.4%
Major industries: Textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel,
transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery,
rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes; cattle,
water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry, fish
Major trading partners: US, Hong Kong, UK, Japan, Germany,
Belgium, Saudi Arabia.
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 (1,281,930sq mi), though disputed borders with Pakistan and
China make this figure somewhat arbitrary. It is the seventh largest
country in the world.
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 (985ft) to 900m (2950ft). 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.
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 per cent of the country still has forest cover, and only
4 per cent 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
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.
first major civilisation flourished for a thousand years from around
2500 BC along the Indus River valley. Its great cities were Mohenjodaro
and Harappa (now in Pakistan), ruled by priests and bearing the
rudiments of Hinduism. Aryan invaders swept south from central Asia
between 1500 and 200 BC and controlled northern India, pushing the
original Dravidian inhabitants south.
invaders brought their own gods and cattle-raising and meat-eating
traditions, but were absorbed to such a degree that by the 8th century
BC the priestly caste had reasserted its supremacy. This became
consolidated in the caste system, a hierarchy maintained by strict
rules that secured the position of the Brahmin priests. Buddhism
arose around 500 BC, condemning caste; it drove a radical swathe
through Hinduism in the 3rd century BC when it was embraced by the
Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who controlled huge tracts of India.
of empires, including the Gupta, rose and fell in the north after
the collapse of the Mauryas. Hinduism underwent a revival from 40
to 600 AD, and Buddhism began to decline. The north of India broke
into a number of separate Hindu kingdoms after the Huns invasion;
it was not really unified again until the coming of the Muslims.
far south, whose prosperity was based on trading links with the
Egyptians, Romans and South-East Asia, was unaffected by the turmoil
in the north, and Hinduism's hold on the region was never threatened.
In 1192 Muslims arrived from the Middle East. Within 20 years the
entire Ganges basin was under Muslim control, though Islam failed
to penetrate the south. Two great kingdoms developed in what is
now Karnataka: the mighty Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar, and the
fragmented Bahmani Muslim kingdom.
emperors marched into the Punjab from Afghanistan, defeated the
Sultan of Delhi in 1525, and ushered in another artistic golden
age. The Maratha Empire grew during the 17th century and gradually
took over more of the Mughals' domain. The Marathas consolidated
control of central India until they fell to the last great imperial
power, the British.
British were not, however, the only European power in India: the
Portuguese had controlled Goa since 1510 and the French, Danes and
Dutch also had trading posts. By 1803, when the British overwhelmed
the Marathas, most of the country was under the control of the British
East India Company, which had established its trading post at Surat
in Gujarat in 1612.
company treated India as a place to make money, and its culture,
beliefs and religions were left strictly alone. Britain expanded
iron and coal mining, developed tea, coffee and cotton plantations,
and began construction of India's vast rail network. They encouraged
absentee landlords because they eased the burden of administration
and tax collection, creating an impoverished landless peasantry
- a problem which is still chronic in Bihar and West Bengal. The
Mutiny in northern India in 1857 led to the demise of the East India
Company, and administration of the country was handed over to the
to British rule began in earnest at the turn of the 20th century.
The 'Congress' which had been established to give India a degree
of self-rule now began to push for the real thing. In 1915, Gandhi
returned from South Africa, where he had practised as a lawyer,
and turned his abilities to independence, adopting a policy of passive
resistance, or satyagraha.
dealt a deathblow to colonialism and Indian independence became
inevitable. Within India, however, the large Muslim minority realised
that an independent India would be Hindu-dominated. Communalism
grew, with the Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, speaking
for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and the Congress Party,
led by Jawaharlal Nehru, representing the Hindu population. The
bid for a separate Muslim nation was the biggest stumbling block
to Britain granting independence.
with a political stand-off and rising tension, Viceroy Mountbatten
reluctantly decided to divide the country and set a rapid timetable
for independence. Unfortunately, the two overwhelmingly Muslim regions
were on opposite sides of the country - meaning the new nation of
Pakistan would be divided by a hostile India. When the dividing
line was announced, the greatest exodus in human history took place
as Muslims moved to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs relocated to India.
Over 10 million people changed sides and even the most conservative
estimates calculate that 250,000 people were killed. On 30 January
1948, Gandhi, deeply disheartened by Partition and the subsequent
bloodshed, was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.
the trauma of Partition, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal
Nehru championed a secular constitution, socialist central planning
and a strict policy of nonalignment. India elected to join the Commonwealth,
but also increased ties with the USSR - partly because of conflicts
with China and partly because of US support for arch-enemy Pakistan,
which was particularly hostile to India because of its claim on
Muslim-dominated Kashmir. There were clashes with Pakistan in 1965
next prime minister of stature was Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi,
who was elected in 1966. She is still held in high esteem, but is
remembered by some for meddling with India's democratic foundations
by declaring a state of emergency in 1975. Mrs Gandhi was assassinated
by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 as a reprisal for using the Indian
Army to flush out armed Sikh radicals from the Golden Temple in
Amritsar. The Gandhis' dynastic grip on Indian politics continued
when her son, Rajiv was swept into power.
brought new and pragmatic policies to the country. Foreign investment
and the use of modern technology were encouraged, import restrictions
were eased and many new industries were set up. These measures projected
India into the 1990s and out of isolationism, but did little to
stimulate India's mammoth rural sector. Rajiv was assassinated on
an election tour by a supporter of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.
dangers of communalism in India were clearly displayed in 1992,
when a Hindu mob stormed and destroyed a mosque built on the site
of Rama's birth in Ayodhya. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) has been keen to exploit such opportunities, and has
led several disparate coalitions to power in recent years. Despite
the dangers of playing communalist politics, the BJP's traditionalist
Hindu stance has attracted voters concerned about retaining traditional
values during the sudden onslaught of modern global influences.
In 1998 India tested its first nuclear weapons. Despite international
outrage, the nuclear tests were met with widespread jubilation in
India and caused a groundswell of support for the BJP.
by April 1999 PM Vajpayee had lost majority support in parliament
and was forced into a vote of confidence, which he lost by one vote.
Sonia Ghandi, Rajiv Ghandi's widow, was expected to lead the Congress
Party to victory after its three years in the political wilderness,
but she was unable to secure a coalition and India was forced to
the polls for the third time in as many years. The BJP was returned
to government but with a significant decrease in support.
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