India, located north of equator between latitudes 6°44’N and 35°30’N and longitudes 68°7’ E and 97°25’ E, is the seventh largest nation in the world. Located in South Asia, India has a total geographic area cover of 3,287,263 square kilometers. With mainland surrounded by water on three sides, India also comprise of two island groups namely, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal, comprise of about 200 small islands in Andaman alone while the Nicobar constitute of 19 small islands. Lakshadweep Islands which are located in the Arabian Sea are formed on a coral deposit, off the coast ofKerala.
The total coastline of India measures to 7517 kilometers. Of this coastline, the peninsular India contributes 5423 kilometers while the remaining 2094 kilometers are contributed by the island groups of India. According to theIndian naval hydrographic charts, 43% of the beaches in India are sandy, 46% have marshy coast while the remaining 11% of them are rocky.
India is bounded by the Arabian Sea in the southwest, Bay of Bengal in the southeast and Indian Ocean in the south and shares a maritime border with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia. Of these, Sri Lanka and Maldives are in the vicinity of the mainland India while Thailand and Indonesia fall under the vicinity of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India also shares a land border with Pakistan in the west, Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east and Bhutan, China and Nepal in the northeast.
Physiographic Regions in India
The Indian sub-continent is characterized by a wide diversity in physiographic regions. The major physical features of India include the following listed below:
- The Himalayan Mountains
- The Indo-Gangetic Plains
- The Thar Desert
- The Highlands
- The Coasts
- The Islands
The Himalayan Mountains in India:
The Himalayan mountain range stretches about 2400 kilometers between the gorges of river Indus and river Tsangpo, known as Brahmaputra in India, separate the Indian sub-continent from the rest of the Asia. These ranges are famously referred as ‘The Great Himalayas’. These are located in the northern-most part of the country and have an average altitude of 6000 meters above the sea level. The portion of the Himalayan ranges which fall between the rivers Indus, Sutlej and Sharda are famously known as Kumaon Himalayas, the portion between the rivers Sharda and Tista are known as Nepal Himalayas while the Assam Himalayas is the name given to the region of the Himalayan ranges which lie between river Tista and the Dihangare. The major peaks of the Great Himalayas include the Kanchenjunga (8598 m), the Everest (8848 m), the Nanga Parbat (8126 m), the Nanda Devi (7817 m) and the Namcha Parbat (7756 m). Of all these major Himalayan peaks, Everest (8848 m) is the highest peak, not only in Himalayan ranges but also amongst other mountain ranges in the world. However, Kanchenjunga with an altitude of 8598 meters is the highest peak in India.
Indo-Gangetic Plains of India:
The Indo-Gangetic plains, famously known as ‘The Great Plains’, are large alluvial plains formed by the deposition of silt by a number of rivers of the region. The major regional rivers responsible for the formation of these Great Plains include the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries which are the Chambal, the Chenab, the Tista, the Yamuna, the Gomti, the Ghaghara, the Kosi, the Sutlej, the Ravi, the Beas and the rivers of the Ganga Delta such as Meghna. These plains run parallel to the Himalayan ranges, starting from Jammu and Kashmir in the north-west to the state of Assam in the north-east and drain most of the eastern and northern part of India. The Great Plains cover an estimated area of about 700,000 square kilometers and their flatness makes it possible to provide proper irrigation facilities to them through the construction of canals. Numerous rivers in the region provide wholesome amount of water for the construction of canals and facilitate irrigation in the region. Apart from the river water, these plains are also rich in the ground water resource. These plains form a portion of the most intensely cultivated regions in the world. Cultivable land with proper irrigation facilities is one of the prime reasons for making these plains one of the most densely populated regions in the world. The major crops grown in the region include rice and wheat (grown in rotation), maize, sugarcane and cotton.
Thar Desert of India:
India is also home to the seventh largest desert in the world which is named as the Thar Desert. This desert is famously known as ‘The Great Indian Desert’ and is spread over an area of about 200,000 to 238,700 square kilometers, covering a sizable portion of the western India. This desert covers about 61 percent area of Rajasthanwhich is a prominent state in India. The Thar Desert continues as the Cholistan Desert in Pakistan. About 90% of this desert comprises of fixed dune areas, compacted bottoms of salt lakes and craggy rock forms while the remaining 10% of the desert comprises of sand dunes. The annual temperature in the region varies from 0°C in the winters to about 50°C in the summers. Annual rainfall in the region is erratic and precarious, ranging from below 120 mm in the extreme west to 375 mm in the eastern regions. The texture of the soil of this region generally varies from sandy to sand-loamy. The depth and consistency of the sand depends on the topographic features and vary all across the desert. The loams which are low-lying are heavier and may have a hard pan of gypsum, clay or calcium carbonate.
Highlands of India:
Highlands form a sizable portion of India. These highlands comprise of three main plateaus namely, the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the east, the Malwa Plateau in the west and the Deccan Plateau in the south.
The Chota Nagpur Plateau, located in the eastern part of India, covers an area of about 65000 square kilometers and comprises of three smaller plateaus which are namely the Ranchi plateau, the Hazaribagh plateau and the Kodarma plateau. These plateaus together cover most parts of the state of Jharkhand and the adjacent parts ofOrissa, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh.
The Malwa Plateau, situated in the western part of India, covers the major parts of the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. With an average elevation of about 500 meters this plateau is generally slopes towards north.
Deccan Plateau, the largest of the three plateaus, is located in southern India. It is a large triangular plateau, mostly flat and covers an area of about 1.9 million square kilometers. The average inclination of the Deccan plateau is about 600 meters above the sea level.
Coasts of India:
The Eastern Coastal Plains of India stretches from the state of Tamil Nadu in the south to the state of West Bengalin the north, between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal. These coastal plains are drained by the rivers which include the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Kaveri and the Krishna, while their deltas occupy the most areas of these coasts. With high levels of humidity the temperature of these plains often exceeds 30°C.
The Western Coastal Plains are situated on the western coast of India, extending from state of Kerala in the south to the state of Gujarat in the north. These coasts are sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. They cover the territories of many Indian states which include Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. These coasts are narrow plains ranging from 50 to 100 kilometers in width. The rivers flowing through these plains are mostly perennial and include the Tapi, the Mandovi, the Narmada and the Zuari. These plains are further divided into two parts which are known as the Konkan coasts and the Malabar Coasts.
Islands of India:
The major island groups of India include the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands. Both these groups of islands are now classified as union territories in India. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprise of 572 isles, located between longitudes 92°E and 94°E and latitudes 6°N and 14°N, and are situated in the Bay of Bengal near the coast of Myanmar. On the other hand, the Lakshadweep Islands are situated in the Arabian Sea, located about 200 to 300 kilometers off the coast of the Indian state of Kerala. These cover an area of about 32 square kilometers.
The other important islands of India include the Salsette Island, the Majuli Island, the Elephanta Island and the Sriharikota Island.
Biodiversity in India:
India has always been recognized for its rich flora and fauna as it displays a significant biodiversity. It is one the seventeen mega-diverse nations and is also known for having three hotspots of biodiversity. India provides habitat to 12.6% of all avian, 11.7% of all fish, 7.6% of all mammalian, 6.2% of all reptilian, 6% of all flowering plant species and 4.4% of all amphibian.
The eco-regions in the nation including the shola forests display a high rate of endemism with overall 33% of theIndian plant species being endemic. Nearly 12% of the total area of India is covered with forests. The country also displays a wide diversity in forest ranges. Forest cover of the country includes coniferous forest of the Himalayas, the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats and northeastern part of the country, the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India, the teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of the central and southern Indiaand the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and the western part of Indo-Gangetic plains.
Mammals are expected to have entered the sub-continent from Asia through two zoogeographical passes on both the sides of emerging Himalayas. Of all species in India only 12.6% are mammals and only 4.5% of the birds are endemic. On the other hand, amphibians constitute 55.8%, while the reptiles constitute 45.8% of all Indian species. Most famous amongst the endemics are the Beddome’s toad of the Western Ghats and the leaf monkeys of the Nilgiri. India is known to possess 2.9%, which accounts to 172 in number, species which are designated as the threatened species by the IUCN. These include the Bengal Tiger, the Asiatic Lion and also the Indian white-rumped vulture.
India has expanded its system of national parks and protected areas which were first established in 1935 as an answer to the human encroachment which was posing a threat to the nation’s wildlife. India has also enacted several Constitutional Acts for the safety of the natural habitat of the country’s wildlife. These include the Forest Conservation Act which was enacted in 1980 and amended in 1988 and the Project Tiger and Wildlife Protection Act. Today, the country has more than 500 wildlife sanctuaries, thirteen biosphere reserves and twenty five wetlands, which are registered under the Ramsar Convention. Four amongst the thirteen biosphere reserves of the country are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.