Geography of India

Continent Asia
Region South Asia
Indian subcontinent
Coordinates 21°N 78°E
Area Ranked 7th
 • Total 3,287,263 km2(1,269,219 sq mi)
 • Land 100%
 • Water 0%
Coastline 7,516.6 km (4,670.6 mi)
Borders Total land borders:[1]
15,106.70 km (9,386.87 mi)
Bangladesh:
4,096.70 km (2,545.57 mi)
China (PRC):
3,488 km (2,167 mi)
Pakistan:
2,910 km (1,808 mi)
Nepal:
1,751 km (1,088 mi)
Myanmar:
1,643 km (1,021 mi)
Bhutan:
699 km (434 mi)
Highest point Kanchenjunga
8,598 m (28,209 ft)
Lowest point Kuttanad
−2.2 m (−7.2 ft)
Longest river Ganges
2,525 km (8,284,121 ft)
Largest lake Wular Lake
30 to 260 km² (12 to 100 sq mi)

India lies on the Indian Plate, the northern portion of the Indo-Australian Plate, whose continental crust forms the Indian subcontinent. The country is situated north of the equator between 6°4′ (8°4′ for mainland) to 37°6′ north latitude and 68°7′ to 97°25′ east longitude. It is the seventh-largest country in the world, with a total area of 3,287,263 square kilometres.

On the south, India projects into and is bounded by the Indian Ocean –- in particular, by the Arabian Sea on the southwest, the Lakshadweep Sea to the south, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast. The Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar separate India from Sri Lanka to its immediate southeast, and the Maldives are some 400 kilometres to the southwest. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, some 1,200 kilometres southeast of the mainland, share maritime borders with Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. Kanyakumari at 8°4′41″N and 77°32′28″E is the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland, while the southernmost point in India is Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island. Northernmost point which is under Indian administration is Indira Col, Siachen Glacier. India’s territorial waters extend into the sea to a distance of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from the coast baseline.

The northern frontiers of India are defined largely by the Himalayan mountain range, where the country borders China, Bhutan, and Nepal. Its western border with Pakistan lies in the Punjab Plain and the Thar Desert. In the far northeast, the Chin Hills and Kachin Hills, deeply forested mountainous regions, separate India from Burma. On the east, its border with Bangladesh is largely defined by the Khasi Hills and Mizo Hills, and the watershed region of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

The Ganga is the longest river originating in India. The Ganga–Brahmaputra system occupies most of northern, central, and eastern India, while the Deccan Plateau occupies most of southern India. Kanchenjunga, on the border between Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, is the highest point in India at 8,598 m and the world’s 3rd highest peak. Climate across India ranges from equatorial in the far south, to alpine and tundra in the upper reaches of the Himalayas.

Physiographic regions

India can be divided into six physiographic regions. They are

  1. The Northern Mountains
  2. The Peninsular Plateau
  3. Indo-Gangetic Plain
  4. Thar Desert
  5. The Coastal Plains
  6. The Islands

The Northern Mountains

A great arc of mountains, consisting of the Himalayas of Nepal, Hindu Kush, and Patkai ranges define the northern Indian subcontinent. These were formed by the ongoing tectonic collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates. The mountains in these ranges include some of the world’s tallest mountains which act as a natural barrier to cold polar winds. They also facilitate the monsoon winds which in turn influence the climate in India. Rivers originating in these mountains flow through the fertile Indo–Gangetic plains. These mountains are recognised by biogeographers as the boundary between two of the Earth’s great ecozones: the temperate Palearctic that covers most of Eurasia and the tropical and subtropical Indomalaya ecozone which includes the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Indonesia.

The Himalayan range is the world’s highest mountain range, with its tallest peak Mt. Everest (8,848 metres on the Nepal–China border.They form India’s northeastern border, separating it from northeastern Asia. They are one of the world’s youngest mountain ranges. The Himalayas extend from Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. These states along with Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim lie mostly in the Himalayan region. Kanchenjunga—on the Sikkim–Nepal border—is the highest point in the area administered by India. Most peaks in the Himalayas remain snowbound throughout the year. The Himalayas act as a barrier to the frigid katabatic winds flowing down from Central Asia. Thus, North India is kept warm or only mildly cooled during winter; in summer, the same phenomenon makes India relatively hot.

The Karakoram is situated in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has more than sixty peaks above 7,000 m, including K2, the second highest peak in the world 8,611 m. K2 is just 237 m smaller than the Mount Everest. The range is about 500 km in length and the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside of the polar regions. The Siachen Glacier at 76 km and the Biafo Glacier at 67 km rank as the world’s second and third-longest glaciers outside the polar regions. Just to the west of the northwest end of the Karakoram, lies the Hindu Raj range, beyond which is the Hindu Kush range. The southern boundary of the Karakoram is formed by the Gilgit, Indus and Shyok rivers, which separate the range from the northwestern end of the Himalayas.

The himalayas

The himalayas

The Patkai, or Purvanchal, are situated near India’s eastern border with Burma. They were created by the same tectonic processes which led to the formation of the Himalayas. The physical features of the Patkai mountains are conical peaks, steep slopes and deep valleys. The Patkai ranges are not as rugged or tall as the Himalayas. There are three hill ranges that come under the Patkai: the Patkai–Bum, the Garo–Khasi–Jaintia and the Lushai hills. The Garo–Khasi range lies in Meghalaya. Mawsynram, a village near Cherrapunji lying on the windward side of these hills, has the distinction of being the wettest place in the world, receiving the highest annual rainfall.

The Peninsular Plateau

The Vindhya range runs across most of central India, extending 1,050 km. The average elevation of these hills is from 300 to 600 m and rarely goes above 700 metres. They are believed to have been formed by the wastes created by the weathering of the ancient Aravali Mountains. Geographically, it separates Northern India from Southern India. The western end of the range lies in eastern Gujarat, near its border with Madhya Pradesh, and runs east and north, almost meeting the Ganges at Mirzapur.

The Malwa Plateau is spread across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The average elevation of the Malwa plateau is 500 metres, and the landscape generally slopes towards the north. Most of the region is drained by the Chambal River and its tributaries; the western part is drained by the upper reaches of the Mahi River.

Kutch Kathiawar plateau is located in Gujarat state.

The Deccan Plateau is a large triangular plateau, bounded by the Vindhyas to the north and flanked by the Eastern and Western Ghats. The Deccan covers a total area of 1.9 million km². It is mostly flat, with elevations ranging from 300 to 600 m. The average elevation of the plateau is 2,000 feet above sea level. It slopes gently from west to east and gives rise to several peninsular rivers such as the Godavari, the Krishna, the Kaveri and the Mahanadi which drain into the Bay of Bengal. This region is mostly semi-arid as it lies on the leeward side of both Ghats. Much of the Deccan is covered by thorn scrub forest scattered with small regions of deciduous broadleaf forest. Climate in the Deccan ranges from hot summers to mild winters.

The Deccan Plateau

The Deccan Plateau

The Chota Nagpur Plateau is situated in eastern India, covering much of Jharkhand and adjacent parts of Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Its total area is approximately 65,000 km2 and is made up of three smaller plateaus — the Ranchi, Hazaribagh, and Kodarma plateaus. The Ranchi plateau is the largest, with an average elevation of 700 m. Much of the plateau is forested, covered by the Chota Nagpur dry deciduous forests. Vast reserves of metal ores and coal have been found in the Chota Nagpur plateau. The Kathiawar peninsula in western Gujarat is bounded by the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Khambat. The natural vegetation in most of the peninsula is xeric scrub, part of the Northwestern thorn scrub forests ecoregion.

The Satpura Range begins in eastern Gujarat near the Arabian Sea coast and runs east across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It extends 900 km with many peaks rising above 1,000 m. It is triangular in shape, with its apex at Ratnapuri and the two sides being parallel to the Tapti and Narmada rivers.[22] It runs parallel to the Vindhya Range, which lies to the north, and these two east-west ranges divide the Indo–Gangetic plain from the Deccan Plateau located north of River Narmada.

The Aravali Range is the oldest mountain range in India, running across Rajasthan from northeast to southwest direction, extending approximately 800 km. The northern end of the range continues as isolated hills and rocky ridges into Haryana, ending near Delhi. The highest peak in this range is Guru Shikhar at Mount Abu, rising to 1,722 m, lying near the border with Gujarat. The Aravali Range is the eroded stub of an ancient fold mountain system. The range rose in a Precambrian event called the Aravali–Delhi orogen. The range joins two of the ancient segments that make up the Indian craton, the Marwar segment to the northwest of the range, and the Bundelkhand segment to the southeast.

The Western Ghats or Sahyadri mountains run along the western edge of India’s Deccan Plateau and separate it from a narrow coastal plain along the Arabian Sea. The range runs approximately 1,600 km from south of the Tapti River near the Gujarat–Maharashtra border and across Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to the southern tip of the Deccan peninsula. The average elevation is around 1,000 m. Anai Mudi in the Anaimalai Hills 2,695 m in Kerala is the highest peak in the Western Ghats.

The Eastern Ghats are a discontinuous range of mountains, which have been eroded and vivisected by the four major rivers of southern India, the Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Kaveri. These mountains extend from West Bengal to Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, along the coast and parallel to the Bay of Bengal. Though not as tall as the Western Ghats, some of its peaks are over 1,000 m in height. The Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu lies at the junction of the Eastern and Western Ghats. Arma Konda (1,680 m ) in Andhra Pradesh is the tallest peak in Eastern Ghats.

Indo-Gangetic plain

The Indo-Gangetic plains, also known as the Great Plains are large alluvial plains dominated by three main rivers, the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. They run parallel to the Himalayas, from Jammu and Kashmir in the west to Assam in the east, and drain most of northern and eastern India. The plains encompass an area of 700,000 km2. The major rivers in this region are the Ganges, Indus, and Brahmaputra along with their main tributaries–Yamuna, Chambal, Gomti, Ghaghara, Kosi, Sutlej, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Tista—as well as the rivers of the Ganges Delta, such as the Meghna.

The great plains are sometimes classified into four divisions:

  • The Bhabarbelt is adjacent to the foothills of the Himalayas and consists of boulders and pebbles which have been carried down by streams. As the porosity of this belt is very high, the streams flow underground. The Bhabar is generally narrow with its width varying from 6 to 15 km.
  • The Taraibelt lies south of the adjacent Bhabar region and is composed of newer alluvium. The underground streams reappear in this region. The region is excessively moist and thickly forested. It also receives heavy rainfall throughout the year and is populated with a variety of wildlife.
  • The Bangarbelt consists of older alluvium and forms the alluvial terrace of the flood plains. In the Gangetic plains, it has a low upland covered by laterite deposits.
  • The Khadarbelt lies in lowland areas after the Bangar belt. It is made up of fresh newer alluvium which is deposited by the rivers flowing down the plain.

The Indo-Gangetic belt is the world’s most extensive expanse of uninterrupted alluvium formed by the deposition of silt by the numerous rivers. The plains are flat making it conducive for irrigation through canals. The area is also rich in ground water sources. The plains are one of the world’s most intensely farmed areas. The main crops grown are rice and wheat, which are grown in rotation. Other important crops grown in the region include maize, sugarcane and cotton. The Indo-Gangetic plains rank among the world’s most densely populated areas.

Thar Desert

The Thar Desert (also known as the deserts) is by some calculations the world’s seventh largest desert, by some others the tenth. It forms a significant portion of western India and covers an area of 200,000 to 238,700 km2. The desert continues into Pakistan as the Cholistan Desert. Most of the Thar Desert is situated in Rajasthan, covering 61% of its geographic area.

About 10 percent of this region comprises sand dunes, and the remaining 90 percent consist of craggy rock forms, compacted salt-lake bottoms, and interdunal and fixed dune areas. Annual temperatures can range from 0 °C in the winter to over 50 °C during the summer. Most of the rainfall received in this region is associated with the short July–September southwest monsoon that brings 100 to 500 mm of precipitation. Water is scarce and occurs at great depths, ranging from 30 to 120 metres below the ground level. Rainfall is precarious and erratic, ranging from below 120 mm in the extreme west to 375 mm eastward.The only river in this region is Luni. The soils of the arid region are generally sandy to sandy-loam in texture. The consistency and depth vary as per the topographical features. The low-lying loams are heavier may have a hard pan of clay, calcium carbonate or gypsum.

Thar Desert

Thar Desert

In western India, the Kutch region in Gujarat and Koyna in Maharashtra are classified as a Zone IV region (high risk) for earthquakes. The Kutch city of Bhuj was the epicentre of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, which claimed the lives of more than 1,337 people and injured 166,836 while destroying or damaging near a million homes. The 1993 Latur earthquake in Maharashtra killed 7,928 people and injured 30,000. Other areas have a moderate to low risk of an earthquake occurring.

Coasts

The Eastern Coastal Plain is a wide stretch of land lying between the Eastern Ghats and the oceanic boundary of India. It stretches from Tamil Nadu in the south to West Bengal in the east. The Mahanadi, Godavari, Kaveri, and Krishna rivers drain these plains. The temperature in the coastal regions often exceeds 30 °C, and is coupled with high levels of humidity. The region receives both the northeast monsoon and southwest monsoon rains. The southwest monsoon splits into two branches, the Bay of Bengal branch and the Arabian Sea branch. The Bay of Bengal branch moves northwards crossing northeast India in early June. The Arabian Sea branch moves northwards and discharges much of its rain on the windward side of Western Ghats. Annual rainfall in this region averages between 1,000 and 3,000 mm. The width of the plains varies between 100 and 130 km. The plains are divided into six regions—the Mahanadi delta, the southern Andhra Pradesh plain, the Krishna-Godavari deltas, the Kanyakumari coast, the Coromandel Coast, and sandy coastal.

Indian Coastline

Indian Coastline

The Western Coastal Plain is a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, ranging from 50 to 100 km in width. It extends from Gujarat in the north and extends through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala. Numerous rivers and backwaters inundate the region. Mostly originating in the Western Ghats, the rivers are fast-flowing, usually perennial, and empty into estuaries. Major rivers flowing into the sea are the Tapi, Narmada, Mandovi and Zuari. Vegetation is mostly deciduous, but the Malabar Coast moist forests constitute a unique ecoregion. The Western Coastal Plain can be divided into two parts, the Konkan and the Malabar Coast.

Islands

The Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are India’s two major island formations and are classified as union territories.

The Lakshadweep Islands lie 200 to 300 km off the coast of Kerala in the Arabian sea with an area of 32 km2. They consist of twelve atolls, three reefs, and five submerged banks, with a total of about 35 islands and islets.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are located between 6° and 14° north latitude and 92° and 94° east longitude. They consist of 572 isles, lying in the Bay of Bengal near the Burmese coast. They are located 1,255 km from Kolkata and 193 km from Cape Negrais in Burma. The territory consists of two island groups, the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. The Andaman Islands consists of 204 small islands across a total length of 352 km. India’s only active volcano, Barren Island is situated here. It last erupted in 2008. The Narcondum is a dormant volcano and there is a mud volcano at Baratang. Indira Point, India’s southernmost land point, is situated in the Nicobar islands at 6°45’10″N and 93°49’36″E, and lies just 189 km from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, to the southeast. The highest point is Mount Thullier at 642 m.

Other significant islands in India include Diu, a former Portuguese colony; Majuli, a river island of the Brahmaputra; Elephanta in Bombay Harbour; and Sriharikota, a barrier island in Andhra Pradesh. Salsette Island is India’s most populous island on which the city of Mumbai is located. Forty-two islands in the Gulf of Kutch constitute the Marine National Park.

Water bodies

India has around 14,500 km of inland navigable waterways.  There are twelve rivers which are classified as major rivers, with the total catchment area exceeding 2,528,000 km2. All major rivers of India originate from one of the three main watersheds:

  1. The Himalaya and the Karakoram ranges
  2. Vindhya and Satpura range in central India
  3. Sahyadri or Western Ghats in western India

The Himalayan river networks are snow-fed and have a perennial supply throughout the year. The other two river systems are dependent on the monsoons and shrink into rivulets during the dry season. The Himalayan rivers that flow westward into Pakistan are the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghana system has the largest catchment area of about 1,600,000 km2. The Ganges Basin alone has a catchment of about 1,100,000 km2. The Ganges originates from the Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand. It flows southeast, draining into the Bay of Bengal. The Yamuna and Gomti rivers also arise in the western Himalayas and join the Ganges in the plains. The Brahmaputra originates in Tibet, China, where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo River (or “Tsangpo”). It enters India in the far-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, then flows west through Assam. The Brahmaputra merges with the Ganges in Bangladesh, where it is known as the Jamuna River.

The Chambal, another tributary of the Ganges, via the Yamuna, originates from the Vindhya-Satpura watershed. The river flows eastward. Westward-flowing rivers from this watershed are the Narmada and Tapti, which drain into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat. The river network that flows from east to west constitutes 10% of the total outflow.

The Western Ghats are the source of all Deccan rivers, which include the through Godavari River, Krishna River and Kaveri River, all draining into the Bay of Bengal. These rivers constitute 20% of India’s total outflow.

The heavy southwest monsoon rains cause the Brahmaputra and other rivers to distend their banks, often flooding surrounding areas. Though they provide rice paddy farmers with a largely dependable source of natural irrigation and fertilisation, such floods have killed thousands of people and tend to cause displacements of people in such areas.

Major gulfs include the Gulf of Cambay, Gulf of Kutch, and the Gulf of Mannar. Straits include the Palk Strait, which separates India from Sri Lanka; the Ten Degree Channel, which separates the Andamans from the Nicobar Islands; ‘and the Eight Degree Channel, which separates the Laccadive and Amindivi Islands from the Minicoy Island to the south. Important capes include the Kanyakumari (formerly called Cape Comorin), the southern tip of mainland India; Indira Point, the southernmost point in India (on Great Nicobar Island); Rama’s Bridge, and Point Calimere. The Arabian Sea lies to the west of India, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean lie to the east and south, respectively. Smaller seas include the Laccadive Sea and the Andaman Sea. There are four coral reefs in India, located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Gulf of Mannar, Lakshadweep, and the Gulf of Kutch. Important lakes include Sambhar Lake, the country’s largest saltwater lake in Rajasthan, Vembanad Lake in Kerala, Kolleru Lake in Andhra Pradesh, Loktak Lake in Manipur, Dal Lake in Kashmir, Chilka Lake(lagoon lake) in Orrisa, and Sasthamkotta Lake in Kerala.

Wetlands

India’s wetland ecosystem is widely distributed from the cold and arid located in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, and those with the wet and humid climate of peninsular India. Most of the wetlands are directly or indirectly linked to river networks. The Indian government has identified a total of 71 wetlands for conservation and are part of sanctuaries and national parks. Mangrove forests are present all along the Indian coastline in sheltered estuaries, creeks, backwaters, salt marshes and mudflats. The mangrove area covers a total of 4,461 km2. which comprises 7% of the world’s total mangrove cover. Prominent mangrove covers are located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Sundarbans delta, the Gulf of Kutch and the deltas of the Mahanadi, Godavari and Krishna rivers. Parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala also have large mangrove covers.

The Sundarbans delta is home to the largest mangrove forest in the world. It lies at the mouth of the Ganges and spreads across areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is identified separately as the Sundarbans (Bangladesh) and the Sundarbans National Park (India). The Sundarbans are intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests. The area is known for its diverse fauna, being home to a large variety of species of birds, spotted deer, crocodiles and snakes. Its most famous inhabitant is the Bengal tiger. It is estimated that there are now 400 Bengal tigers and about 30,000 spotted deer in the area.

The sunderban delta

The sunderban delta

The Rann of Kutch is a marshy region located in northwestern Gujarat and the bordering Sindh province of Pakistan. It occupies a total area of 27,900 km2. The region was originally a part of the Arabian Sea. Geologic forces such as earthquakes resulted in the damming up of the region, turning it into a large saltwater lagoon. This area gradually filled with silt thus turning it into a seasonal salt marsh. During the monsoons, the area turn into a shallow marsh, often flooding to knee-depth. After the monsoons, the region turns dry and becomes parched.

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