Physical Geographyof South Asia Mr. Belter
Landforms andResources • Main Idea The geography of South Asia varies from towering mountains to lowland river plains. • Geography and You How would you like to feel truly “on top of the world”? You could if you climbed Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth. Read to learn about this mountain in South Asia and the region’s other physical features.
subcontinent • South Asia is made up of seven countries. India is the largest among them, covering three-fourths of the region. South Asia also includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka (SREE LAHNG∙kuh), and Maldives (MAWL∙DEEVZ). Most of these countries are located on the Indian subcontinent. A subcontinent is a large landmass that is a part of a continent.
Northern Mountains • Three huge walls of mountains form South Asia’s northern boundary and separate the subcontinent from the rest of Asia. These mountain systems are the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram (KAH∙rah∙KOHR∙ahm), and the Himalaya (HIH∙muh∙LAY∙uh). The Himalaya range is the highest mountain system in the world. Among the snowcapped peaks of Nepal is Mount Everest, which, at 29,028 feet (8,848 m) is the tallest mountain in the world.
Northern Plains • South of South Asia’s massive mountains are wide, fertile plains. These areas are watered by the region’s three great rivers—the Indus, the Ganges (GAN∙JEEZ), and the Brahmaputra (BRAHM∙uh∙POO∙ truh). The people of the region have long depended on these rivers for farming, transportation, and trade.
Delta • The Indus River begins north of the Himalaya in Tibet, China, and flows southwest through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. The Ganges flows from the Himalaya in a different direction—southeast through India’s Ganges Plain. This vast lowland area boasts some of the country’s richest soil and is home to about 40 percent of India’s population. In eastern India, the Ganges River turns south through Bangladesh. There it combines with the Brahmaputra River to form the world’s largest delta. A deltais a soil deposit at the mouth of a river.
Southern Landforms • The landscape in the south is quite different from that in the north. At the base of the subcontinent are two chains of eroded coastal mountains—the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats. Between them lies a highland area known as the Deccan Plateau. The Western Ghats block seasonal rains from reaching this plateau, leaving it extremely dry.
Islands of South Asia • South Asia includes two island nations: Sri Lanka and Maldives. Sri Lanka, the larger of the two nations, lies off the southeast coast of India. Shaped like a teardrop, the country has a small pocket of highlands in the interior. This area is made up of ridges, valleys, and steep cliffs that offer spectacular scenery. Coastal lowlands encircle these highlands and cover more than 80 percent of the island.
Maldives which lies off India’s western coast, is one of the smallest countries in the world. Maldives includes more than 1,300 islands, though people live on only about 200 of them. Many of the islands areatolls, circular-shaped islands made of coral. Coral is a rocklike material formed from the skeletons of tiny sea creatures. As coral deposits build up, many of them eventually become covered by soil and sand to make islands. Atolls have a shallow body of water in the center called alagoon. The outer ring of the island protects the lagoon from the sea.
Natural Resources • South Asia is not a land of plenty. Even good farmland is scarce outside of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Although most South Asians grow crops or tend livestock, plots of land are small, and many farmers barely earn a living. India is luckier than its neighbors. As South Asia’s largest country, it not only has productive land, but it also has most of the region’s mineral resources. These include iron ore, manganese, and chromite, which are all used in making steel. Pakistan, too, has some valuable minerals, especially limestone, which is an ingredient for making cement.
EnvironmentalConcerns • Main Idea South Asia’s growing population is creating more demand for food and fuel and threatening the region’s environment. • Geography and You Have you ever been on a street or in a stadium crowded with people? What kind of an experience was that? Read to find out how the masses of people in South Asia affect the environment.
EnvironmentalConcerns • Few places on the planet are more densely settled than South Asia. The region is home to more than 20 percent of the world’s people, but they live on only 3 percent of the world’s land. To add to the pressure, South Asia’s population is increasing. • This growth seriously affects the environment. For one thing, greater numbers of people mean greater demand for animal products. Farmers then raise more livestock. This leads to overgrazing, which causes grasslands to dry up. It is not just land that is at risk, though. South Asia’s growing population also threatens the water, the forests, and the air.
Water • Because South Asia has such a huge concentration of people, supplies of freshwater are low. The climate, which brings long dry seasons to much of the region, contributes to water shortages. In addition, farmers, the largest consumers of water, often use wasteful irrigation methods. Much water is also wasted in cities because of old, leaky distribution pipes.
Water • To meet the demand for water, South Asian countries are tapping underground aquifers. In urban areas, however, as fresh water is being pumped out, saltwater enters the aquifers. The higher salt content makes the water less useful. This problem is particularly troublesome in the cities of Dhaka in Bangladesh and Karachi in Pakistan. Water pollution is increasing, too. The Ganges River is among the most polluted waterways in the world. The water it brings to urban areas is dirtied by sewage, runoff from factories, and waste products. Rural water supplies are often no cleaner. Even rural Nepal has seriously polluted rivers. Many farmers apply fertilizers to fields to increase crop yields. Runoff from fertilizers then makes the drinking water unsafe.
Deforestation • Only a small part of South Asia is forested. Most of the land was cleared centuries ago. However, many of the forests that remain are now being cut down to provide building materials as well as wood for fuel. Rural people throughout South Asia rely on wood for heating their homes and for cooking. For example, almost 70 percent of the energy used in Nepal comes from burning wood.
Air Pollution • Air pollution is another challenge that affects parts of South Asia. The number of cars in the region’s cities has risen rapidly in recent decades. More automobiles mean the release of more exhaust fumes that make the air in urban areas dangerous to breathe. Air pollution is affecting rural areas as well. Many villagers cook and heat their homes by burning wood, kerosene, charcoal, or animal dung. These substances release smoke and chemicals that are harmful in closed spaces. As a result, many people develop breathing problems, and some die of lung diseases. livelihoods.
Air Pollution • Air pollution from South Asia (and from Southeast Asia as well) is so severe that a brown cloud of chemicals, ash, and dust has formed over the Indian Ocean. The cloud decreases the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface there by 10 percent. Scientists worry that this clouding may be changing the region’s climate and disrupting rain patterns. That, in turn, may cut crop yields and threaten people’s
ClimateRegions • Main Idea Seasonal dry and wet winds are the major factor shaping South Asia’s climate. • Geography and You How does the environment where you live change from season to season? The pattern in your area is probably quite different from that in South Asia, as you will read in this section.
Video • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9peDRkO-TLc • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8E-s5QTQOg
Natural Disasters • The monsoon winds likewise have mixed effects. The rains they shower on Bangladesh and the Ganges Plain help crops there grow well. However, areas outside the monsoon’s path—such as the Deccan Plateau and western Pakistan— may receive little or no yearly rainfall. If there is no rain, or not enough, some areas become scorched, or burnt, by drought.
cyclone • Another kind of weather disaster often strikes South Asia. A cyclone is an intense tropical storm with high winds and heavy rains. Cyclones are similar to hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and typhoons in the north Pacific Ocean. In South Asia, cyclones can be followed by deadly tidal waves that surge from the Bay of Bengal. In 1999 a cyclone struck India’s northeast coast with winds of more than 160 miles (257 km) per hour. Waves reached over 20 feet (6 m) high. The storm killed nearly 10,000 people and left about 15 million people homeless.
contrast • Tropical Areas Much of south central India has a tropical dry climate. The region’s grasslands and deciduous forests grow green in the short wet season and turn brown in the long dry season. Bangladesh and southern Sri Lanka, by contrast, have a tropical wet climate with warm temperatures year-round.
Thar Desert • Dry and Temperate Climates The wet monsoons, of course, do not reach all of South Asia. As a result, some areas have dry climates. Along the lower Indus River, the land is dry and windswept. Farmers must use irrigation to grow wheat and other crops. To the east of the Indus River lie the sand dunes and gravel plains of the Thar Desert.
Highlands • Highland climates are found along South Asia’s northern edge, where towering mountains rise. Above 16,000 feet (4,877 m), temperatures are always below freezing. As a result, snow never disappears, and little vegetation can survive. Farther down the mountain slopes, the climate turns more temperate. In Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, January temperatures average a mild 50°F (10°C). The average July temperature is a pleasant 78°F (26°C).
History andGovernments • Hindus believe that the water of the Brahmaputra River cleanses the body and the soul. Located near Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, the Brahmaputra River is where, on a specific day, thousands of Hindu believers take baths to receive blessings. People believe that on this holy day, the river contains all the blessings of all the holy places in the world.
Early History • Indus River Valley By 2500 b.c., people in the Indus River valley had built what may have been South Asia’s first cities: Harappa (huh∙RA∙puh) and Mohenjo Daro (moh∙HEHN∙joh DAHR∙oh), which are shown in Figure 1 on the next page. These cities, with brick buildings, were well planned. They had carefully laid-out streets, ceremonial gateways, and buildings to store grain. The cities also had plumbing, sewers, and other technology that would not be matched again for centuries. As the population grew, farming, small industries, and trade brought wealth to the Indus Valley. The people made copper and bronze tools, clay pottery, and cotton cloth. They also developed a writing system.
Aryans • About 1500 b.c., nomadic herders known as Aryans were settling in parts of northern South Asia. The Aryans developed a spoken language called Sanskrit (SAN∙skriht). They passed on hymns and religious teachings by word of mouth. When Sanskrit later became a written language, these traditions were recorded in sacred, or holy, texts called the Vedas.
varnas • The Vedas show that the Aryans were organized into four varnas, or broad social groups. Priests had the highest status. Warriors came next, followed by farmers. At the bottom were unskilled laborers and servants. At first, people of different groups could marry each other and change jobs.
Hinduism • is one of the world’s oldest religions and the third largest. It developed gradually as the beliefs of the ancient Aryans mixed with the beliefs of other peoples in the region. This blending might explain why Hindus worship thousands of deities. They tend to think of all deities, however, as different parts of one eternal spirit. This eternal spirit is called Brahman (BRAH∙muhn).
reincarnation • Hindus believe that every living being has a soul that wants to be reunited with Brahman. To achieve this reunion, a soul must repeatedly undergo reincarnation (ree·ihn·kahr·NAY·shuhn)—being born into a new body after dying. Thus Hindus believe that a soul passes through many lives, becoming purer each time, before reaching Brahman.
consequences • To ensure that their next lives are better, Hindus believe they must perform their duty, or dharma (DUHR·muh). Each caste has its own dharma. For example, a farmer has different duties than a priest, and a woman has different duties than a man. The consequences, or effects, of how a person lives are known as karma(KAHR·muh). Hindus believe that if they do their duty, they will have good karma. This will move them closer to Brahman in the next life.
Caste • A Caste is a social group that someone is born into and cannot change.
Buddha • In the 500s b.c., Buddhism arose in South Asia. It was founded by a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama (sih∙DAHR∙tuh GOW∙tuh∙muh). Born in a small kingdom near the Himalaya, Gautama gave up wealth and family in search of truth. After many years, he found what he was seeking. He became known as the Buddha, or “Enlightened One.”
nirvana • The Buddha taught that people suffer because they are too attached to material things, which are not lasting. He believed that people can be released from these attachments by following the Eightfold Path. The eight steps include thinking clearly, working hard, and showing deep concern for all living things. By following the eight steps, people can escape suffering and reach nirvana(nihr·VAH·nuh), a state of endless peace and joy.
South Asian Empires • In addition to new religions, powerful empires also arose in early South Asia. In the 300s B.C., a family called the Maurya (MAUR∙yuh) founded the Mauryan Empire. The most famous Mauryan ruler, As´oka (uh∙SOH∙kuh), brought much of the subcontinent under his control. About 260 B.C., As´oka dedicated his life to peace and became a Buddhist.
Gupta Empire • About A.D. 320, a ruler named Chandragupta I (CHUHN∙druh∙GUP∙tuh) set up the Gupta Empire in northern India. Under the empire’s Hindu rulers, trade increased and ideas were exchanged with other parts of the world. As a result, science, mathematics, medicine, and the arts thrived. South Asian mathematicians developed the numerals 1 to 9 that we still use today. These symbols were later adopted by Muslim Arab traders, who brought them to Europe.
Moguls • During the early 1500s, Muslim warriors, known as the Moguls (MOH∙guhlz), who came from the mountains north of India, formed an empire in South Asia. Akbar (AK∙buhr), the greatest Mogul ruler, added new lands to the empire, lowered taxes, and supported the arts. He brought peace to his empire by treating all of his people fairly. The majority of Hindus were allowed to worship freely and to serve in the government.
Modern South Asia • Main Idea After a period of British rule, South Asians set up independent countries during the 1900s. • Geography and You Think about how you might feel if someone made all your choices and decisions for you. Under British rule, South Asians had no control over their own lands. Read to learn how South Asians eventually won their independence.
the East India Company • During the 1600s, English traders from the East India Company arrived in India. They built a string of trading posts along the coasts, with forts to protect them. In 1707 the English and the Scots joined together to form the United Kingdom. Both peoples— known as the British—created the British Empire. Through trade and military might, the British became the dominant power in South Asia. By the mid-1800s, they had colonized most of the subcontinent.
British Rule • For many years, the task of governing South Asia was left to the British East India Company. As the company introduced European ideas and practices, resentment grew. Many local people felt that the British were trying to change their culture. In 1857 Indian soldiers in the company’s army rebelled against their British officers. The revolt spread across northern India. Britain sent more troops and put down the rebellion. Soon afterward, the British government took direct control of India.
railroads • Over the years, the British brought many positive changes to the region. They set up a well-run government and founded schools. They built railroads, bridges, and ports. They also introduced the telegraph and a postal service throughout India.
New Nations • By the early 1900s, independence movements had spread across South Asia. The most popular Indian leader was Mohandas Gandhi (MOH∙huhn∙dahs GAHN∙dee). Gandhi opposed violence in all forms. Instead, he protested British rule using nonviolent civil disobedience—the refusal to obey unjust laws using peaceful protests. Gandhi and his followers held strikes and boycotted, or refused to buy, British goods. Their goal was to bring independence to the subcontinent. Gandhi’s movement won widespread support among Hindus. Muslims, however, feared that the much-larger Hindu population might mistreat them in an independent India.
After World War II, • Britain realized that it could not keep control of South Asia. Giving the people independence was difficult, though, because of the bitter divisions between Hindus and Muslims. In 1947 the British government divided India into two independent countries. Areas that were mostly Hindu became the country of India. Areas that were mostly Muslim became the country of Pakistan (PA∙kih∙stan). Pakistan was made up of two areas geographically separated by India. West Pakistan was northwest of India, and East Pakistan was to the northeast.
Bangladesh • Following this division, many Hindus in Pakistan fled to India, while many Muslims in India fled to Pakistan. Fighting erupted and as many as 500,000 people were killed. Tensions soon surfaced between the two parts of Pakistan too. In 1971 East Pakistan declared its independence. After a brief civil war, it became the new country of Bangladesh. Pakistan now includes only the lands northwest of India.
Sri Lanka • Meanwhile, other political changes were occurring in South Asia. In 1948 Britain gave independence to the island of Ceylon. This country later took back its ancient name of Sri Lanka. Maldives, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, won independence from Britain in 1965. Nepal and Bhutan, two countries in the Himalaya area, had always been free of European rule.