Home to more than a billion inhabitants, India is the world's
seventh largest country and is bordered by Pakistan, China, Nepal,
Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh.
India's history begins with the establishment of the Indus
Valley Civilization in the Bronze Age (3300-1300 BC), and the later
arrival of Indo-Aryan settlers. These two phases are known as the
pre-Vedic and Vedic periods. It is in the Vedic period that
Hinduism originated; India's oldest manuscripts, the Vedas, date
from this period.
In the fifth century, the emperor Ashoka united large regions of
India. His conversion to Buddhism led to the religions adoption in
other parts of Asia. During the third-century's Maurya Dynasty the
principles, belief systems and behaviours that still inform modern
Hinduism were incorporated into the religion.
Islam arrived in India in the eighth century and three centuries
later had established Muslim rule over Northern India. In the
sixteenth century the Muslims were ousted by the invading Mughal
Empire, under which India was unified again and Indian culture
flourished. European traders arrived in India the following
century, eventually asserting dominance over Mughal-controlled
regions and ultimately deposing the empire via military action.
This marked the beginning of British colonial rule in India. An
initial Indian Rebellion in 1857 failed to restore Indian
governance and the country formally became part of the British
Empire. It was not until 1947, following the Second World War, that
India regained the independence that it still enjoys today.
The majority of India is subject to a tropical climate. Summer,
which lasts from April to October is very hot; temperatures in
northern and western areas can exceed 40°C (104°F). Monsoon rains
fall in June and October and can bring thunderstorms and flooding
depending upon their severity. Except in the mountainous regions of
northern India which receive snowfall, India's winters are
relatively mild with temperatures averaging between 5°C-12°C
India's cuisine has been shaped over centuries by different
cultures and civilizations. Although virtually every different
region of India has evolved its own distinctive cuisine the common
feature that links them all is the generous use of spices. Rice,
lentils and chick peas are common ingredients of Indian dishes,
with chicken, pork and fish the most popular meats. The spicy heat
of southern Indian dishes is often tempered by the addition of
coconut milk. Meals may be accompanied by flatbreads including
naan, puri, or paratha. Aloo dishes feature potatoes as their main
ingredient, whilst paneer is a type of Indian cheese. Chai, a blend
of rich black tea, milk and spices, is effectively India's national
beverage and is found everywhere.
One of the best pieces of advice when touring India by rail is
to carry a cheap pair of sandals with you. Many of India's temples
will only allow visitors to enter them barefoot and having a pair
of sandals that easily slip on and off saves time and effort.
Indian markets have a thriving bargaining culture. When
negotiating with a street merchant never accept the first price you
are offered. This could be ten or even twenty times the price they
will settle for. In return, offer a much lower bid than you're
actually prepared to pay for an item and enjoy a good-natured
haggle until you reach a mutually agreeable price.