India shares borders to the northwest with Pakistan, to
the north with China, Nepal and Bhutan, and to the east
with Bangladesh and Myanmar. To the west lies the
Arabian Sea, to the east the Bay of Bengal and to the
south the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka lies off the southeast
coast, and the Maldives off the southwest coast. The far
northeastern states and territories are all but
separated from the rest of India by Bangladesh as it
extends northwards from the Bay of Bengal towards
Bhutan. The Himalayan mountain range to the north and
the Indus River (west) and Ganges River (east) form a
physical barrier between India and the rest of Asia. The
country can be divided into five regions: Western,
Central, Northern (including Kashmir and Rajasthan),
Eastern and Southern.
Republic since 1947.
Head of State
Head of Government
Prime Minister Manmohan
Pratibha Patil became India's first female
president in July 2007 and her supporters hailed her
election as a victory for women. Patil, of the ruling
Congress Party, was previously the little-known governor
of Rajasthan. She drew criticism during the campaign
over scandals involving family members, and over
India has had several women in powerful positions - most
notably Indira Gandhi, one of the world's first female
prime ministers in 1966 - but activists complain that
women still face widespread discrimination.
Patil succeeds APJ Abdul Kalam, a scientist and the
architect of the country's missile program.
Indian foreign policy continues to be dominated by
relations with Pakistan. The main cause of friction is
the status of Kashmir, most of which was awarded to
India in 1947. Both sides claim the entire region.
Historically, the USA and China had backed Pakistan
while India had close relations with the Soviet Union.
The demise of the Soviet Union has not, however, damaged
India excessively. China has long viewed India as a
rival; nevertheless the two governments have signed a
major trade agreement and relations are steadily
The main language is Hindi which is spoken by
about 30% of the population; English is also enshrined
in the constitution for a wide range of official
purposes. In addition, 17 regional languages are
recognised by the constitution. These include Bengali,
Gujarati, Oriya and Punjabi which are widely used in the
north, and Tamil and Telegu, which are common in the
south. Other regional languages are Kannada, Malayalam
and Marathi. The Muslim population largely speak Urdu.
About 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, with Sikh,
Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist minorities.
Usually 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Some areas have a
DC supply. Plugs used are of the round two- and
The Indian Hindu greeting is to fold the hands
and tilt the head forward to Namaste. Indian women
prefer not to shake hands. All visitors are asked to
remove footwear when entering places of religious
worship. The majority of Indians remove their footwear
when entering their houses. Because of strict religious
and social customs, visitors must show particular
respect when visiting someone's home. Many Hindus are
vegetarian and many, especially women, do not drink
alcohol. Sikhs and Parsis do not smoke. Small gifts are
acceptable as tokens of gratitude for hospitality. Women
are expected to dress modestly. Short skirts and tight
or revealing clothing should not be worn, even on
beaches. Businesspeople are not expected to dress
formally except for meetings and social functions.
English-speaking guides are available at fixed charges
at all important tourist centers. Guides speaking
French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian or Spanish
are available in some cities. Consult the nearest India
tourism office. Unapproved guides are not permitted to
enter protected monuments.
mainly concern protected monuments and the wildlife
sanctuaries. Special permission of the Archaeological
Survey of India, New Delhi, is necessary for the use of
tripod and artificial light to photograph monuments.
Photography at many places is allowed on payment of a
prescribed fee, which varies. Contact the nearest
Government of India Tourist Office.