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India will sideswipe you with its size, clamor and diversity. Nothing in the country is ever quite what you expect, and the only thing to expect is the unexpected which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you. India is a litmus test for many travelers and some visitors are only too happy to get on an aircraft and fly away, but if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload, then India is one of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth.

Full country name: Republic of India
Area: 3,287,590 sq km (1,229,737 sq mi)
Population: 1.1 billion (UN estimate 2005)
Capital city: New Delhi
People: 72% Indo-Aryan, 25% Dravidian, 3% other
Language: Hindi
Religion: About 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, with Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist minorities.

Geography
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.

Government
Republic since 1947. 
Head of State
President Pratibha Patil since July 2007.
Head of Government
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since 2004.

Recent History
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 controversial remarks.

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 improving.

Language
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.

Religion
About 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, with Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist minorities.

Electricity
Usually 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Some areas have a DC supply. Plugs used are of the round two- and three-pin type.

Social Conventions
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.

Photography: Formalities 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.

 

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