India is not only the seventh largest country by area in the world but it is the second most populous. Indeed, it can often feel like you are visiting an entire continent rather than a single country. Yet, this also means that India is a country of contrasts, which boasts a long sweeping coastline to the south and the towering mountains of the Himalayas to the north. As a result, the country is home to an eclectic mix of cultures and traditions, with 780 languages currently spoken across India.
India has strong ties with Britain. There was a British presence in India as early as the 17th Century and the country was a colony within the British Empire for almost 100 years. In fact many remnants of British rule still remain – visitors to many major cities could be forgiven for thinking that the older buildings look like they belong in the Home Counties rather than Asia!
However, this influence has been mutual. Curry may be the most famous cultural export to come out of India but did you know that many words we use in everyday English also have Indian origins? Pukka, shampoo, jungle, pyjamas and even the nickname for Great Britain of Blighty have all come from Hindu words.
India was finally granted independence from Britain in 1947 and the country is now governed as a federal republic, with a President and Prime Minister. The battle for Indian independence was a drawn out and fraught process. Yet, the Indian independence movement also gave the world a true icon in Mahatma Ghandi. He championed non-violent protest against the British and became an inspiration for peace movements worldwide.
In recent years economists have designated India one of the emerging BRICS countries (alongside Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa). These countries are expected to come to dominate the world economy in the future and so India is an attractive place for foreign investors. This has been particularly obvious within the IT and telecommunications sectors.
India is also a popular destination for foreign tourists and it is not hard to see why. The beaches of India are a favourite of package holidaymakers from the northern hemisphere in search of winter sun; whilst the country’s rich and varied history attracts backpackers from all over the world. India’s appeal can be seen in the fact that there are currently 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country to visit, as well as thousand more hidden gems along the way.
Nevertheless, modern India is not without its problems. The gap between the rich and poor in society is growing, with all of the country’s major cities being home to large impoverished slums that can be quite shocking for western visitors not used to such abject poverty. Also, despite investment, much of the country’s infrastructure can seem woefully out dated. Expect long delays on train journeys and even the simplest bureaucratic procedure to become bogged down in red tape. However, underneath the apparent chaos, the country manages to function reasonably well. All that is needed is a little extra patience.
At a glance facts:
- Population – 1,354,051,854 (2018)
- International dialling tone – +91
- Time difference – 5 ½ hours ahead of the UK
- Languages – the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages