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Geographic regions of India

It is widely recognized that the geographical location, continental configuration, and fundamental geological composition of India are the result of plate tectonic activity. This involves the movement of vast, solid crustal plates across a sublayer of molten material within the Earth. The Indian landmass, which is part of the northwestern segment of the Indian-Australian Plate, commenced its gradual migration northward towards the significantly larger Eurasian Plate several hundred million years ago. This movement began subsequent to its separation from the ancient supercontinent located in the southern hemisphere, known as Gondwana or Gondwanaland. Upon the eventual convergence of these plates approximately 50 million years ago, the northern boundary of the Indian-Australian Plate was subducted beneath the Eurasian Plate at a shallow angle. Although this collision decelerated the advancing plate, the process of subduction has persisted into the present day.

The ramifications of this tectonic collision and ongoing subduction are manifold and highly intricate. A notable outcome of this process was the cleaving of crustal rock from the apex of the subducting plate. These fragments were propelled onto the northern fringe of the Indian landmass, forming a significant portion of the Himalayan mountain range. The mass of these newly formed mountains, along with the extensive sediment eroded from them, was so substantial that it caused the section of the Indian-Australian Plate immediately to the south of the Himalayas to be driven downwards, resulting in an area of crustal depression. The continual swift erosion of the Himalayas contributed additional sediment, which was transported by mountain rivers to the depressed zone, further exacerbating the subsidence.

The contemporary topographical characteristics of India have been overlaid upon three primary structural divisions: the Himalayas to the north, the Deccan plateau to the south, and the Indo-Gangetic Plain situated above the area of subsidence, bridging the two. For a more detailed exposition on India’s geological attributes, one may refer to the article on Asia.

The Himalayas of India

The Himalayan range, originating from the Sanskrit terms “hima” for snow and “alaya” for dwelling, represents the highest mountain system on Earth, delineating the northern frontier of India. This majestic and geologically youthful arc spans approximately 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers), extending from Nanga Parbat’s summit at 26,660 feet (8,126 meters) within the Pakistan-controlled sector of Kashmir to the Namcha Barwa peak in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The range traverses through India, southern Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, with its breadth fluctuating between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 kilometers).

In India, the Himalayas segregate into three parallel sectors known as the Outer, Lesser, and Great Himalayas. The mountain system exhibits significant bends at its extremities, from which subsidiary ranges and hills emanate. The western offshoots are entirely within Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the eastern extensions overlap the India-Myanmar boundary. Northward lies the Tibetan Plateau and several Trans-Himalayan ranges, with a minor portion located within India’s Ladakh union territory in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir.

The ongoing collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Eurasian Plate keeps the Himalayas and the adjacent eastern ranges tectonically active, leading to their continuous elevation. Consequently, the region is prone to frequent earthquakes, often triggering landslides. Historical seismic events have had catastrophic impacts, such as the 1934 Bihar earthquake causing over 10,000 fatalities. The 2001 Gujarat earthquake, although less intense, resulted in substantial destruction and over 20,000 deaths. More recent earthquakes, including the 2005 disaster in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, have not only affected those areas but also inflicted damage and loss of life in neighboring parts of India. The prevalent occurrence and broad impact of seismic activity have sparked debates over the safety and wisdom of various hydroelectric and irrigation initiatives in the region.

The Outer Himalayas (the Siwalik Range)

The most southerly among the triad of mountain ranges is the Outer Himalayas, which are alternatively known as the Siwalik Range. The summits within the Siwaliks typically range from an elevation of 3,000 to 5,000 feet (approximately 900 to 1,500 meters), with the highest peaks scarcely reaching 6,500 feet (about 2,000 meters). As the range extends eastward, it becomes increasingly narrow and is virtually indistinguishable beyond the Duars, a flatland area situated in the state of West Bengal. Within the Siwaliks lie expansively cultivated valleys, known as duns, which are characterized by a notably dense population. Situated to the south of this range is the vast Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Siwaliks, which possess weakly consolidated rock formations, are largely devoid of forest cover and are prone to intense rainfall and significant erosion, thus contributing a substantial volume of sediment to the plain.

The Lesser Himalayas

Located to the north of the Siwalik Range and demarcated by a distinct fault zone, the Lesser Himalayas—alternatively known as the Lower or Middle Himalayas—attain elevations that span from approximately 11,900 to 15,100 feet, or 3,600 to 4,600 meters. Historically, these mountains have been referred to by the term “Himachal,” derived from the Sanskrit words “hima,” meaning “snow,” and “acal,” signifying “mountain.” The geologic composition of the Lesser Himalayas encompasses both primordial crystalline structures and relatively younger rock formations. Remarkably, the region exhibits instances of reversed stratigraphic order due to the impact of thrust faulting. The terrain is characterized by a network of profound gorges, etched by the relentless course of rapid streams, many of which predate the mountain range itself. These streams receive their sustenance from the glaciers and snowfields located further north, contributing to the dynamic and rugged landscape of the Lesser Himalayas.

The Great Himalayas

The highest segment of the Himalayan range, often referred to as the Greater Himalayas or by its ancient name, Himadri, features peaks that predominantly soar beyond 16,000 feet (4,900 meters). This section is characterized by primordial crystalline rock structures and venerable marine sedimentary layers. Nestled between the Greater and Lesser Himalayas, one finds a series of rich, longitudinal valleys. In India, the most expansive of these is the Vale of Kashmir, a former lacustrine basin covering approximately 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers).

Spanning a width of 30 to 45 miles (50 to 75 kilometers), the Greater Himalayas boast an array of the planet’s most towering summits. Mount Everest, which marks the pinnacle of this range at 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) – a figure subject to ongoing verification as indicated in the Researcher’s Note on the Height of Mount Everest – straddles the border between China and Nepal. India, too, is home to a multitude of eminent peaks, including Kanchenjunga, which rises to 28,169 feet (8,586 meters) and holds the title of the third highest mountain globally, as well as the apex within Indian territory. It is located at the interface of Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim. Additional notable Indian summits encompass Nanda Devi at 25,646 feet (7,817 meters), Kamet at 25,446 feet (7,755 meters), and Trisul at 23,359 feet (7,120 meters), all situated in Uttarakhand.

The majority of the Greater Himalayas reside above the permanent snow line, serving as the principal repository for the region’s extensive glacial systems.

Associated ranges and hills

Typically, the diverse topographical features such as ranges and hills exhibit a parallel orientation to the principal axis of the Himalayan mountain chain. Notably, in the northwestern sector, the Zanskar Range, along with the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges situated within the territory of Kashmir administered by India, extend in a northeastward direction from the primary Himalayan range. Additionally, the Pir Panjal Range is located within the same region, aligning southwest of the main Himalayas and shaping the western and southern perimeters of the Kashmir Valley.

At the Himalayas’ eastern fringe, the massive mountain range transitions into a series of smaller, interspersed ranges that predominantly stretch in a northeast-southwest direction. These include the densely wooded Patkai Range, as well as the Naga and Mizo hills, which trace the Indian frontier with Myanmar and the southeastern extremity of Bangladesh. Within the confines of the Naga Hills lies the significant Logtak Lake, nestled in the valley of the Manipur River. Diverging from these hills to the northwest are the Mikir Hills, while to the west, the Jaintia, Khasi, and Garo hills are situated just above India’s boundary with Bangladesh. The latter ensemble of hills is collectively recognized as the Shillong (Meghalaya) Plateau.

The Indo-Gangetic Plain

The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as the North Indian Plain, represents the second major geologic division of India, situated between the Himalayan range to the north and the Deccan Plateau to the south. This expansive plain is set within the Himalayan foredeep, an area that was once a marine bed but has since been filled with alluvium deposited by rivers, reaching depths as much as 6,000 feet (approximately 1,800 meters).

Extending from the west in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab, nourished by the Indus River and its tributaries, the plain extends eastward to the valley of the Brahmaputra River in the state of Assam. At the heart of this plain lies the Ganges River basin, primarily spanning the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which constitutes the central and most significant segment.

The eastern part of the plain encompasses the vast delta formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. While this delta primarily lies within Bangladesh, it also encompasses a portion of West Bengal in India. This region is notable for its annual floods, a result of intense monsoon rains, a very slight gradient, and the massive volume of water that causes the sediment-laden rivers to overflow their banks.

To the west, the Indus River basin stretches out from Delhi, constituting the western portion of the plain, with the Indian section predominantly within the states of Haryana and Punjab.

The plain’s gradient is nearly indiscernible, averaging a mere 6 inches per mile (approximately 95 mm per kilometer) in the Ganges basin and marginally higher in the areas of the Indus and Brahmaputra. Despite this subtle gradient, the land is significant to those cultivating it, with a notable distinction between ‘bhangar,’ the slightly raised terraces of older alluvium, and ‘khadar,’ the fertile newer alluvium found on the floodplains. Generally, the proportion of bhangar to khadar increases the further upstream one travels along the rivers. However, the otherwise uniform relief is interrupted in the southwest by the badlands near the Chambal River, an area known for its eroded ravines that historically provided refuge for notorious bandits known as dacoits.

The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is an important geographic continuation of the Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south. It lies predominantly in northwestern India, with extensions into eastern Pakistan, characterized by a landscape of mild undulations. Within this desert are regions of shifting sand dunes and sporadic hills, the latter of which reveal that the superficial deposits of the area, a mix of alluvium and aeolian sand, rest upon the much older Indian-Australian Plate, to which these hills are structurally connected.

The Deccan of India

The remaining geographical expanse of India is often referred to, albeit with some inaccuracy, as the Deccan plateau or peninsular India. In reality, this area exhibits a diverse topography that not only encompasses the peninsular region—defined by the landmass that lies between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal—but also includes a significant portion north of the Vindhya Range. Traditionally, the Vindhya Range has been considered the geographical boundary separating Hindustan (northern India) and the Deccan (derived from the Sanskrit term dakshina, meaning “south”).

This region has a historical connection to the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, making it the most ancient and geologically stable tract within the Indian subcontinent. The elevation of the plateau predominantly ranges from 1,000 to 2,500 feet (approximately 300 to 750 meters) above sea level, with a general inclination towards the eastern side. Several hill ranges within the Deccan have undergone multiple episodes of erosion and geological rejuvenation, leaving only their summits as evidence of their extensive geological history. The primary composition of the peninsular landmass includes gneiss, granite-gneiss, schists, and granites, supplemented by comparatively younger basaltic lava deposits.

The Western Ghats

The Western Ghats, also referred to as the Sahyadri, constitute a significant mountain range extending in a north-south direction, delineating the western boundary of the Deccan plateau. Characterized by a steep escarpment that ascends precipitously from the Arabian Sea’s coastal plains, the Western Ghats exhibit considerable variation in elevation. In contrast, their eastern flanks exhibit a more gradual descent.

These highlands are interspersed with a succession of plateaus and summits, which are interspaced by various mountain passes and valleys. Notably, the resort town of Mahabaleshwar, situated atop a lateritic plateau, represents one of the highest points in the northern segment of the range, reaching an altitude of approximately 4,700 feet (1,430 meters).

Toward the southern extremity, the mountain range achieves even greater altitudes, culminating in a series of elevated blocks that are encircled by precipitous slopes. Among these are the prominent Nilgiri Hills, which boast the peak of Doda Betta at an elevation of 8,652 feet (2,637 meters), as well as the Anaimalai, Palni, and Cardamom hills, all of which converge around the Western Ghats’ tallest peak, Anai Peak (Anai Mudi), which soars to 8,842 feet (2,695 meters).

The Western Ghats are renowned for their substantial precipitation, serving as the source for several major rivers. These include the Krishna (Kistna) and the revered waterways of the Godavari and the Kaveri (Cauvery), all of which originate from this ecological hotspot.

The Eastern Ghats

The Eastern Ghats constitute a range of fragmented hills extending in a general northeast-southwest direction, parallel to the Bay of Bengal coastline. The most extensive section of this series is a vestige of an ancient mountain chain that has undergone erosion and subsequent geological rejuvenation. This section is located in the Dandakaranya region, situated between the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers. Within this narrow belt lies a central ridge, crowned by its highest summit, Arma Konda, which reaches an elevation of 5,512 feet (1,680 meters) in the northeastern part of Andhra Pradesh. Progressing southwest, the prominence of the hills diminishes, particularly where the Godavari River carves a 40-mile (65-kilometer) gorge through them. Further to the southwest, past the Krishna River, the Eastern Ghats are characterized by a succession of lower ranges and hills, such as the Erramala, Nallamala, Velikonda, and Palkonda. Advancing southwestward past the vicinity of Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the Eastern Ghats extend as the Javadi and Shevaroy hills before eventually converging with the Western Ghats.

Inland regions

The most northerly section of the Deccan region can be described as the peninsular foreland, a vast and somewhat indistinct territory situated between the southern peninsula (which is approximately outlined by the Vindhya Range) and the northern expanses of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Great Indian Desert, which lie beyond the Aravalli Range.

The Aravalli Range extends in a southwest-northeast direction for over 450 miles (725 kilometers), starting from a highland junction near Ahmadabad in Gujarat and stretching northeastwards towards Delhi. This mountain range consists of primordial geological formations and is segmented into various parts, including the section that encompasses the Sambhar Salt Lake. The highest elevation within this range is found at Guru Peak, which reaches 5,650 feet (1,722 meters) on Mount Abu. The Aravalli Range serves as a watershed, separating the streams flowing westward towards the desert or the Rann of Kachchh from the eastward-flowing Chambal River and its tributaries that feed into the Ganges River system.

Nestled between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges is the agriculturally productive Malwa Plateau, composed of basaltic rock. The plateau ascends towards the south until it meets the Vindhya Range, which presents itself as a steep escarpment deeply carved by numerous streams that descend into the Narmada River’s valley. Viewed from the southern perspective, the escarpment resembles a formidable mountain range. The Narmada valley is a significant segment of the Narmada-Son trough, an extensive linear depression that runs for about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) predominantly along the base of the Vindhya Range.

To the east of the peninsular foreland is the mineral-abundant Chota Nagpur plateau, which spans across parts of Jharkhand, northwestern Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. This area is marked by a series of escarpments that delineate the rolling landscapes. Further to the southwest, the Chhattisgarh Plain, centered in the state of Chhattisgarh along the upper Mahanadi River, unfolds.

The expansive region to the south of both the peninsular foreland and the Chota Nagpur plateau is characterized by undulating terrain and modest elevation variations. Within this area are numerous hill ranges, including some mesa-like structures, which extend in different directions. The northwestern segment of the peninsula, predominantly encompassing Maharashtra and adjoining areas of Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, is occupied by the Deccan lava plateau. This fertile region is distinguished by its mesa-like topography and is intersected by the Satpura, Ajanta, and Balaghat ranges.

Coastal areas

The Indian coastline primarily borders the Eastern and Western Ghats, with a significant portion of the country’s shoreline. Nevertheless, the coastal region of Gujarat to the northwest diverges from this pattern, extending beyond the Western Ghats, encircling the Gulf of Khambhat, and continuing into the saline wetlands of the Kathiawar and Kachchh peninsulas. These tidal flats encompass the expansive Great Rann of Kachchh along the Pakistan border and the smaller Little Rann of Kachchh situated between the peninsulas. The seasonal monsoons cause a noticeable elevation in the marshlands, rendering the Kachchh Peninsula an island for a portion of the year.

To the south, the coastal expanse from Daman to Goa, known as the Konkan coast, features numerous rias that form narrow riverine plains extending inland. These plains are characterized by low-lying lateritic plateaus, with the terrain alternating between headlands and bays, the latter often providing shelter to crescent-shaped beaches. Further south from Goa to Cape Comorin, the southernmost point of India, lies the Malabar coastal plain. This region has been shaped by the accumulation of sediments along the coast, creating a plain that varies in width from 15 to 60 miles and is distinguished by lagoons and brackish waterways that are navigable.

On the eastern side, the coastal plain is predominantly deltaic and exhibits extensive sedimentation. It is notably broader than its western counterpart for much of its length. The principal deltas in a northward sequence are formed by the Kaveri, Krishna-Godavari, Mahanadi, and Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers. The Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, the widest at some 190 miles, extends into India by approximately one-third of its breadth. This region is crisscrossed by numerous distributaries, rendering the Ganges delta poorly drained. The western portion within India’s borders has become less active due to shifts in the river’s channels. Tidal influences reach far inland, posing a risk of inundation to Kolkata, situated roughly 95 miles from the Bay of Bengal apex, with any minor rise in sea level. Additionally, the eastern coastal plain is home to several lagoons, the most significant being Pulicat and Chilka lakes, which have formed as a result of sediment deposition along the coast.


Numerous island chains within the Indian Ocean fall under the political jurisdiction of India. The Union Territory of Lakshadweep comprises a cluster of coral atolls situated in the Arabian Sea, westward of the Malabar Coast. In contrast, positioned off the eastern seaboard and demarcating the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea, are the more expansive and topographically diverse Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which constitute another Union Territory. Geographically, the Andaman Islands are proximate to Myanmar, while the Nicobar Islands share closer proximity to Indonesia than to the Indian subcontinent.

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