India is a peninsula, a piece of land surrounded on three sides by water. It has the Arabian Sea on the west, the Bay of Bengal on the east, and the Indian Ocean on the south. India is also separated from the rest of Asia by the Himalaya Mountains to the north and northwest. The Himalayas have some of the tallest mountains in the world.
Indian geography is very diverse. It has deserts, mountains, forests, and jungles.
Rain and Water
The life of ancient India was probably greatly affected by the weather. India tends to be a very hot and dry country. But, in May, the monsoon season hits. Monsoons are times of very heavy rainfall. The rain in India can last for several weeks or a month, and can cause heavy flooding. The rain is a good thing, though, as it waters the fields that have been dry for so long. In years when the monsoons do not come, India suffers from drought.
The ancient Indians settled in areas near the rivers, or where there was access to water. Western India (now the country of Pakistan) had the Indus River, and eastern India had the Ganges River. The northern area had the Himalaya Mountains. Melting snow coming off the mountains supplied water to this area. Eastern India often gets another monsoon in September that helps water the fields, in addition to the one in May.
The ancient Indians of Harappa grew wheat, melons, peas, dates, sesame seeds, and cotton. Many thousands of years before the Harappans, when people first came to India, they found the familiar plants of figs and onions already growing there. They also found sugar cane, coconuts, bananas, mangoes, and lemons, all of which were new to them.
The Ancient Indians soon discovered something else that would greatly affect their future and make them a valuable trade partner around the world: spices! Black pepper grew abundantly, as did ginger and cinnamon. Cinnamon is actually the inner bark of a small tree. It helped to preserve food, as well as tasting great, and became a much-wanted spice around the world. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were all willing to pay a lot of money for Indian cinnamon.
The Indians learned many things about farming from their neighbors. In southern India, they grew rice, which they learned about from the people of Thailand. The northern Indians learned to grow millet from the East Africans, and lentils from the West Asians.
When the Aryans (or Indo-Europeans, that is, the people from the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) came to India, they brought the knowledge of growing wheat and barley. Traders on the Silk Road (the trade route from China to the west) brought peaches, which Indians then began to grow themselves. Over the years, many traders brought different kinds of plants, including tea, which would become another important source of income.
Many of India’s wild animals could be dangerous to people, such as the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Bengal tiger lives near river banks; it is yellow to light orange, with dark brown to black stripes. Tigers like to live alone and have large territories. Unlike other cats, they seem to enjoy swimming!
Another big animal native to India is the Asiatic Lion. It lives on the grasslands and plains. This lion is slightly smaller than the lions of Africa, but it belongs to the same species. Male Asiatic Lions don’t live in prides, like African lions. And like the Bengal tigers, they tend to live alone.
Some other wild animals of India are the Indian elephant, the great Indian rhinoceros, the leopard, the Indian black bear, the wild water buffalo, the Indian wild donkey, the dhole (a wild dog), and the blue bull, the biggest Asian antelope.
Domesticated animals, especially cattle, were very important to ancient civilizations, including India. Cattle were used for pulling carts and plowing fields. They also produced milk, which Indians could make into yogurt and cheese. Another animal that produced milk was the water buffalo!
Later on, the Indians learned about raising chickens, goats, and sheep.
Camels, brought by the Moslems in 1000 AD, could be used for carrying people or loads. And elephants could be caught and used to pull heavy loads, and were also used in battle.
In many ancient civilizations, the friendship of cats and dogs was also valued. Dogs were valuable as pets, hunters, and protectors. Ancient Indians were especially fond of their dogs. The Indian Pariah Dog is considered by many to be the very first domesticated dog. The Mahabharata tells a story of a king who travels with his faithful dog. When he reaches the gates of paradise, he is told he must leave the dog behind. He refuses and declares he would rather continue to live on earth with his faithful dog. The gatekeeper says this was a final test of his goodness, and allows the king, and his dog, to enter.