The Indian Plate is one of the major tectonic plates which have been sliding around the surface of the earth for billions of years. Approximately 100 million years ago, as part of the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, the Indian Plate started its journey northward from Madagascar and Africa and opened up the Indian Ocean in its wake. About 50 million years ago, this Indian Plate hit the southern edge of Asia and slowed down; the impact started the formation of the Himalaya, Karakorum, and Hindu Kush mountain ranges. The Plate continues to move north at about 5 cm (2 inches) a year and this ongoing collision of continents causes frequent earthquakes along the mountainous northern edge. Because of its size and the commonality of its animals, the Indian Plate is commonly called a Subcontinent.

  The Subcontinent today includes the nations of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the eastern half of Pakistan, the western half of Myanmar, and several island chains in the North Indian Ocean. Culturally, it also includes the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan. The population is over 1.4 billion, or about one-sixth of the world's population, spread among hundreds of ethnic groups and tribes speaking perhaps 2000 different languages. There is evidence of human settlement during the Palaeolithic Period (200,000± years ago) in India and Sri Lanka, and rock paintings by anatomically modern humans in India are dated about 30.000 years ago. One of the three great Old World civilizations was that in the Indus Valley (3300-1300 BCE) of Pakistan and northwest India; and the region has been spanned by trade routes for thousands of years. Armies, empires, and migrations came and went, the most important of which were the Indo-Aryan migrations, Alexander the Great's army, Ashoka's Mauryan Empire, the Mughal Empire originating in Central Asia, and the British Empire from the late 18th century; all of the countries today are independent nations. Two of the great world religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, originated on the Subcontinent, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam helped shape the region's diverse cultures.

  Geographically, the Subcontinent holds the ten highest mountains in the world, including Mt. Everest. Two of Asia's great rivers—the Indus and the Ganges—rise and flow through the Subcontinent.  A third river, the Brahmaputra, meanders mostly through northeast India and Bangladesh after leaving the Tibetan plateau, and after it joins with the Ganges in Bangladesh, they empty into the Bay of Bengal at the Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. Land forms range from the coral atolls of India's Lakshadweep Islands through the West Indian Thar Desert, the tropical jungles of North East India, the flat plains of Sri Lanka and central India, and on to the glaciers and steep valleys of the Himalayan mountains. The climate is largely controlled by the monsoons of June through September, bringing heavy rain and the resultant flooding afterwards into December. Mineral resources make India alone the third largest producer of coal and the fourth largest in iron ore, with significant reserves of bauxite, manganese, diamonds, oil, and natural gas. Animal populations are vast, but with many of the species endangered or threatened—these include Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, Gangetic dolphins, rhinocerus, Asiatic lions, and many, many varieties of monkeys, birds, and reptiles.

  The visitor to the Subcontinent's nations will find breath-taking beauty, warm-hearted people, intense cultural traditions, and a variety of natural environments—set against grinding poverty, impossibly crowded roads, smelly and polluted cities, town, and rivers, and a choked infrastructure. The Subcontinent is a land of extremes but, in my opinion, well worth the challenges.

Places I've visited are marked in red

India: Along the Holy Ganges — Sep-Oct, 2014

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India: A Hooghly River Cruise — March-April, 2013

India: The Golden Triangle — March, 2013

India: Sikkim–Into the Himalayas — Oct, 2014

     

India: The South West Coast — March, 2013

Sri Lanka: Buddhist Heartland — Nov-Dec, 2014