India, slightly more than one-third the size of the United States, is located in Southern Asia, near the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Border countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, China, Nepal, and Pakistan. Kanchenjunga, the third tallest mountain in the world, lies on the border with Nepal. Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 15% of the world's population. Only China has a larger population. India's median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 200 towns and cities.
The climate varies from tropical monsoon in the south to more temperate in north. The terrain consists of upland plains in the south, flat to rolling plains along the Ganges, deserts in the west, and the Himalaya Mountains in north.
Natural resources include coal (fourth-largest reserves in the world), iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone, and arable land.
Natural hazards consist of droughts, flash floods, as well as widespread and destructive flooding from monsoonal rains, severe thunderstorms, and earthquakes.
The current environmental issues are deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing, desertification, air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions, water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides, non-potable tap water throughout the country, and a growing population that is overstraining natural resources.
Though English is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication; Hindi is the national language and primary tongue of 41% of the people. There are 14 other official languages: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit; Hindustani is a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu spoken widely throughout northern India but is not an official language.
India is the home of more than 138 million Muslims--one of the world's largest Muslim populations. The population also includes Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis.
President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President Hamid Ansari have been in office since 2007; Manmohan Singh has been prime minister since 2004. The next general election is scheduled for 2009.
Nearly 150 people have been killed and scores of others injured in a massive stampede on September 30, 2008 at a Hindu temple in the western Indian state, Rajasthan.
CIA World Factbook, United States Department State Background Notes, Voice of America News, 09/2008; 06/2008; 09/2008