Indian Geographical Extent and Frontiers – UPSC Indian Geography Notes

India, a vast country situated entirely in the northern hemisphere, occupies the south-central part of the Asian continent. Its mainland spans between latitudes 8°4’N and 37°6’N and longitudes 68°7’E and 97°25’E. As the 7th largest country globally, India’s Geographical uniqueness is defined by its boundaries of mountains and the sea, creating a distinct and notable entity in the world.

India boasts a substantial land boundary measuring approximately 15,200 km, coupled with a considerable coastline that spans 7,516.6 km, encompassing the mainland, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep.

Situated amidst young fold mountains in the northwest, north, and northeast, India’s topography undergoes a shift below the 22° north latitude. Beyond this point, the land tapers and stretches towards the Indian Ocean, creating two distinct seas— the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east.

While the latitudinal and longitudinal extent of the mainland totals around 30°, the east-west span may appear smaller compared to the north-south dimension.

From Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, there exists a time lag of two hours. Therefore, the time along the Standard Meridian of India (82°30’E), passing through Mirzapur (in Uttar Pradesh), is considered the standard time for the entire country. The latitudinal extent plays a crucial role in shaping the duration of day and night as one travels from south to north.

The Tropic of Cancer traverses through eight states in India: Gujarat (Jasdan), Rajasthan (Kalinjarh), Madhya Pradesh (Shajapur), Chhattisgarh (Sonhat), Jharkhand (Lohardaga), West Bengal (Krishnanagar), Tripura (Udaipur), and Mizoram (Champhai).

Size and Extent

East-West Extent of Main Land India (Including Pak occupied Kashmir-POK):68° 7′ east to 97° 25′ east longitude
South-North Extent of Main Land India:8° 4′ north to 37° 6′ north latitude
Locational Extent:8° 4′ N to 37° 6′ N latitude and 68° 7′ E to 97° 25′ East longitude.

The southernmost point of the country is the Pygmalion Point or Indira Point, located at 6° 45′ N latitude. The north-south extent from Indira Col in Kashmir to Kanniyakumari is 3,214 km. The east-west width from the Rann of Kachachh to Arunachal Pradesh is 2,933 km.

Covering an area of 32,87,263 sq km, India ranks as the seventh-largest country globally, constituting about 2.4 percent of the total surface area of the world. The Tropic of Cancer bisects the country, creating two distinct latitudinal halves. The area to the north of the Tropic of Cancer is nearly twice the size of the region lying to the south of it.

South of 22° north latitude, the country gradually tapers off over 800 km into the Indian Ocean, forming a peninsula.

Coastline of India

India is a nation bordered by the sea on three of its sides. The coastal plains in India stretch along the west and east of the country, covering a total length of 7516.6 km. These coastal plains are categorized into two types:

  1. Eastern Coastal Plains of India
  2. Western Coastal Plains of India

Eastern Coastal Plains of India

The eastern coastal plains span from West Bengal in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south, passing through Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Within this region, the deltas of the rivers Mahanadi, Krishna, Godavari, and Cauveri contribute to the fertility and productivity of the eastern coastal plain. The delta of the River Krishna is notably termed the ‘Granary of South India’ due to its agricultural richness.

The Eastern coast is further categorized into three distinct regions:

  1. Utkal coast: Extending between Chilika Lake and Kolleru Lake, this region features wider plains compared to the western coastal plains and experiences substantial rainfall. Cultivation in this area includes crops such as rice, coconut, and banana.
  2. Andhra coast: Stretching between Kolleru Lake and Pulicat Lake, the Andhra coast forms a basin area for the Krishna and the Godavari rivers.
  3. Coromandel coast: Extending between Pulicat Lake and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, this Indian coastline remains dry in summer and receives rainfall during the winter, influenced by the north-east monsoons.

Noteworthy geographical features of the east coast include Chilka Lake and the Pulicat Lake (lagoon).

Western Coastal Plains of India

The Western Coastal Plains span from Kerala in the south to Gujarat in the north, passing through Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra. Stretching for 1500 km north to south, its width varies from 10 to 25 km. The West Continental Shelf is widest off the Bombay coast, known for its richness in oil. Along the Malabar Coast, numerous beautiful lagoons contribute to its status as a tourist destination. Notably, the western coast is narrower than its eastern counterpart.

The western coast is further classified into four categories:

  1. Kachchh and Kathiawar coast: Kachchh, previously a gulf formed by the deposition of silt by the Indus, is covered with shallow water during the monsoons. Kathiawar is situated to the south of Kachchh.
  2. Konkan coast: Extending from Daman in the north to Goa in the south, this region’s significant crops include rice and cashew.
  3. Kanada coast: Spanning from Marmagaon to Mangalore, this region is rich in iron deposits.
  4. Malabar coast: Extending from Mangalore to Kanyakumari, the Malabar coast is relatively broad. Southern Kerala in this region features lagoons running parallel to the coast.

Additionally, it’s important to note that Konkan coast includes the Maharashtra coast and Goa coast, while the Malabar Coast encompasses the coasts of Kerala and Karnataka.

Standard Time (Time Zone)


Every location on Earth is gauged by its distance east or west of the prime meridian (0 longitude) in Greenwich, London, United Kingdom. This prime meridian also serves as the benchmark for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), with a time difference of 1 hour per 15 degrees longitude.

For instance:

At 150 degrees west (or 150 W) longitude, the time is calculated as 150 degrees divided by 15 degrees, resulting in 10 hours behind UTC (UTC-10).

In India, 82°30’E has been designated as the reference for Indian Standard Time (IST), signifying that India is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of UTC.

The Indian Standard Meridian traverses through Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh.

India, Tropical or Temperate Country?


The temperate part (located north of the Tropic of Cancer) encompasses an area twice as large as the tropical part. However, India has consistently been categorized as a tropical country for two distinct reasons – physical and cultural.

Physical Geographical Reasons:

  1. The country is geographically isolated from the rest of Asia by the Himalayas.
  2. India’s climate is predominantly influenced by tropical monsoons, with temperate air masses being obstructed by the Himalayas.
  3. The entire area south of the Himalayas is fundamentally tropical climatically. Despite some places in North India experiencing night temperatures akin to temperate lands in winter, clear skies and intense insolation elevate day temperatures to a tropical level.

Cultural Geographical Reasons:

  1. Settlements, diseases, and primary economic activities, including agriculture, are all inherently tropical in nature.

India’s Frontiers


India boasts a land border spanning 15106.7 Km that traverses 92 districts in 17 States, accompanied by a coastline of 7516.6 Km (6100 km of mainland coastline + coastline of 1197 Indian islands) that touches 13 States and Union Territories (UTs). With the exception of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Haryana, and Telangana, all other states in the country possess one or more international borders or a coastline, designating them as frontline states in terms of border management.

Notably, India’s longest border is with BANGLADESH, while the shortest border is with Afghanistan. The lengths of India’s land borders with neighboring countries are as follows

Border with China

This marks the second longest border of India, surpassed only by its border with Bangladesh. Five Indian states—namely, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh—share boundaries with China.

The Sino-Indian border is typically categorized into three sectors:

  1. The Western sector
  2. The Middle sector
  3. The Eastern sector

The Western Sector:

  • Divides the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India from the Sinkiang (Xinjiang) province of China.
  • The western sector boundary is primarily shaped by the historical British policy towards the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • China asserts claims over the Aksai Chin district, the Changmo valley, Pangong Tso, and the Sponggar Tso area in north-east Ladakh, as well as a strip of approximately 5,000 sq km along the entire length of eastern Ladakh.
  • Additionally, China claims a part of the Huza-Gilgit area in North Kashmir, which was ceded to it in 1963 by Pakistan.

The Middle Sector:

  • Encompasses the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The Eastern Sector:

  • The boundary stretches 1,140 km, spanning from the eastern limit of Bhutan to a point near Diphu Pass (Talu Pass) at the trijunction of India, Tibet, and Myanmar.
  • Commonly denoted as the McMahon Line, named after Sir Henry McMahon, the then foreign secretary of British India.
  • The line originated from the boundary agreement negotiated at the Shimla Accord in 1913-14 between Great Britain and Tibet.

Disputed Territories

Western Sector:

  • In the western sector, India shares a 2152 km long border with China.
  • This border lies between the Union Territory of Ladakh (formerly part of Jammu and Kashmir) and the Xinjiang Province of China.
  • A territorial dispute revolves around Aksai Chin, with India claiming it as part of the erstwhile Kashmir and China asserting it as part of Xinjiang.
  • The origin of the Aksai Chin dispute can be traced back to the British Empire’s failure to clearly demarcate a legal border between China and its Indian colony.
  • During British rule, two proposed borders emerged: Johnson’s Line (1865), placing Aksai Chin under India’s control, and McDonald Line (1893), placing it under China’s control.
  • India upholds Johnson Line as the correct national border, while China favors the McDonald Line.
  • Currently, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separates Indian areas of Ladakh from Aksai Chin, aligning with the Chinese Aksai Chin claim line.

Middle Sector:

  • In the middle sector, India shares a 625 km long boundary with China along the watershed from Ladakh to Nepal.
  • This sector involves Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand touching the border with Tibet (China), with minimal disagreements on the border.

Eastern Sector:

  • In the eastern sector, India shares a 1,140 km long boundary with China.
  • The boundary runs from the eastern limit of Bhutan to a point near the Talu Pass at the trijunction of Tibet, India, and Myanmar.
  • Known as the McMahon Line, China deems it illegal and unacceptable, arguing that Tibetan representatives lacked the rights to sign the 1914 Convention in Shimla, which delineated the McMahon line on the map.

The India-Nepal Boundary

Five states in India, namely Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Sikkim, share a border with Nepal. This border is characterized by its porous nature, allowing for the unrestricted movement of goods and people between India and Nepal. A significant stretch of the Indo-Nepalese border follows an east-west direction, closely aligning with the foothills of the Shiwalik Range.

Disputed Territories

Kalapani:

Kalapani is a valley administered by India as part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand, positioned along the Kailash Mansarovar route. In the recent political map of India, the nation reaffirms its claims over the region, contested by Nepal as belonging to its westernmost part. India designates this historical area as an integral part of Uttarakhand. The Kali River in the Kalapani region serves as the boundary between India and Nepal. The Treaty of Sugauli, signed in 1816 after the Anglo-Nepalese War, established the Kali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India. However, disputes arose due to disagreements in locating the river’s source, resulting in conflicting maps produced by each country to assert their claims.

Susta:

The Susta area is a contested territory between India (specifically Uttar Pradesh) and Nepal, situated on the bank of the Gandak river (known as the Narayani river in Nepal). The primary cause of disputes in the Susta area is the altered course of the Gandak river. As per the Sugauli Treaty signed in 1816 between the British East India Company and Nepal, the Gandak river serves as the international boundary. The eastern part of the river belongs to India, while the western part belongs to Nepal. Initially, at the time of the treaty, Susta village was positioned west of the river. However, due to changes in the Gandak river’s course over the years, Susta shifted to the east side, now situated on the Indian side of the river.

The India-Bhutan Boundary

The border is notably tranquil, with no existing boundary disputes between the two nations.

The Indo-Pakistan Boundary

The Indo-Pakistan border emerged from the country’s partition in 1947, determined by the Radcliffe Award, with Sir Cyril Radcliffe serving as the chairman. Notably, Jammu and Kashmir, along with Sir Creek, stand out as the primary disputed regions.

Disputed Territories

Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan:

Pakistan currently holds approximately 78,000 sq. km of Indian Territory in Jammu and Kashmir through illegal and forcible occupation. Furthermore, as per the so-called Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963, Pakistan unlawfully ceded 5,180 sq. km in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to China.

Siachen Glacier:

The Siachen Glacier, situated in the eastern Karakorams in the Himalayas just east of the Actual Ground Position Line between India and Pakistan, has been under India’s administration since 1984 (Operation Meghdoot). This encompasses the entire glacier, including all major passes.

Saltoro Ridge:

The Saltoro Mountains mountain range, a subset of the Karakoram Heights or Saltoro Ridge, is at the heart of the Karakoram, on the southwest side of the Siachen Glacier. While India claims it as part of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, Pakistan asserts its inclusion in Gilgit-Baltistan. In 1984, India assumed military control of the main peaks and passes, with Pakistani forces positioned in the glacial valleys to the west.

Sir Creek:

The Sir Creek, a 96 km long strip of water in the Rann of Kutch marshlands, is disputed between India and Pakistan. The conflicting interpretations of paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Bombay Government Resolution of 1914 signed between the then Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch lead to differences in claims. The International Boundary in the Sir Creek area and the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) between India and Pakistan remain undemarcated.

The India-Bangladesh Border

India shares its longest border, spanning 4,096 km, with Bangladesh. This boundary was established by the Radcliffe Award, a division that separated the former province of Bengal into two distinct parts.

India-Myanmar Boundary

This border approximately follows the watershed between the Brahmaputra and Ayeyarwady [Irrawaddy]. It traverses densely wooded areas, with the Indian side comprising the Mizo Hills, Manipur, and Nagaland, while the Myanmar side includes the Chin Hills, Naga Hills, and Kachin state.

India-Sri Lanka Boundary

India and Sri Lanka are divided by the Palk Strait, a narrow and shallow sea. Dhanushkodi on the Tamil Nadu coast in India is merely 32 km away from Talaimanar in the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka, connected by a series of islets forming Adam’s Bridge. While overall peace has prevailed regarding the Indo-Sri Lanka border, tensions arose over the ownership of Kachchatheevu Island in the Palk Strait, eventually ceded by India to Sri Lanka in 1974.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the geographical proximity of India and Sri Lanka is marked by the Palk Strait, a narrow sea that separates the two nations. The points of Dhanushkodi and Talaimanar, connected by Adam’s Bridge, highlight the close proximity of these neighbors. Despite general tranquility over the Indo-Sri Lanka border, historical tensions emerged concerning the ownership of Kachchatheevu Island in the Palk Strait. This issue, resolved through India’s cession to Sri Lanka in 1974, underscores the significance of diplomatic agreements in maintaining regional peace and stability.

FAQs on Indian Geographical Extent and Frontiers

Q. What is the geographical feature that separates India and Sri Lanka?

The Palk Strait serves as the narrow and shallow sea that separates India and Sri Lanka.

Q. How far is Dhanushkodi from Talaimanar, and what connects these two points?

Dhanushkodi on the Tamil Nadu coast in India is only 32 km away from Talaimanar in the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka. These points are joined by a group of islets forming Adam’s Bridge.

Q. What historical tensions arose over the Indo-Sri Lanka border?

Tensions emerged over the ownership of Kachchatheevu Island in the Palk Strait, which was eventually resolved through India’s cession to Sri Lanka in 1974.

Q. What geographical features make up the Indo-Sri Lanka border regions?

The border regions include the Mizo Hills, Manipur, and Nagaland on the Indian side and the Chin Hills, Naga Hills, and Kachin state on the Myanmar side.

Q. How has overall peace been maintained along the Indo-Sri Lanka border?

Despite historical tensions over territorial issues, peace has generally prevailed. Diplomatic resolutions, such as the cession of Kachchatheevu Island, have played a crucial role in maintaining regional stability.

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