INDIA 687. Almost a world peninsula of India pushes its great wedge of land into the warm Indian Ocean. On each of the two sides of the peninsula which lie along the Indian Ocean is a range of mountains, and between the ranges is enclosed a large plateau. Name the mountains. Arched around this plateau on the north is a long, wide area of low plain drained by three great rivers, all of which rise in Tibet. Name them. Beyond the plains three highlands wall India off from the rest of Asia: (1) the plateau of Iran is on the west; (2) the mountains of Burma are on the east; and (3) on the north are the towering Himalaya Moun tains, so high and cold that no man has ever been near their tops. One party of explorers was driven down from one of the Himalaya peaks, in the summertime, by a snowstorm that lasted for thirteen days.
By distant observations surveyors have cal culated the height of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. (Fig. 468.) .
What a difference there is between the north and the south side of these mountains! On the north side lies Tibet, the highest plateau in all the world, cold, dry, and with but few people. On the other side of the Himalayas in India, one hundred miles away, there is quite another world. It is a low plain, very hot, very moist, and very green with growing things, and the people seem to be as thick as flies. You wonder how they all can make a living. India is only half as large as the United States, but she has three times as many people.
688. Climate and can India feed so many people? India is a monsoon land. (Sec. 646.) All summer long, nearly every year, the southwest monsoon sweeps across the peninsula, carrying clouds and much rain, and making the air moist and the ground wet. In India, as in China, the monsoon adds the gift of moisture to the heat of summer, which makes it possible for the people to raise abundant crops on the fertile soil, and thus to support a population so large that India seems like a human hive. The damp, muggy, burning hot weather during the monsoon makes people from Europe or America think they are going to melt. In winter the prevailing wind is from the northeast. It blows from the land and
brings but little rain; so there is a long season of winter drought. At this time, the air is dry, many of the trees shed their leaves, and the grass is brown and dead.
It is terrible for India when the monsoon fails, or is late, or stops for a time, as it some times does. Crops may then fail completely; famine comes. For centuries these famine years have come from time to time, especially in northwestern India. Then millions and millions of people have starved for want of even the cheapest food.
689. People.— Like China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, India is a land of very ancient civilizations. For ages one set of invad e r s after another have set up kingdoms in different parts of the country. These kings have made India a land of wonderful buildings. But so many hundreds of years have passed since then that many of their palaces and tombs have become ruins.
About seventy per cent of the people are Hindus. Since they came down from central Asia their skins have become very dark, but they still have straight hair and features like those of their European cousins. The people in the Indus Valley were the last to arrive from Central Asia, and because they have not lived long in India their skins are nearly white. In southern India are the original natives and their skins are very black indeed.
Each succeeding conqueror always re garded those whom he was able to conquer as inferior. As one race after another thus be came conquered, the people gradually formed into groups called castes. Those in one caste will not associate with those in another caste, and a child must stay in the caste of his father. The caste idea became the style. Consequently people of different trades are in castes; the blacksmith may not speak to the shoemaker, or the shoemaker to the ditch-digger. This caste system is a great bother, especially now when it is easy for people to travel and trade with each other. It keeps people from doing many things that we can do in America, where we believe that everyone should have an equal chance.