South Asia, also known as the Indian Subcontinent (or "the Subcontinent") is a triangular landmass, bordered by the Himalayas in the north, the Indian Ocean in the south, and the Ganges and Indus river valleys in east and west. Home to 1.75 billion people, South Asia has the world's tallest mountains, and is the origin of some of the world's oldest civilizations and the wellspring of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
Home of beautiful mangroves and the world's longest beach.
A Buddhist-majority country influenced by East Asian culture and way of life.
A country of ancient and rich cultural heritage with the Himalaya mountains in the north, desert in the west and the Indian Ocean in the south.
Home to gorgeous beaches, with a culture influenced by India and the Middle East.
Home to Mount Everest and birthplace of Buddha, popular with adventure tourists, and a place of many rare animals and pure hospitality.
Rich in culture and history, varying climates and terrains from hot deserts to snowy mountains, and home of 5 of only 14 8,000-metre mountains on earth, but tourism is suffering due to the unpredictable security situation.
The pearl of the Orient, has a tropical climate and cultural influences from the rest of South Asia.
The following countries are sometimes considered part of South Asia, although are categorized elsewhere in this guide:
- Afghanistan can be considered part of the region: Although it is mostly part of Central Asia, it often involves itself in South Asian regional organizations.
- Iran is occasionally considered part of the region, but more often considered to be in the Middle East or Central Asia.
- Myanmar (formerly Burma) may be considered part of South Asia for long-standing historical and political ties to India, although it is usually categorized in Southeast Asia.
- Colombo — capital of Sri Lanka
- Dhaka — thriving cultural melting pot that is Bangladesh's capital
- Islamabad — capital of Pakistan
- Kathmandu — capital of Nepal
- Karachi — a culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city in Pakistan's south
- Male — an island city of beauty
- Mumbai — most eclectic and cosmopolitan city of India, famous for the Bollywood film industry
- New Delhi — capital of India, a culturally diverse city
- Thimphu — capital of Bhutan, surrounded by mountains
- Mohenjo-daro — a spectacular, fascinating and important archaeological site of ruins of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.
- Bandarban — hill district in Bangladesh with trekking through unspoilt forests
- Hunza Valley — one of the more stunning and popular parts of Pakistan's high mountain areas
- Mount Everest — the world's tallest mountain straddling the border of China and Nepal
- Sundarbans National Park — one of the best places in India to see tigers
- Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra
Some commonalities exist to this area, mainly climate and culture.
Climate: Apart from the Himalaya, the climate is tropical, with monsoon in summer and dry winter. However, you have the extremes of this climate, i.e. in Western Pakistan monsoon is quite non-existent and in Southern India, it lasts for six months. Sri Lanka even has two monsoons, one in May, one in October/November.
Culture: The influence of historical Indian culture can be seen everywhere. Four major world religions have their origins within South Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Later Islam was introduced by Muslim invaders starting around the 7th century and rose to prominence during the Mughal Empire.
An additional layer of South Asian cultural unification derives from the influence of British culture, and especially the frequent and growing use of the English language, as a result of India having formed the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire before Independence in 1947.
Population density: South Asia is one of the world's most densely populated regions - approximately 1.6 billion people (or roughly a quarter of humanity) make their home there. The average population density of 305 people per square km is 7 times the world average.
The region does not have a lingua franca. However, as much of South Asia was under British rule, and even the nominally independent areas were under some form of British suzerainty, English is widely spoken by educated people. Hindi and Urdu are spoken over much of India and Pakistan. As the two languages are mutually intelligible, if you have to learn one before visiting, pick one of these. Hindi will also help you in Nepal, as the Nepali language is quite similar, while Nepali is also the main language in some bordering areas of India such as Sikkim. Bengali is another major language spoken in Bangladesh, West Bengal and understood in some other eastern states of India. Other languages that straddle international borders include Punjabi which is spoken in parts of the India-Pakistan border region, and Tamil, which is spoken in southern India and northern Sri Lanka.
Other than these, South Asia has a fascinating diversity of languages. India, in particular, is home to hundreds, and Pakistan also has quite a few. In the major cities and tourist destinations, you will be able to get by with English with varying degrees of difficulty.
Getting in overland to South Asia can be a challenging task. From the west it's relatively easy, along the routes described below.
In the northwest, South Asia borders Afghanistan which has been a war zone for several decades. Entry from China is possible either along the Karakoram Highway or to Nepal, though you will need a special permit to travel through Tibet. Quite a lot of bureaucracy is reportedly required to travel overland from Myanmar.
International airports include:
- Bangladesh - Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet
- Bhutan - Paro (near Thimphu)
- India - Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Hyderabad, Chennai (Madras), Kolkata (Calcutta), Bangalore, Kochi (Cochin), Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kozhikode (Calicut), Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Amritsar, Coimbatore
- Maldives - Male
- Nepal - Kathmandu
- Pakistan - Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Multan, Quetta, Sialkot
- Sri Lanka - Colombo (actually, Katunayake close to Negombo)
The number of direct flights between India and U.S/U.K is increasing.
- Istanbul to New Delhi over land
- On the trail of Kipling's Kim
- Grand Trunk Road
- Karakoram Highway
- World Heritage Sites Tour in Sri Lanka
- Cricket is a huge business in South Asia, with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka boasting world class teams.
For most countries in the region, bargaining is essential while shopping.
- See also: South Asian cuisine
You will not be able to experience the best of South Asian culture until you have consumed its flavorful food. India alone has one of the best cuisines in the world; however, you can find something that will suit your taste buds anywhere throughout the region.
Tea is a common beverage consumed throughout the region. But, each country will have something tasty for you to drink.
Much of the region is considered a safe place to visit, with the exceptions of northwestern Pakistan close to the border of Afghanistan. Northwestern Pakistan is a war-zone, and is often controlled by extremist militant groups such as the Taliban; it should be avoided as much as possible.