Over 1.1 billion people live in India, from the deserts of Rajasthan and the blissful beaches of Goa, to the Keralan tea plantations and the metropolitan cities of Mumbai and Kolkata. With such a huge diversity of landscapes, religion and culture, India is a fascinating place to visit. Learn a little more about this enormous country with these interesting facts about India.
Indira Gandhi was India's first and only female Prime Minister. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru – India's first prime minister– not the child of leader Mahatma Gandhi as her surname might suggest. She served from 1966-1977 and was reelected in 1980 before being assassinated in 1984 while still in office.
Mother Teresa first donned her famous sari in 1948; it's now the uniform for nuns in her order, the Missionaries of Charity. Born in Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa – also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta – was a Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She devoted her life to helping the poor in the city of Calcutta, although her methods were considered controversial by some.
Mumbai's dabbawallahs deliver over 200,000 lunch boxes by bike and train from home to office daily. In an intricate system, each person receives the correct tiffin box filled with hot food prepared by their family, and in the afternoon the empty boxes are picked up and returned home again. There's even a movie based on the phenomenon, 2013's The Lunchbox.
The state of Meghalaya, northeast India's "abode of clouds", is the wettest inhabited place on earth. The forested region has an average rainfall of 12,000 mm (470 inches) of rain every year. That's nearly 33mm of rain per day.Meghalaya's forests are home to a vast array of plant and animal species, including the Himalayan black bear, the pangolin (scaly anteater) and the zebra-striped hoopoe bird.
A woman may be forbidden from housework while any colour from the bridal mendhi is on her hands. Indian weddings are often colourful extended occasions that can last for anything from 3 days to a full week. The ceremonies start with the ganesh pooja, usually a private ceremony that takes place with the couple and their close families, followed by the mendhi ceremony the next day where henna patterns are painted on the bride and her female friends and family. That evening, there's often the sangeet a meal to welcome all the wedding guests, with the main ceremony and reception happening on the third day.
India now boasts 400,000 millionaires with a combined net worth of nearly US $2.5 billion. Mumbai is home to the country's largest concentration of millionaires, with some 46,000 residents claiming to be worth millions.
Tea had been growing in India for centuries before the British began its commercial cultivation. The first recorded mention of tea in the country dates back to 750 BCE, and it was reportedly also consumed as a vegetable dish, fried in oil with garlic. When the British arrived in the 18th century, they began growing tea on a commercial scale to reduce their reliance on buying tea from China.
White tigers are only found among Indian tigers. White tigers a type of Bengal tiger created through a variant in pigmentation. They often grow into larger animals than their orange-coloured cousins.
The Himalayas contain nine of the world's ten highest peaks. Covering almost 75% of Nepal, the Himalayas are known as Samgarmatha in Nepalese, which means ‘Goddess of the Universe’ or ‘Forehead of the Sky'.
Indian cuisine may be the oldest continuously prepared cuisine in known human history. Of course, what we know at home as "Indian food" varies widely from place to place in the country itself. From the Portuguese-inspired dishes of Goa to the tandoori ovens of the Punjab, there's a wealth of different dishes to discover on a trip to the country.
Alcohol consumption is banned in five Indian states; the drinking age varies from 18 to 30 in the others. If you're travelling to Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland or the Union Territory of Lakshadweep know that you wont be able to buy alcohol. In addition, many states practice "dry days" on major religious holidays, when it's forbidden to sell alcohol.
In terms of purchasing power, India is the world's third largest economy.
The jalfrezi has overtaken tikka masala as Britain's favourite Indian dish. It dates from the days of the British Raj when it started to appear on menus as a way to use up cold cooked meats fried with chillies and plenty of onion. The name comes from the Bengali word jhālpharezī which means 'spicy food'.
It is illegal to take India's currency, the rupee, out of India. Instead, visitors must arrive with cash or dollars or pounds and exchange their money at the airport or bank currency booth, or use an ATM to withdraw rupees once in the country.
In Indian law, only men can be punished for adultery. In recent years, lawmakers have been considering scrapping the law but no final decision has been made.
It is claimed that the game of chess originated in India. One of the most fascinating facts about India, the game of chess can be dated back some 1,500 years.
In India 23 official languages are spoken, along with over a thousand minor languages and dialects. While Hindi is the most widely spoken, no language is more official than the others – according to the constitution, each of the 22 local languages (plus English) are of equal importance.
Bollywood is the world's largest film industry, followed by Nigeria's Nollywood and Hollywood. India's film industry is based in the city of Mumbai and last year produced a staggering 1,986 feature films.
In rural Bihar, Nalanda, one of the world's most ancient universities is being rebuilt. It was first established as a centre of learning in the 5th century CE, when a large Buddhist monastery stood on site. Now a new Nalanda International University is being built nearby offering post-graduate courses on a wide variety of subjects.
Half of the world's outsourced IT services come from India. Industries including banking, healthcare, financial services and accounting are outsourcing in ever greater numbers.
India produces a staggering4700 daily papers in over 300 languages, plus 39,000 journals and weeklies.
Indian railways is the largest employer on the planet. With 1.4 million employees, India's state-owned railway network operates a huge, extensive network that extends across the country for hundreds of thousands of miles. Over 8 billion passengers travel on the railways each year.
India has an adult literacy rate of around 70%. Recent reports suggest this percentage is on the up, as the country tries to meet the worldwide average literacy rate of 84%.
The sari dates back to at least 100 B.C. Sari wearers often choose the colour of their garment based on the occasion. Red is considered auspicious for celebrations such as weddings and is often worn by the bride.
The Bengal tiger is India's national animal. It was adopted as India's symbolic animal in 1972. Bandipur National Park in Karnataka has the largest population of wild Bengal tigers for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse.
Eight percent of India's population are Hindu, 13 percent are Muslim and millions more are Sikh, Jain or Christian.
Khari Baoli in New Delhi is Asia's largest wholesale spice market. It's been in operation since the 17th century and is named after the street on which its situated.
Top image: Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada Mausoleum in Jodhpur, Rajasthan © YURY TARANIK/Shutterstock
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