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Schwartzberg Atlas, v. , p. 151.

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Map and Photographic Plates I The Physical Stage INTRODUCTION

The six plates that make up this section relate to enduring features of South Asia's global situation and of the physical environment within South Asia itself. In a word, we seek here to portray something of the physical stage on which the drama of South Asian history has been enacted. Though we speak of this stage as enduring, we do so only in a relative sense; for it should by no means be thought of as unchanging. For example, we know of significant shifts in the courses of numerous rivers over the past two and a half millennia, and of the seaward ex- pansion of major deltas. Further, we are aware of climatic fluctuations which, even when they seem subtle, may have had profound consequences; but unfor- tunately we are rarely able to specify with precision the magnitude or the timing or the rapidity of the changes. In recent times we have been able to measure the gradual expansion of the Great Indian Desert. Most important, we know that the scattered, largely degraded forested areas one sees in South Asia today com- prise only a minor fraction of the total area under forest in that region before the advent of agriculture. Nevertheless, the distribution of mountains, hill lands, and plains remains for most practical purposes as it was at the dawn of the Stone Age; and the relative locations of wet lands and dry and the rhythm of the mon- soon have altered but little. What has changed profoundly over the centuries is man's knowledge and appraisal of his environment and the uses to which he has put it. But those are questions to be considered in later sections of this atlas.

In what follows the discussion will be keyed primarily to the maps and ancillary materials of atlas section I; but where appropriate we shall also comment on and illustrate the sorts of changes in the environment to which we have alluded above.


Ahmad, Kazi S. A geography of Pakistan. 3d ed. Karachi, 1972.

Cook, Elsie K. Ceylon: Its geography, its resources and its people, 2d ed. Madras, 1951.

The gazetteer of India. Vol. 1. Country and people. Delhi, 1965.

Hagen, Toni. Nepal. [2d ed.]. Berne, Switzerland, 1971.

Humlum, Johannes. La géographie de l' Afghanistan.... Copenhagen, 1959.

Imperial gazetteer of India. New edition. Vol. 1. The Indian Empire, descriptive. Oxford, 1907.

India (Republic) National Atlas Organisation. National atlas of India. Calcutta and Dehra Dun, 1957, 1959–.

Johnson, B. L. C. Bangladesh. Thompson, Conn., 1975.

Krishnan, M. S. The geology of India and Burma. 4th ed. Madras, 1960.

Singh, R. L., ed. India: A regional geography. Varanasi: 1971.

Spate, O. H. K., and Learmonth, A. T. A. India and Pakistan: A general and re- gional geography. 3d rev. ed. London, 1967. (Contains a chapter on Ceylon by B. H. Farmer.)

Wadia, D. N. Geology of India. 3d ed. London, 1961.


The position of South Asia in the world is shown here by two maps centered on Delhi. We consider these Indocentric views of the world more appropriate to the purposes of this atlas than the more conventional Eurocentric or Americocen- tric views that characterize most world maps in current use. The first of these (plate I.A.1) is on an azimuthal equal-area projection. On such a projection a unit area (say one square inch or one square centimeter) anywhere on the map will rep- resent a constant proportion of the earth's surface. While areas on this map thus are true, map distances are progressively con- tracted from Delhi to the limits of the map. Supplementary views of the area of South Asia, comparing it with both the United States and Western Europe, appear in the lower left and lower right corners of the plate. These simple sketch maps are drawn on conic, equal-area projections.

An alternative view of South Asia's position in the world is that drawn on an azimuthal equidistant map (plate I.A.2), on which all distances are true from Delhi. It is evident that this projection distorts area by making it progressively larger as one proceeds from the center to the periphery of the map. Similarly, the degree of distortion in the representation of dis- tance from points other than Delhi varies with the distance of those points from Delhi itself. A table of distances by sea and air from major world centers to the capitals and principal port cities of South Asia supplements the information on the map itself. All air distances on this table are great-circle distances, whether or not they are traversed by scheduled airlines. The distances by sea, however, follow normal shipping lanes.

The two plates together show that South Asia occupies a fairly central and accessible position with respect to the great land mass made up of Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Amer- icas, by contrast, are physically remote. But accessibility is not simply a function of great-circle terrestrial distance. Rather, we must consider distance along utilizable transport routes, which is largely contingent on the configuration of the earth's surface; the relative ease and cost of travel, which are func- tions of both physical geography and transportation technol- ogy; and the will of peoples to interact—politically, economi- cally, and otherwise. These are ultimately the key determinants in fashioning and reshaping the complex web of human inter- relationships at any given period of the earth's history. In these respects we believe that South Asia's relationships with the rest of the world are in no way exceptional. Many of these re- lationships will be made manifest in subsequent portions of the atlas.


Maps I.A.1 and 2 were originally drawn for the South Asia Historical Atlas Project by a computer plotter at the Univer- sity of Michigan under the direction of Professor Waldo Tobler of the Department of Geography. The computer programs for plotting both of the projections employed were themselves de- veloped by Professor Tobler. We acknowledge, with thanks, the time Professor Tobler and his associates donated to the Project in providing us with the original map drafts.


The view of South Asia and adjoining areas presented in plate I.B.1, map (a), is that of a conventional hypsometric map on which different altitude ranges and ocean depths are presented by color tints of various intensities. Contours are drawn at 100, 300, 1,000, and 3,000 meters above sea level. Depth contours are drawn at 200 and 3,000 meters. Equivalent altitudes and depths are provided in English feet. The map in- dicates the names of the principal mountain and hill ranges, plateaus, plains, deserts, bodies of water, and rivers, as well as the names and elevations of important peaks and mountain passes. It will be noted that the altitude difference between successive contours on this map increases in successively higher altitude ranges, allowing us to depict in the lower areas, where most of South Asia's population lives, a degree of topographic detail that would be of little significance in the more moun- tainous regions.

In the manner of its presentation of terrain, plate I.B.1, map (a), differs from and supplements other maps in this atlas on which surface configuration is shown. The latter maps (e.g., most of those dealing with political history), provide a simple dichotomous representation of terrain, with areas of rugged terrain, irrespective of altitude, differentiated by uniform shad- ing from those of smooth terrain, which are left white. The contours of plate I.B.1 are also shown on an unbound endcover overlay map, which may profitably be used in conjunction with many map plates in this atlas.

The essential elements of physiography portrayed on plate I.B.1 are clear enough to require little comment. Attention is drawn to the massiveness, continuity, and elevation of the northern highlands, including the Himalayas and numerous connecting mountain ranges both to the east and west which collectively set off the Indian subcontinent from the remainder of Eurasia; the extensiveness and flatness of the Indo-Gangetic Plain; the fragmentation of hilly uplands to the south of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the resulting compartmentalization of plains and basins; the asymmetry of drainage patterns in penin- sular India; and the highly constricted and discontinuous na- ture of the coastal plains along both coasts of peninsular India. Supplementing map (a), the photographs of plate I.B.2 pro- vide views of some of the principal physiographic elements comprising South Asia.

Map (b) of plate I.B.1 portrays both areas of unconsolidated sediments and bedrock at or very near the earth's surface. This provides a fairly reliable, though not infallible, guide to areas of relatively good agricultural potential—that is, alluvial and marine sediments—and to those of lesser potential. Needless to say, most of South Asia's population lives in the former areas, and it is there that most of the decisive events of South Asian history have taken place.

Our knowledge of the physiographic changes that have oc- curred in South Asia since man came to that region is frag- mentary at best. For the protohistoric and historic periods a part of what we know of such changes is derived from literary references dating as far back as Vedic and classical times re-

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