Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of South Asia

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

South Asia is one of the largest intersections of culture, religion, race, and ethnicity in the world. This lesson will explore the countries that make up South Asia, the physical characteristics of the land, and the major cities of the region. Updated: 11/10/2021

South Asia: The Melting Pot

South Asia could be considered the biggest melting pot in the world. There are dozens of religions (especially Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and local beliefs), hundreds of languages and ethnic groups, and eight nationalities: Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Maldivian, and Bhutanese.

With their different beliefs, cultures, and history, all packed into one of the most densely populated parts of the world, it's no surprise that there's been conflict. But in terms of geographical characteristics, there are few parts of the world where the constant presence of humans has affected the landscape more. Only in the heavily built-up western world does the impact of humans compare.

Yet South Asia is also home to the majestic Himalayan Mountains, the largest mountain range in the world. So it's pretty clear that the landscape of this area is affected by both humans and the forces of nature, like those forces that caused those mountains to rise. South Asia is affected by both human and physical characteristics.

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  • 0:01 South Asia: The Melting Pot
  • 1:03 Mountains
  • 2:05 Rivers, Canals & Waterways
  • 4:29 Cities
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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While a big part of this lesson will involve talking about how the roughly 1.7 billion humans in South Asia are affected by the landscape, there are things about the landscape that are almost impossible for humans to really affect. The mountains are the most obvious of these. They're most definitely a physical characteristic, or a feature of the Earth caused by the natural world that has nothing to do with humans.

Asia is the most mountainous continent on Earth, after all. The Himalayas were created when two of the Earth's biggest tectonic plates, or huge slabs of earth, smashed into each other! Compared to this collision, the worst car crashes in the world would seem like nothing at all.

The Himalayas are found here, in the northern part of South Asia.

Mount Everest

South Asia also contains the Vindhya Range, the Karakoram Range, the Hindu Kush Range, and the Eastern and Western Ghats.

Rivers, Canals, & Waterways

South Asia is a land where water is at the heart of life; water is like the veins and arteries of South Asia. The flood plains provide fertile land for farming and the billions of people who live in the region need plenty of water to live. The monsoon rains are part of a cycle that sustains life in the area. So it could be argued that the rivers may be the most important physical characteristic of South Asia. Rivers are also sacred to people of the Hindu faith and this is a major belief system in parts of South Asia.

The Brahmaputra and Ganges Rivers are circled.
Brahmaputra and Ganges Rivers

Check out the map to see the location of the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers. The Brahmaputra is about 1,800 miles long and passes through both India and Bangladesh until it flows into the sea in the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges also passes through India and Bangladesh and is almost as long as the Brahmaputra, at about 1,560 miles long.

But what about other parts of South Asia? The Indus River in Pakistan is extremely important in the present day, as well as historically. It was home to one of the world's first farming-based societies. But it remains important to this day for many of the same reasons as the rivers of India and Bangladesh. You could argue that it's even more vital since Pakistan is drier than India or Bangladesh. The Indus is about 2,000 miles long and is the longest river in South Asia.

The rivers are vitally important physical characteristics. But with so much water and flooding, controlling it becomes important. So there are also water-related human characteristics. Human characteristics are features of the Earth caused or affected directly by humans. Canals and dams are used to control water resources and these constructions have big impacts on the landscape. One of the most important is the Tehri Dam in India. At about 850 feet high, it's the tallest in South Asia. Its base is a staggering 3,700 feet wide, approximately.

Note Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Being islands, the Maldives and Sri Lanka are a little different when it comes to their relationship with water. Check out Sri Lanka and the Maldives on the map. Their main physical feature is their coastlines and all the things that go along with that: beaches, cliffs, bays, atolls, and reefs. The Maldives contains about 1,190 islands, each containing many physical features. In Sri Lanka, you'll find lagoons, coastal plains, and beaches.

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