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This country is so diverse, so old-and-young, so crowded and so remote in its history, landscape and culture it is difficult to summarize. Civilization here began at least five thousand years ago, with sporadic incursions by ancient Aryan tribes, Arabs, Turks and Europeans adding their social systems, religions and cultural history in successive waves. The British were the last of these, and Queen Victoria the last foreigner to claim leadership as Empress of India in 1877.

In some places, it has become a post-modern world, as in the "Silicon Valley" of Bangalore. India became independent from Britain in 1947 under the leadership of one of the great individuals of the 20th century, Mahatma Ghandi; by 1921 the country had become three, with Pakistan and Bangladesh split from India in the north. Now, about a sixth of the world's population is Indian, living in a world that stretches from the tropical southern tip upwards to the heights of the Himalayas, the world's most lofty mountain range, 3200km (2000 miles) to the north. The Golden Triangle - Delhi and the magnificent monuments of Agra and Jaipur-is perhaps the best known part of the country to outsiders.

The rock art tradition of India has been traced to about 40,000 years ago in the Palaeolithic at Bhimbetaka in Central India and other sites. The first permanent settlements in South Asia appeared about 9,000 years ago. This indigenous culture developed into the Indus Valley civilization (also referred to by some as the Sindhu-Sarasvati Tradition), which was at its height from around 2600 BC to 1900 BC and was one of the earliest civilizations.

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  India Overview

Visit between November and March, when the temperatures range from 40-60 F/5-15 C in the north (with Kashmir and Ladakh being cooler) to 65-85 F/19-30 C in the south. March-June is dry and hot (85-110 F/30-44 C), and the monsoons come June-October, washing out the roads tourists are likely to travel. The best times to visit mountain destinations such as Darjeeling are March and April, October and November. The spring and summer are too hot for any outdoor activity, except for the hill stations, where temperatures range from 60-70 F/ 15-21 C. Temperatures are very cold in Kashmir during the winter (30-45 F/0-7 C); Ladakh is one of the coldest inhabited regions on Earth and to be avoided in winter altogether.

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