India is the world's seventh-largest country, and with a population of over 1.1 billion people, the second-most populous. A diverse nation, India has no officially designated national language, though Hindi is used in governmental affairs, and English remains widespread due to the former British colonial presence; over twenty languages have at least one million speakers among the Indian population. The capital is New Delhi, and the largest city is Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay).
Civilization in India is very ancient. Before the year 3000 B.C., the Indus Valley Civilization developed along the Indus River, including parts of modern-day India. This culture left behind extensive remains, which travelers to India may visit for themselves, such as Kalibangan, home to what many scholars consider the oldest ploughed field ever discovered.
The Vedic period, named after the religious texts composed in this era, began around 1500 B.C. in the northern regions of India. Various states rose and fell during this period. Much of northern India came under the rule of Persia during the sixth century B.C. In 326 B.C., Alexander the Great arrived in India. Though Alexander eventually turned back, the Greek presence remained, creating a unique hybrid of cultures. Meanwhile, in northeastern India, a new empire was rising that would eventually unify nearly all of the Indian subcontinent. This was the Maurya Empire, whose most famous ruler was Ashoka (or Asoka), who embraced the teachings of Buddhism and erected edicts on pillars which may still be seen throughout India.
Following this period came a long era of fragmentation into many smaller states. This does not mean, however, that Indian culture stagnated. The Gupta Empire, which ruled over most of the eastern and northern parts of the country, reigned over India's Golden Age, a time of peace, prosperity, and the advance of science, art, and philosophy. During the final centuries of the first millennium A.D., Islam arrived, and Islamic sultanates established their power in Indian regions. In the sixteenth century, an Islamic power descended from the Mongols arose and began to reunite much of India over the next few centuries. This Mughal Empire left behind perhaps the most widely recognized symbol of India: the Taj Mahal..
Meanwhile, European explorers arrived in India and began to compete with each other and with native powers for control of the subcontinent. This struggle was eventually won by the British, who finally held almost total control, directly or indirectly, over the whole country. Only in 1947 was Indian independence achieved, thanks to the efforts of activists including Mohandas Gandhi. Today, India is a federal republic with a rapidly growing economy, despite a large gulf between the rich and the poor. Such a large and diverse country, with one of the richest histories of any place on earth, calls out to travelers from around the world just as it once did to Alexander the Great. Find flights to India with dealchecker and you could be spending your days exploring palaces, temples and bustling bazaars.
Over five million people come from other countries every year in order to take in some of what India has to offer..