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Common trees in the mountains are evergreens, oaks, poplars, wild hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios. The plains of the north are largely dry, treeless steppes, and those of the southwestern corner are nearly uninhabitable deserts. Common plants in the arid regions include camel thorn, locoweed, spiny restharrow, mimosa, and wormwood, a variety of sagebrush. Most of Afghanistan has a subarctic mountain climate with dry and cold winters, except for the lowlands, which have arid and semiarid climates. In the mountains and a few of the valleys bordering Pakistan, a fringe effect of the Indian monsoon, coming usually from the southeast, brings moist maritime tropical air in summer. Afghanistan has clearly defined seasons: Summers are hot and winters can be bitterly cold. Summer temperatures as high as 49°C (120°F) have been recorded in the northern valleys. Midwinter temperatures as low as -9°C (15°F) are common around the 2,000-m (6,600ft) level in the Hindu Kush. The climate in the highlands varies with elevation. The coolest temperatures usually occur on the heights of the mountains. Temperatures often range greatly within a single day. Variations in temperature during the day may range from freezing conditions at dawn to the upper 30°s C (upper 90°s F) at noon. Most of the precipitation falls between the months of October and April. The deserts receive less than 100 mm (4 in) of rain a year, whereas the mountains receive more than 1,000 mm (40 in) of precipitation, mostly as snow. Frontal winds sweeping in from the west may bring large sandstorms or dust storms, while the strong solar heating of the ground raises large local whirlwinds.
INDIA India is home to abundant plant and animal life and has a wide range of climates that accommodate a diversity of species throughout the country. Broadly classified, there are seven major regions for plant and animal life in India: the arid Indus Plain, the Gangetic Plain, the Himalayas, Assam Valley, the Malabar Coast, the peninsular plateau, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In the arid areas that adjoin Pakistan, the eastern part of the Indus Plain, most plant life is sparse and herblike. Various thorny species, including capers (spiny shrubs with pale flowers) and jujubes (fruit-producing trees with veined leaves and yellowish flowers), are common. Bamboo grows in some areas, and among the few varieties of trees is the palm. The Gangetic Plain, which has more moisture, supports many types of plant life. Vegetation is especially luxuriant in the southeastern part of the plains region, where the mangrove and the sal, a hardwood timber tree, flourish. In the Himalayas many varieties of arctic flora are found on the higher slopes. The lower levels of the mountain range support many types of subtropical plant life, notably the orchid. Dense forests remain in the few areas where agriculture and commercial forestry have had little effect. Coniferous trees, including cedar and pine, predominate in the northwestern Himalayan region. On the Himalayas’ eastern slopes, tropical and subtropical types of vegetation abound. Here rhododendrons grow to tree height. Among the predominant trees are oak and magnolia. The Assam Valley features evergreen forests, bamboo, and areas of tall grasses. The Malabar Coast, which receives a large amount of rainfall, is thickly wooded. Evergreens, bamboo, and several varieties of valuable timber trees, including teak, predominate in this region. Extensive tracts of impenetrable jungle are found in the swampy lowlands and along the lower elevations of the Western Ghats. The vegetation of the peninsular plateau is less luxuriant, but thickets of bamboo, palm, and deciduous trees grow throughout the Deccan Plateau. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tropical forests, both evergreen and semievergreen.
India’s shape, unusual topography, and geographical position give it a diverse climate. Most of India has a tropical or subtropical climate, with little variation in temperature between seasons. The northern plains, however, have a greater temperature range, with cooler winters and hotter summers. The mountain areas have cold winters and cool summers. As elevations increase sharply in the mountains, climate type can change from subtropical to polar within a few miles. India’s seasonal cycle includes three main phases: the cool, dry winter from October to March; the hot, dry summer from April to June; and the
southwest monsoon season of warm, torrential rains from mid-June to September. India’s winter season brings cold temperatures to the mountain slopes and northern plains; temperatures in the Thar Desert reach freezing at night. Farther south, temperatures are mild. Average daily temperatures in January range from 13° to 27°C (55° to 81°F) in the northeastern city of Kolkata; from 8° to 21°C (46° to 70°F) in the north central city of New Delhi; from 19° to 30°C (67° to 85°F) in the west central coast city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay); and from 19° to 29°C (67° to 85°F) in the vicinity of Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southeastern coast. Dry weather generally accompanies the cool winter season, although severe storms sometimes traverse the country, yielding slight precipitation on the northern plains and heavy snowfall in the Himalayas.
India’s hot and dry season reaches its peak during May, when temperatures as high as 49°C (120°F) are commonly recorded in the northern plains. Temperatures in the southern peninsula are somewhat lower, averaging 35° to 40°C (95° to 104°F). At higher altitudes, as in the Western Ghats and the Himalayas, temperatures are considerably cooler. The intense heat breaks when the summer monsoon season arrives in June. For most of the year the monsoons, or seasonal winds, blow from the northeast. In the summer months, however, they begin to blow from the southwest, absorbing moisture as they cross the Indian Ocean. This warm, moist air creates heavy rains as it rises over the Indian Peninsula and is finally forced up the slopes of the Himalayas. The rains start in early June on a strip of coast lying between the Arabian Sea and the foot of the Western Ghats. A second “arm” of the monsoon starts from the Bay of Bengal in the northeast and gradually extends up the Gangetic Plain, where it meets the Arabian Sea “arm” in the Delhi region around July 1. In July the average daily temperature range is 26° to 32°C (79° to 89°F) in Kolkata; 27° to 35°C (80° to 94°F) in New Delhi; 25° to 30°C (78° to 86°F) in Mumbai; and 26° to 36°C (79° to 96°F) in Chennai. The monsoon season is critical to India. Farming depends heavily on the monsoon, even though artificial sources of irrigation are also commonly used. The economy prospers when the monsoon season is normal and plummets when it is not. In the past a failure of the monsoon has brought
abnormally low rains in crucial food-growing regions, leading to famine. A failed monsoon season in the dryland areas of the Deccan Plateau can mean poor or nonexistent harvests for that year’s crop. In the Gangetic Plain, the groundwater needed for irrigating the winter crop depends on the monsoon for replenishing. However, an excessive monsoon may also spell disaster, especially in the Gangetic Plain of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihār, where rivers can flood and wash away homes and fields. The average annual rainfall for India as a whole is 1,250 mm (49 in). The heaviest rainfall occurs along the Western Ghats, often more than 3,175 mm (125 in), and on the slopes of the eastern Himalayas and the Khāsi Hills (of Meghalaya), where the town of Cherrapunji receives 10,900 mm (430 in) annually. The entire northeast region averages more than 2,000 mm (80 in) annually, with Jharkhand, Orissa, and the Bengal region receiving nearly as much. Rain and snow fall in abundance on the entire Himalayan range. New Delhi receives an annual average of 800 to 1,000 mm (32 to 40 in) of rain, and the broad swath of land extending to the south, much of it in the rain shadow of the Western Ghats, receives about the same or a little more. BANGLADESH With the exception of the Chittagong Hill Tracts District, portions of the Madhupur Tract, and the Sundarbans, few extensive forests remain in Bangladesh. The forested and wooded area amounts to about one-eighth of the country’s total land area. Broadleaf evergreen species characterize the hilly regions, and deciduous trees, such as acacia and banyan, are common in the drier plains areas. Commercially valuable trees in Bangladesh include sundari (a type of mangrove for which the Sundarbans is probably named), gewa, sal (mainly growing in the Madhupur Tract), and garyan (in the Chittagong Hill Tracts District). Village groves abound in fruit trees (mango and jackfruit, for instance) and date and areca (betel) palms. The country also has many varieties of bamboo. The climate of Bangladesh is of the tropical monsoon variety. In all areas about 80 percent of the annual rainfall typically occurs in the monsoon period, which lasts from late May to mid-October. Average annual precipitation ranges from about 1,400 mm (55 in) along the country’s east
central border to more than 5,080 mm (200 in) in the far northeast. In addition to the normal monsoonal rainfall, Bangladesh is subject to devastating cyclones, originating over the Bay of Bengal, in the periods of April to May and September to November. Often accompanied by surging waves, these storms can cause great damage and loss of life. The cyclone of November 1970, in which about 500,000 lives were lost in Bangladesh, was one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century. Tornadoes, which also accompany the monsoon season, can cause devastation as well. Bangladesh has warm temperatures throughout the year, with relatively little variation from month to month. January tends to be the coolest month and May the warmest. In Dhaka the average January temperature is about 19°C (about 66°F), and the average May temperature is about 29°C (about 84°F). BHUTAN The Great Himalayas radiate southward into central Bhutan, creating the Middle Himalayan zone. The Middle Himalayas enclose fertile valleys lying at elevations between about 1,500 and 2,800 m (about 4,900 and 9,200 ft). These are relatively broad and flat valleys, with moderate rainfall and a temperate climate; they are well populated and cultivated. South of the Middle Himalayan valleys and foothills lies the Duars, which is a plain 8 to 13 km (5 to 8 mi) wide. Here rivers flowing to the south have cut deep gorges into the mountains that rise sharply from the narrow plain. The rainfall is heavy and the hillsides are covered with thick vegetation. The climate of the Duars tract is unhealthy; the valleys are hot and humid and the forested foothills are wet and misty. The southern section of the Duars, once covered with dense savanna and bamboo jungle, has been largely cleared for rice cultivation. In Bhutan, differences in altitude, exposure to sunlight, and rain-bearing winds result in intricate variations in climate. The northern interior has bitterly cold winters and cool, temperate summers; the southern foothills and the Duars, less than 160 km (100 mi) away, have a humid, tropical climate all year. In the capital, Thimphu, in west central Bhutan, average temperatures range from about -4°C (25°F) to about 16°C (61°F) in January and from about 15°C (59°F) to about 26°C (79°F) in July, during the monsoon season. The average annual precipitation is about 650 mm (about 25 in), with most of it falling between June and September. NEPAL
Forests occupy 25 percent of Nepal’s land area. The Tarāi supports extensive hardwood and bamboo forests in areas not cleared for agriculture or resettlement. On the lower slopes of the mountains, pines flourish amid oaks and wildflowers. Firs and shrubs thrive in the higher regions, most notably the tree rhododendron, Nepal’s national flower, which produces beautiful red and pink blooms from March to April. Smaller plants, such as mosses and grasses, grow at elevations above 3,700 m (12,000 ft). Above the snow line of the Great Himalayas (higher than about 4,300 m/about 15,000 ft) no vegetation grows. Deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. The country lost half its forests between 1950 and 1980 because of increased demand for fodder, fuelwood, and land for agriculture and settlement. Much of the deforestation has taken place in the Tarāi, although the Middle and Great Himalayan regions have also experienced serious deforestation. With the assistance of the United States and international agencies, Nepal has embarked on several programs to extend and restore its forest cover.
Nepal’s climate varies according to elevation. The Tarāi of southern Nepal has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by rainy summers and the southwest winds of the monsoon, and almost dry winters. The effect of the southern monsoon climate extends northward into mountain valleys. In the Middle Himalayan valleys the amount of precipitation varies with the extent of exposure to the rain-bearing monsoon winds. Several high valleys located in the rain shadow (area where precipitation is partially blocked by mountains) are dry. In the Kathmandu Valley the average rainfall is about 2,300 mm (about 90 in), most of which occurs from June to September. Between elevations of about 500 and 2,700 m (about 1,640 and 8,860 ft) there is a warm temperate climate; between about 2,700 and 3,000 m (about 8,860 and 9,840 ft) a cool temperate climate prevails. Between about 3,500 and 4,100 m (about 11,480 and 13,450 ft) summers are cool and winters are very cold. Above 4,100 m (about 13,450 ft) a severely cold, alpine climate prevails. PAKISTAN The vegetation of Pakistan varies with elevation, soil type, and precipitation.
Forests are largely confined to the mountain ranges in the north, where coniferous alpine and subalpine trees such as spruce, pine, and deodar cedar grow. The southern ranges of the Himalayas, which are of lower elevation, receive heavy rainfall and have dense forests of deodar, pine, poplar, and willow trees. The more arid Sulaimān and Salt mountain ranges are sparsely forested with a type of mulberry called shisham, a broad-leaved, deciduous tree. Dry-temperate vegetation, such as coarse grasses, scrub plants, and dwarf palm, predominates in the valleys of the North-West Frontier Province and the Baluchistan Plateau. The arid western hills are dotted with juniper, tamarisk (salt cedar), and pistachio trees. The area of Ziārat, Baluchistan, has juniper forests that are believed to be 5,000 years old; however, they are dwindling due to deforestation. Dry-tropical scrub and thorn trees are the predominant vegetation in the Indus River plain. Known as rakh, this vegetation is native to the region and can survive temperatures higher than 45°C (113°F). Riverine forests, found in the Indus floodplain, require six weeks of monsoon flooding to sustain them during the dry months. Irrigated tree plantations are found in Punjab and Sind. Mangrove forests in the coastal wetlands are an integral part of the marine food chain. The climate of Pakistan varies widely, with sharp differences between the high mountains and low plains. The country experiences four seasons. In the mountainous regions of the north and west, temperatures fall below freezing during winter and are mild during summer. In the Indus plains, temperatures range between about 32° and 49°C (about 90° and 120°F) in summer, and the average in winter is about 13°C (about 55°F). Mountainous areas receive most precipitation as heavy snowfall in winter. In other areas of Pakistan, most precipitation comes with the summer monsoons during July and August. The summer monsoons are seasonal winds that bring torrential rainfall, breaking the hot, dry spell and providing much-needed relief. The rainfall is so heavy that it causes rivers in Punjab and Sind provinces to flood the lowland areas. Rainfall is scarce the rest of the year. Punjab Province has the most precipitation in the country, receiving more than 500 mm (20 in) per year. In contrast, the arid regions of the southeast (the Thar Desert in Sind) and southwest (Baluchistan) receive less than 125 mm (5 in) annually.
SRILANKA The natural vegetation of Sri Lanka varies according to climatic zone and elevation. Dense evergreen rain forests are found in the southwestern lowlands. Trees include mahogany and many varieties of palm, including coconut, betel, and palmyra. In the central highlands, montane evergreen forests are interspersed with grasslands. The drier evergreen forests in the north and east contain trees such as ebony and satinwood. Thorn forests and drought-resistant shrubs prevail in the driest areas. Along the coast, mangrove forests border lagoons and river estuaries. Screw pines and palm trees also grow in coastal areas. A variety of water hyacinths, ferns, acacias, and orchids are found in many areas. Sri Lanka has a tropical climate with monsoons (large-scale wind systems that reverse direction seasonally). Most temperature variation in the country is determined by elevation rather than season, with cooler temperatures at higher elevations. The average monthly temperature in the lowlands ranges from 26° to 31°C (78° to 87°F) year-round. Temperatures at Nuwara Eliya, situated at an elevation of 1,525 m (5,000 ft) in the central highlands, range from 13°C (55°F) in December to 20°C (70°F) in May. The monsoons bring two distinct periods of heavy rainfall to Sri Lanka. From May to October the southwest monsoon brings moisture-laden air from the Indian Ocean. From December to March the northeast monsoon brings moisture-laden air from the Bay of Bengal. These monsoon patterns combine with Sri Lanka’s surface features to create two climatic zones in the country: a wet zone in the southwest and a dry zone in the north and east. The wet zone is inundated with rain during both monsoon seasons, with some rainfall between the monsoons as well. The western slopes of the central highlands are the wettest area of the country, receiving average precipitation of more than 3,810 mm (150 in) each year. In contrast, the dry zone usually receives rain only during the northeast monsoon. Periods of drought are common during the summer months. This zone has average annual precipitation of less than 1,905 mm (75 in). The driest parts of the zone along the northwestern and southeastern coasts receive about 1,270 mm (about 50 in) of rain each year.
The climate of Myanmar and other countries in South and Southeast Asia follows a monsoon pattern. During the half of the year that the sun’s rays strike directly above the equator, the land mass of Asia is heated more than is the Indian Ocean. This draws moist hot air from over the ocean onto the land, bringing the rains of the southwest monsoon. When the tilt of the earth brings the direct sun rays south of the equator, the heating of the Indian Ocean draws the cooler dry air of the northeast monsoon from the highlands of Asia across the countries of South and Southeast Asia. As a result, Myanmar has three seasons: hot and wet, warm, and very hot. During the hot, wet season, from mid-May to October, rain usually falls every day and sometimes all day. Almost all of Myanmar’s annual rainfall falls during this time. In the cooler season, which runs from late October to mid-February, the temperature for January averages 25°C (77°F) in Yangon in Lower Myanmar and 20°C (68°F) in Mandalay in Upper Myanmar. The hottest season runs from late February to early May. At the end of this season, the average monthly temperature reaches the upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F) in many parts of Myanmar. By July rains have brought the average temperature down to 29°C (84°F) in Mandalay and 27°C (81°F) in Yangon. Average annual rainfall varies from about 5,000 mm (about 200 in) on the Tenasserim Coast to about 760 mm (about 30 in) at Mandalay.
Forests cover 48 percent of Myanmar. In Lower Myanmar, the dense tropical forests contain extensive stands of timber and oil-bearing trees, including commercially valuable teak forests. Other trees include rubber, cinchona, acacia, bamboo, ironwood, mangrove, coconut, betel palm, and, chiefly in the northern highlands, oak, pine, and many species of rhododendron. Tropical fruits such as citrus, bananas, mangoes, and guavas grow in the coastal regions. Vegetation in the arid regions is sparse and stunted. One consequence of Myanmar’s slow economic growth has been the preservation of much of the natural environment.
The railroad system has been owned and operated by the government since British times; it includes 3,955 km (2,458 mi) of track. The railroad links Moulmein, Yangon, Pegu, Mandalay, and the other major cities but does not connect with railroads outside of Myanmar. Far more important for moving domestic passengers and cargo are the inland waterways, which total about 12,800 km (about 8,000 mi) of navigable rivers and canals, about 3,200 km (about 2,000 mi) of which are open to large commercial vessels. Most of Myanmar’s larger towns and cities are river ports; Yangon and Pegu are near the mouths of the Irrawaddy River, Bassein is on one of the mouths of the Irrawaddy, Mandalay is on the upper Irrawaddy near the branching
of the Chindwin River, and Moulmein is located at the mouth of the Salween River. There are 27,966 km (17,377 mi) of roads in Myanmar, of which 11 percent are paved, two-thirds are gravel, and the rest passable most easily by jeep or ox cart. In the 1990s the government focused considerable energy on reconstructing roads, often with volunteer or forced labor. There are extensive road links and several bridge links with Thailand and China. The Burma Road, which extended from northeast of Mandalay into China, played an important role in World War II. Myanmar Airways, the government-owned airline, has international service from Yangon to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Kolkata. Other international carriers provide direct flights to Mandalay and the tourist site at Pagan. Domestic flights have also been modernized by joint ventures with Singapore companies.
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