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At the present time, however, Asia is far behind Europe and America in civilization.
This is the land where gunpowder and the mariner's compass were invented; where, it is claimed, the arts of printing and paper making were discovered; where spinning and weaving have been known for more than two thousand years; and where the art of making finely tempered steel reached its highest development. The swords of Damascus and the silks and porcelains of China have never been surpassed.
While the peoples of other lands have been quick to invent and to improve machinery, the peoples of Asia have made no such progress; but the same slow, clumsy methods of work are practiced to-day which were in use centuries ago.
If we visit the countries of Asia, we shall find the people doing their work in the same way it has been done for generations. There have been no improvements for ages either in utensils or in the ways of using them.
It seems as if the people of Asia reached a certain degree of attainment, and, with the exception of the Japanese, were content to make no further progress. They had shut themselves within their walled cities and had said to the rest of the world, “We wish to have nothing to do with you." But Europe and America have knocked at their gates until now they are wide open. To-day, ships from the principal nations of the earth are to be seen in the harbors where but a few years ago no foreigner was allowed to enter.
THE INDIAN EMPIRE.
ONE of the best-known countries of Asia occupies the great central peninsula. This is India, the land famed from earliest times for its costly shawls, its rich silks, and its precious gems.
It is the land, too, as we shall see, of strange peoples, and the home of ancient religions.
The natural boundaries of India shut it off from the rest of the continent. On the north rise the great mountain walls of the Himalayas, separating it from the plateau of Tibet.
Its eastern shores are washed by the Bay of Bengal, and the blue waters of the Arabian Sea break along its western coast. It is like a great wedge extending far into the Indian Ocean.
“ Vast are the shores of India's wealthful soil;
Here down the wastes of Taurus' rocky side
India is as large as the United States east of the Mississippi River, and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It has a population of
290,000,000, or more than four times as many people as there are in the whole United States.
In the northern part of this great Indian peninsula are, as we already know, the Himalayan mountains. The word “Himalaya” means “The Abode of Snow,” and well do these grand mountains merit the name, for their lofty heights are always crowned with snow.
From the foot of this majestic mountain range the great plains of India stretch far away to the south. They extend to the Vindhya Hills on the south, and from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea, including the inost fertile, as well as the most densely populated, provinces of India. The country inclosed by these northern river plains is generally called Hindustan.
South of the plains the land rises to a rugged tableland, occupying nearly the whole of the southern half of the peninsula. This region, known as Deccan, or the South-land, is triangular in shape and bounded on all sides by low mountain ranges.
To the east and west, these mountains are called the Ghauts. Between the Ghauts and the sea, a narrow belt of land runs around the peninsula.
Thus we see these three great natural divisions in India, — the mountains on the north, the great plains in the central part, and the table-land of Deccan to the south.
The Himalayan mountain range is the grandest in the world. It is nearly two thousand miles long, one hundred and fifty miles broad, and includes peak after peak higher than Mt. Blanc, towering in “serried ranks" to the loftiest summit, Mt. Everest, which is
more than 29,000 feet above the level of the sea. One of the glaciers of this mountain range is sixty miles in length.
These rugged mountains have always proved an impassable barrier to an invading army from the north ; but small companies of traders from Tibet are able, at times, to make their way through the dangerous mountain passes. On the northwestern frontier of India, at the extreme end of the Himalayas, is found the only point of entrance for a hostile force. It is the famous Khyber Pass. Through this deep mountain gorge all the earlier conquerors of India made their way. A strong garrison of British troops now guards this pass to prevent the inroad of any hostile force.
Although peace and contentment seem to reign supreme in this distant military station, the watchful care of the mountain passes is never relaxed.
The Himalayas not only protect India from outside foes, but are the direct and necessary cause of its great fertility. Under the tropical heat of the sun vast quantities of moisture are drawn from the distant Indian Ocean. The monsoon, or south wind, drives this moisture in dense clouds northwards across India, until, reaching the Himalayas, it descends either as rain or snow.
These torrents of rain, collecting into rapid mountain brooks, soon unite with larger streams and, in time, form the great rivers which make the land of India one of the most fertile of the divisions of the globe.
Of the great rivers which spring from the heart of
these mountains, three, the Ganges, the Indus, and the Brahmaputra, are of the greatest importance to India.
The Ganges is the most notable of these great rivers. Rising, as it does, thousands of feet above the level of the sea, amid the snow-crowned peaks of the Himalayas, what wonder that the early peoples of India thought it came directly from heaven, and so made it an object of sacred worship!
The Ganges is to India what the Nile is to Egypt; giving great fertility to the country through which it flows, and affording a highway for the commerce of the large cities which naturally have been founded upon its banks. Flowing southeastwards for 1500 miles, it empties its turbid waters through a vast network of channels into the Bay of Bengal.
The northwestern part of the river plains is called the Punjab, or “the land of the five rivers.” These five rivers, flowing through this country, unite with the Indus. The Indus is the largest of the great rivers of India. Crossing the northwestern provinces of Hindustan, this magnificent river reaches the Arabian Sea about 1800 miles from its source in the snow fields of the Himalayas.
Many of the early invasions of India, as we have already learned, were made through the famous Khyber Pass, in the northwestern corner, where modern Afghanistan now bounds the country. The advancing armies were soon checked by the broad Indus. In this way foreign peoples came to know this river, and gave its name to the land beyond; hence the name India.
One of the upper tributaries of the Indus flows