FIRST THINGS FIRST: THE GEOLOGY OF INDIA
One Hundred million years ago the diamond-shaped Indian peninsula was still attached to the land mass called Gondwana, a fragment of the supercontinent known as Panagaea by geologists. Who knows the exact moment when volcanic activity along the ocean ridges caused the Indian plate to break off and drift north, smashing into what is now Tibet and giving birth to the Himalayas. I imagine a dark and primordial night filled with fire and blue ice, the calm drift, then the heaving of the earth’s core and crust as saw tooth mountains began to rise up to touch the stars. A land bridge still connected western India to Africa, but was eventually submerged by rising ocean levels as layers of glacial ice melted. For aeons the land was pummeled by rains, swept with winds, dusts and snow and scorched by the sun. Volcanic lava spewed up from cracks in the earth, spreading across large areas of the peninsula and solidifying into crystalline rock. Small mountains and hills rose along the north-south fault line where India was shorn away from Gondwana. Rivers gushed from the mountains as snow melted, carrying rich silt that slowly filled the deep depressions on the plains caused by the thrusting up of the peaks. Some of the great rivers ran all the way to the oceans engulfing the peninsula, creating swaths of green along the way. One of these rivers, the Indus gave India its name and was where the first Indian civilizations flourished five thousand years ago. In the wake of the rivers irrigation pines and poplars sprung up in the shadows of the mountains and valleys filled with ferns and flowers. Bamboo groves and rhododendron jungles covered vast areas. Massive bodhi, ashoka and neem trees grew in others and palms fringed the warm coasts. Thus the three main geological regions of India were formed and remain today—the Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic northern plain and the peninsula.