"I had been to other countries - in Europe, Asia and the Middle East - but none of them had provided even half as much variety, or so much to see and experience and remember, as this one State in northern India...Uttar Pradesh is a world in itself.
Ruskin Bond

One of the northern states of India, bordering Nepal to the North, Uttar Pradesh has the highest population and the largest number of famous tourist destinations of any Indian region. It is the fourth largest region in the country, and contains the sacred city of Varanasi (Benares), also known as the City of Light; the Taj Mahal, located in Agra, which is Delhi's rival as India's capital city; Sarnath, the location of the Buddha's first sermon; Lucknow, the city that every year hosts the Kumbh Mela, Hinduism's biggest congregation of pilgrims; and innumerable temples, sacred locations from the later Vedas, forests, lakes, rivers and mountains. In 2000 a new province, Uttaranchal, was created by popular demand out of the northern part of Uttar Pradesh, which means that it can no longer boast of being home to the source of the Ganges, which arises in the Himalayas to the north. *

Geography

The fourth largest Indian state, Uttar Pradesh covers 294,411 square kilometres, most (75%) of which is the plain of the Ganges - an enormous, flat, fertile region in which the population are mostly farmers. Uttar Pradesh has a tropical monsoon climate, with temperatures ranging from 12 degrees Celsius in the winter to up to 45 degrees in the summer. There is huge diversity of plant and animal life due to the fertility of the Ganges, and there are thousands of square kilometres of jungle teeming with life, inhabited by tigers and leopards, wild boars, monitor lizards, and hundreds of other wild species. There is one national park, the Corbett Park, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions.

History

The areas comprising modern-day Uttar Pradesh are almost unmentioned in the earlier Vedic texts, and it only becomes important as a region in the later Vedas and the Upanishads. Many of the most famous sages mentioned in the Upanishads, such as Yajnavalkya, had their ashrams in the Uttar Pradesh area. The state is also important in the later 'epic' era covered by the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, stories of warring dynasties from that area, and has also been described as 'the cradle of Buddhism' since it was an area in which Buddhism truly began to take hold after Gautama Buddha spent many years travelling and teaching there. In the centuries leading up to the first century A.D. all the minor states in the Uttar Pradesh area were in a state of perpetual war with each other, and afterwards the area was ruled by a succession of family dynasties which brought some stability.

Uttar Pradesh continued to be a region of enormous cultural importance in the centuries following the life of the Buddha, with cities such as Varanasi, Mathura (the birthplace of Krishna), Ayodhya (the birthplace of Rama) and Prayag attracting pilgrims and visitors from the whole country, and Varanasi in particular becoming renowned as a place of learning. In the Middle Ages and afterwards Islam increased in importance, but without much of the fire and conflict that has characterized Muslim expansion into other cultures - Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh was one of the most important Islamic centres, and the Sufis learned much from Hindu thought and vice versa. Cultural synthesis was emphasized by the religious and political leaders of the time, and a vast enrichment of human religious, artistic and liberal social thought took place, with few parallels elsewhere in human history. The Mughal era saw the pinnacle of the combined Indian and Muslim styles of architecture in marble buildings such as the Taj Mahal.

Between 1784 and 1856 the British Empire, through the East India Company, gradually conquered or annexed the entire area, which they called the North-Western Provinces. In 1902 this name was changed to the United Provinces of Agra and Avadh, and later simply to United Provinces. After India's independence in 1950, the United Provinces became a full state of the new Republic of India, and was called Uttar Pradesh.

Society

The population of Uttar Pradesh, excluding Uttaranchal, was over 166 million in 2001 (compare to the entire population of Brazil in 2001, 175 million!), far greater than any other province, and a map showing the distribution can be found here: http://www.mapsofindia.com/census2001/population/population-uttarpradesh.htm. There are many cities in the region, but in general the rate of massive urbanization has been slower than in other parts of India. However, the rise in smaller urban centres (5000 people or less) has been dramatic, especially in the Western part, near Delhi. Added to this, the state has one of the lowest per capita income figures, second only to Orissa in the east, with the main industry being agriculture. There is a large degree of imbalance between the sub-regions of Uttar Pradesh, with the Western region being relatively urbanized and prosperous, and the state of Bundelkhand being highly undeveloped, with low agricultural growth and low urban industry. Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst states in India by many social indicators, such as medical facilities, teacher-to-pupil ratio, birth and death rates, literacy, income, and basic facilities such as electricity.

Uttar Pradesh has similar figures to Saharan Africa for lifespan and infant mortality - the average lifespan is less than 55 years, and 141 out of every thousand children under five will die. Poor nutrition and healthcare are the major reasons for this. India's demographic as a whole has been shifting towards that of a more developed nation, with lower birth rates and longer lifespans, but Uttar Pradesh is the slowest region to follow this trend.

In a stark contrast to the Middle Ages, in which cities in this region were famous centres of learning and culture, education in Uttar Pradesh is in a bad way. Female literacy was at roughly 18% in 1981 in some regions, but in the majority of areas it was as low as 2.5%. There are many nationwide projects to increase literacy, some funded by international charities and some run by the Indian government, but education is seen as out of reach by most ordinary people due to their poverty.


* Thanks to Gritchka for the tip about Uttaranchal
References and further reading:
http://www.upgov.nic.in/
http://www.all-india-tour-travel.com/states/uttar-pradesh.htm
http://www.tourisminindia.com/indiainfo/states/uttarpradesh/
http://www.lawrenceindia.com/uttar-pradesh/
http://www.indianvisit.com/ivnew/states_of_india/uttar_pradesh/geographical_uttar_pradesh.html

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