India will sideswipe you with its size and diversity - but if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload, then it is one of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth, and you'll quickly develop an abiding passion for it.
Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you. India is a litmus test for many travellers - some are only too happy to leave, while others stay for a lifetime.
The country's glorious diversity means there's an astonishing array of sacred sites, from immaculately kept jain temples to weathered Buddhist stupas; there's history around every corner, with countless monuments, battle-scarred forts, abandoned cities and ancient ruins all having tales to tell; and there are beaches to satiate the most avid sun worshipper. On a personal level, however, India is going to be exactly what you make of it.
Full country name: Republic of India
Area: 3.28 million sq km
Population: 1 billion
Capital city: New Delhi
People: 72% Indo-Aryan, 25% Dravidian, 3% Others
Language: Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Bengali, Tamil, English
Religion: 80% hindu, 14% muslim, 2.4% christian, 2% sikh, 0.7% buddhist, 0.5% jains, 0.4% other
Government: Federal Republic
Head of state: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Head of government: Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh
GDP: US$2.2 trillion
GDP per capita: US$2,200
Annual growth: 5.4%
Major industries: textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes, cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry, fish
Major trading partners: US, Hong Kong, UK, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Saudi Arabia
Member of EU: No