Physical Geography of Asia
is the largest continent in the world (19,187,230 square miles in
area), and has some of the world’s most extreme locations: the
highest point, the lowest point, the largest lake, and more.
*The lowest point on the surface of the Earth is the shore of the Dead
Sea in the Middle East. The largest lake in the world is the
Caspian Sea, a salt-water lake between Europe and the Middle East, and
the world’s deepest lake is Lake Baikal, in Russia.
*The highest point in the world, however, is on the Indian
Subcontinent. The entire subcontinent is part of a tectonic plate
that is being pushed into the main Asian plate, lifting the Himalayas
as it goes. This has not only created the highest mountain in the
world, Mount Everest (about 29,035 feet high), and the second-highest
(or maybe highest), K2 (28,250 feet), but every mountain in the world
over 23,000 feet in height. The highest mountain outside Asia is
Mount Aconcagua in the Andes (22,841 feet), but more than 70 mountains
in the Himalayas are higher.
*The Himalayan Mountains are almost impassable, and have protected the
countries in and south of them from invasion from the north. One
of the few major historic passes through is Khyber pass on the
Pakistan/Afghanistan border, and it has been one of the most
fought-over places in the world—Alexander the Great used it in 326 BC
and the British fought for it in 1842 AD.
*The Subcontinent also has other highland regions, the Eastern and
Western Ghats, two coastal mountain ranges, between which lies the
*There are a number of important rivers in South Asia. One of the
most notable is the Indus River, mostly in Pakistan. It was the
cultural hearth of the earliest civilisations in the subcontinent,
giving it the same cultural and historical significance as the Nile and
*The Ganges, in northern India and Bangladesh, is the holiest river in
Hinduism. It is thought that bathing in it will wash away sins,
and that it is blessed to have one’s ashes cast into it after
cremation. It is also a major trade route and creates one of the
most fertile flood plains known to man—which is one reason Bangladesh
is so densely populated today.
*The Brahmaputra River is a major river of northern India and
Bangladesh that eventually joins the Ganges and then flows into the Bay
of Bengal. It is navigable for over 800 miles, making a major
trade route in India and Bangladesh.
*In addition to the Bay of Bengal, the Subcontinent it also bounded by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
*About half of South Asia is tropical (with rain forests and savannas),
while the north-western part is principally desert and steppe, and the
northeastern is mostly humid sub-tropical.
*Southeast Asia is made up of a number of peninsulas (notably the Malay
Peninsula and the Indochina Peninsula) and over 20,000 islands in the
*There are a number of small mountain ranges and highland areas in
Southeast Asia, and they and the islands of the region’s archipelagos
are part of the ‘Ring of Fire,’ an area of tremendous tectonic activity
around the Pacific Ocean. One of the most impressive eruptions
ever in the region was Krakatoa eruption of 1883: it ejected over
6 cubic miles of ash and rock, and its explosion was heard in
Australia. 2/3 of the island of Krakatoa was destroyed, along
with 36,417 people in the explosion and subsequent tsunamis. This
is the most powerful explosion known in modern times, 4 times more
powerful than the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested.
*The longest river in Southeast Asia is the Mekong River flows China,
through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam into the South China
Sae. About 2,600 miles long, it is either the 12th or 13th
longest river in the world (competing with the Niger). It makes
the Mekong Delta one of the most fertile places in the region, and is
depositing enough sediment that the Delta grows about 50 feet outwards
*The Irrawaddy River in Burma (Myanmar) is the longest river in that country, and its most important waterway.
*Most of Southeast Asia is tropical (although there are some humid
subtropical regions in the northern interior), and it has some tropical
rainforests and jungles remaining, which are home to some of the
world’s most rare creatures.
*Indonesia is also the location of the ‘Wallace Line,’ a demarcation
between areas where marsupials and placental mammals are found in
nature. It runs between Borneo and Celebes.
*Besides the South China Sea, Southeast Asia also touches the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
*East Asia is mostly made up of China, most of which is highland or
mountains, although it also has an extensive coastal region where most
of its people dwell.
*East Asia also has the Korean Peninsula (which is separated from China
by the Yalu River), the island of Formosa (Taiwan), and the islands of
Japan, of which Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu are the
largest—Honshu is the 7th largest island in the world.
*South-western China is the most elevated region, with both the
Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau having been formed by tectonic
*The Tibetan Plateau is the largest and highest plateau in the world,
with an average elevation over 16,400 feet, placing it higher than all
but the very highest mountains on almost any other continent.
*Western China also has Kunlun Shan and the Tian Shan (Shan is Chinese
for ‘mountains), and Mongolia has the Altay Mountains. Japan has
the Japanese Alps, in which the highest is Mount Fuji (12,388 feet
high), an important symbol to the Japanese nation.
*The longest river in China, and the third longest in the world, is the
Yangtze River, which flows through central China new Shanghai. It
flows for 3,965 miles, and waters hald of China’s agricultural
area. In 2003, China began filling the reservoir behind the Three
Gorges Dam, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world
when it is finished in 2009. This has been somewhat
controversial, because it is very expensive, and will force up to 2
million people to leave their homes as they are flooded.
*China’s second largest river is the Yellow River, or Huang Ho, which
flows through northern China. It is named for the loess that it
carries, which turns the water yellow. Its yearly floods deposit
this valuable soil along the riverbanks, making it one of China’s most
fertile and populous areas, but the floods also kill people every year,
occasionally killing hundreds of thousands or millions. The
Yellow River is China’s culture hearth, one of the world’s four great
culture hearths, and is known as China’s Pride and as China’s Sorrow.
*The Xi River waters southern China, especially Guangzhou (Canton) and Macau.
*Northern China also has the Grand Canal, the longest artificial
waterway in the world, which runs 1,085 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou
(south of Shanghai).
*South-eastern China, South Korea, and southern Japan have humid subtropical climates, and mostly grow rice.
*Northern China grows corn and wheat in a humid continental climate,
while North Korea and northern Japan grow less in a similar climate
(but with weaker soils).
*Mongolia is mostly steppe, and has little arable land.
*The interior of China is mostly desert and highland climates, and is fairly infertile and not particularly populous.
*The very northern reaches of China and Mongolia are even subartic
climates, with coniferous forests growing there (if anything does).