Geography through maps for UPSC
“Before maps, the world was limitless. It was maps that gave it shape and made it seem like territory, like something that could be possessed, not just laid waste and plundered. Maps made places on the edges of the imagination seem graspable and placable.” – Abdulrazak Gurnah
If you are preparing for the June 2017 UPSC civil services prelims exam, you would know that studying maps is an integral part of your IAS preparation. Map related questions are asked in IAS prelims and the geography optional paper in UPSC mains. In general, you can expect 9 to 10 questions from the maps section in IAS prelims.
Earlier, you were given blank maps and you had to mark the places, etc. on the map. Now, you are not given maps. The questions only contain the names of places and you have to, say arrange them in any order asked. So, you have to have a clear picture in your head about maps.
There is a wrong notion among some UPSC candidates that they can learn everything by heart as far as maps are concerned. But this is incorrect. What is needed is a strategic understanding of the kind of questions asked by the UPSC and tips on how to deal with them.
This article gives you certain tips needed to solve the map questions from the world maps section. Read on to find out what to learn, how to learn and what questions you can expect from this section.
- You must know about mountains of the world and the continent in which they are present.
For eg., a probable question can be, ‘in which continent are the Rocky Mountains present?’ (Answer: North America)
Similarly, you should study grasslands and deserts.
- West Asia
This region is called West Asia from an Indian point of view, but is known as the Middle East in the West.
You must know about the various seas like Caspian Sea and Aral Sea.
Probable question: Which countries border the Caspian Sea?
Answer: Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Between which two countries is the Aral Sea situated?
Answer: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan
- Arabian Peninsula
This is very important as far as UPSC is concerned because of the ISIS problem going on in that region. Here also, observe all the countries and their capitals. You may be asked to arrange all the capitals from north to south or from east to west.
● Know all the capitals like Riyadh, Doha, Amman, etc. and their locations.
● The next important point in this region is the Red Sea.
Eg. The Red Sea is surrounded by which countries?
Answer: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia.
● Other important areas here are Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Aqaba and Gulf of Suez.
- Persian Gulf
Focus on this region since you always get a question on Israel and Palestine.
Know about the regions in Palestine like the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and West Bank.
Possible question: Countries which border Israel.
Answer: Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon
● Again it is reiterated that you must learn to arrange all relevant capitals from north to south or east to west, etc.
- Focus on the Black Sea area. Important seas like Black Sea, Sea of Azov, Sea of Marmara and Aegean Sea.
Possible question: countries surrounding Black Sea.
Answer: Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia.
- Crimea is an important region as there is a lot of unrest here.
- Central Asian countries.
Know the capitals of countries here like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, etc.
- East Asia
● China is very important.
● Sea of Japan, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea (know what places border them)
● Places in China.
Important cities in China are Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Zhengzhou and Chengdu. (Bangalore and Chengdu are being developed as sister cities)
● Kolkata-Kunming – a route is planned between these two cities.
A possible question is: Arrange Kolkata, Dhaka, Naypyidaw and Kunming from East to West.
- South China Sea
Places here are China, Vietnam, Hainan, Malaysia and Philippines. China is involved in disputes with many countries here. Places in dispute are Paracel, Scarborough Shoal and The Spratly Islands. Possible question: Which island is disputed between China and Philippines?
- Rivers in Southeast Asia
Possible question: Arrange the rivers from west to east – Irrawaddy, Salween, Chao Phraya and Mekong.
● Focus on Sumatra and Jakarta. (Sumatra was the epicentre of the Tsunami in 2004)
- South Asia
- SAARC countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives)
● Four major islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu
● Places to remember – Fukushima, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo.
● Physical map is important.
Great Dividing Range, Simpson Desert, Great Barrier Reef, Great Victoria Desert, Kimberley Plateau, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria, Bass Strait, Tasmania, Murray River Basin.
Possible question: Which continent is the Great Dividing Range situated?
● Cities in Australia – Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne. Eg. Arrange from north to south.
- New Zealand
North Island and South Island separated by Cook Straight.
Mount Cook, Southern Alps
Cities – Christchurch, Dunedin, Napier, Hamilton, Auckland.
- Europe –
● Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Greece (important)
Possible question: countries around Mediterranean Sea.
Answer: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France and Spain.
Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Sea of Crete.
Islands of Greece
- Scandinavian Peninsula
● Countries around
● Baltic Sea
● Kael Canal
● Capitals of the countries
- North America
● Physical map
a. Appalachian Mountains, Ozark Plateau, Edward’s Plateau, Rocky Mountains, Columbia Plateau, Sierra Nevada, Sonora Desert, Colorado Plateau.
b. Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario
● Places here – must know how to arrange them in the asked order
- South America
● Countries are important.
Eg. Which is the country that borders both the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico?
Eg. Which countries in South America does not share border with Brazil?
Answer: Chile and Ecuador
● Know the capitals.
● Physical map (Amazon Basin, Brazilian Highlands, Brazilian Shield, Pampas, Patagonian Desert, Andes Mountains, Llanos, Campos and Llanos, Atacama Desert, Galapagos Islands)
● Western areas
Know what all countries are called Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast and Grain Coast.
● Red Sea area – important because of piracy
● South Africa
Eg. Which are the enclave countries? (Swaziland and Lesotho) Important places in South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein)
● Important countries – Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique.
● Physical map
Sahara Desert, Congo Basin, Namib Desert, Kalahari Desert, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Atlas Range, East African Rift Valley
River Nile, Congo River, Aswan Dam
In a nutshell, these are the important points to remember:
✔ Physical features in all continents
✔ Arranging cities and places from north to south, east to west, etc.