UPSC Prelims 2018: How to Prepare Indian Geography through Atlas/Maps

How to read a map for UPSC?

Your UPSC exam prelims preparation will not be complete if you don’t study an atlas. Map-based questions are a regular feature in the UPSC civil services prelims exam. Many maps based questions in UPSC Prelims confuses the aspirants. Many aspirants are confused about where to begin when it comes to maps or atlases.  This article gives you a few pointers on how to effectively utilise the maps or atlas for preparing Indian Geography and tackle the map-based questions in UPSC exam.

You can buy either the Oxford student atlas or the Orient Blackswan school atlas.

Benefits of studying for UPSC exam with an Atlas:

  • Makes Geography easier to learn
  • Covers physical and human Geography
  • Enhances your ability to recall names of places, physical features, etc.

How to prepare Indian Geography through Atlas/Maps


  • Focus on the location of states and major cities.
  • Study what states border what, especially international borders. For example, a possible question can be regarding which Indian border Pakistan or Bangladesh, etc.
  • You should also know the states which border the maximum number of states, like Maharashtra, UP, MP, etc.
  • Also, remember the north-south chronology of the north-eastern states.
  • You should also study to arrange major cities in India from north to south or from east to west.
  • Tropic of Cancer passes through India. Know the names of the 8 states through which it passes in India (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram, West Bengal and Jharkhand).
  • You should also know the cities which lie on major river banks.


  • Physical maps are a bit tricky when compared to the political maps. Here, you have to remember lakes, rivers, mountains, mountain ranges, soils, islands, etc.

Mountain Ranges

  • There are many mountain ranges in India. You have to tackle them area by area, like mountains in the northern region, then in the central parts, before moving onto the peninsular region.
  • The Himalayas are the most important mountain range in the country. This is further divided into three – Greater, Middle and Little Himalayas. Locate their extent on the map. Also, study chronology from north to south in the map. (Remember the Greater Himalayas are further classified into many ranges like Karakoram, Ladakh, Shivalik, etc.
  • Also, locate the important peaks like Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga, Nanda Devi, etc.
  • You should also study the biggest glaciers and their north-south chronology.
  • Another important topic to learn through maps are the mountain passes and the states they fall in. (Important mountain passes are Nathu La, Bomdi La, Lipu Lekh, etc.
  • Coming to the other mountain ranges, the important ones in middle Indian plateau are Mahadeo Hills, Ramgarh Hills, Maikal Range and Garjhat Hills.
  • In southern India, the important ones are the Nallamalla Hills, Nagari Hills, Javadi Hills, Annamalai Hills, Nilgiri Hills, Cardamom Hills, Satpura range, etc.


  • Rivers are tricky as there are too many of them!
  • Pick out the important rivers and study their origins, states through which they flow, major tributaries, places where the tributaries meet the main river, the place where the rivers meet the sea, etc.
  • Also, remember whether the rivers are east-flowing or west-flowing.
  • You should also be able to place the rivers north to south.
  • For River Ganga, remember which are the left-bank (Yamuna and Son) and the right-bank (Rapti, Gandak and Kosi) tributaries.
  • The tributaries of Ganga and Yamuna are extremely important and have been asked more than once.
  • North-south chronology of major rivers in states is also important.
  • River Brahmaputra is also important. Remember it has different names in different places.
  • The last thing to study in rivers is the major dams and lakes. You must know the important dams and on which rivers they are located.

Consider the following question from 2014 UPSC Prelims:

Q) Consider the following rivers:

  1. Barak
  2. Lohit
  3. Subansiri

Which of the above flows / flow through Arunachal Pradesh?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Answer: b


  • Go through all the coastal cities and states.
  • Study the important gulfs and straits like Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait, Ten Degree Channel, etc.
  • In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, look at Indira Point, the dormant volcanoes in the Barren Islands, the Coco Channel, etc.

Example questions from the 2014 Prelims Questions Paper:

Q) Which one of the following pairs of islands are separated from each other by the ‘Ten Degree Channel’?

  1. Andaman and Nicobar
  2. Nicobar and Sumatra
  3. Maldives and Lakshadweep
  4. Sumatra and Java

Answer: a

Q) Consider these pairs

  1. Cardamom Hills Coromandel Coast
  2. Kaimur Hills Konkan Coast
  3. Mahadeo Hills Central India
  4. Mikir Hills North-East India

Which of the above pairs are correctly matched?

  1. 1 and 2
  2. 2 and 3
  3. 3 and 4
  4. 2 and 4

Answer: c


  • A lot of natural parks, wildlife sanctuaries and bio reserves are located in the Himalayan ranges as well as the Western Ghats, and in other places in India. You should know the locations and states of the important parks in India. There are more than 100 national parks in India and many more reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, so it is impossible to remember the locations of all of them. But you must know the major ones and any others that have been in the news of late.


  • Questions related to highways have also been asked like about the Golden Quadrilateral or the north-south and the east-west corridors.
  • You must know the longest highway, its starting and ending points and the major cities through which it passes.
  • Also, remember where many national highways (NHs) meet. For example, three NHs meet in Nagpur.

Also Read:

UPSC Exam Preparation: Revising World Geography through Maps
Free NCERT Geography Books PDF


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    1. Hi Vanshika,
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