Big ships. Deep waters. Wide channels. Fruits from afar. More choices. The changing meaning of boundaries. Wonder what geography has to do with all this? Here is but a mere glimpse!

Movement is a major theme in geography. It includes the movement of materials (raw materials, manufactured goods, agricultural products, etc.), ideas (innovations, fashions, etc.), people (international migration, intra-national or within-country migration, temporary migration, commuting, etc.), information (prices of stocks and shares, the routes of transportation vehicles such as buses, trains, aircraft, ships, etc.), natural entities (animals, water, air, tectonic plates, etc.). [Several terms are italicized to draw your attention to them. These are terms that you may wish to look up in a dictionary. One resource you could use is this online dictionary.]

Since the 1990s, India’s markets have rapidly opened up to importing goods. What kept those imports low before? India had erected many invisible barriers to movement – high taxes on imported goods, complicated license procedures, limits on quantities of goods that could be imported, etc.

So, for example, Washington apples and Chinese pears, Japanese cars and Dutch cheeses were not coming into the country. From the 1990s, these barriers have been reduced or lifted.

Now, Japanese vehicles and machinery are assembled in India, often in collaboration with Indian companies. For example: Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd. near Bangalore manufacture Toyota cars; Volvo, a Swedish company, manufactures buses near Bangalore; Hyundai Motors, a South Korean company, have a plant near Chennai. These are possible because India has been making it easier for foreign companies to build their own factories here, to collaborate with Indian companies, providing land at cheap prices, etc.

You can buy Washington apples, Chinese pears and other ‘exotic’ fruits even from street vendors now. What are the enabling factors in this case?

‘Gala’ apple from Washington (Courtesy: )

Chemical preservation technology allows unripe apples and other fruits to be harvested and made available in distant places; this increases the shelf-life of these perishable items. Large quantities of the harvested apples are treated with chemicals and kept in specialized containers at low temperatures. They are exported to far-off countries, such as India. Here, they are unpacked and transported in large quantities to wholesale markets to be sold in large quantities. Retailers buy the apples from the wholesalers and sell it in shops, on carts by the roadside, etc.

These apple-carrying ships would have to travel a long distance from Washington to India. But another geographic concept helps us reduce this distance. It’s the isthmus (from the Greek isthmos, meaning ‘neck of land’) – a tiny strip of land that connects two larger pieces of land with water bordering on both sides. The Isthmus of Panama is crucial in this. Here, the Panama Canal was opened on, get this,

Himachal Pradesh apple. (Courtesy: )

15 August 1914. The Suez Canal already existed (from 1869, the year in which Gandhiji was born).

These two canals make it possible for ships to avoid having to travel long distances

around Cape Horn (southern tip of South America) and the Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of Africa) – both areas where the seas are extremely rough! Before

these two canals, the distances and the rough seas were great physical barriers to the movement of Washington apples to India.

Now, the Panama Canal is upgrading and expanding. This will help increase the flow of goods significantly. Here are interesting news items from the Washington Post about this story:

You can read the wiki articles on Panama Canal and Suez Canal for a lot of background information.

Here is a free online book on transportation geography: The Geography of Transport Systems –

Thanks to technological advances and removal of invisible barriers in India, we now get apples from far off Washington any time of the year.

But are they healthy?

Explore further:

  • Why are ships used to transport these apples and similar items instead of aircraft? Wouldn’t it be faster to use aeroplanes?
  • Why are the seas so rough around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn?
  • On a globe, try to trace the routes that ships would have to take to bring apples from Washington to India if the two canals were not there.
  • Why don’t the ships avoid the rough seas of Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope by simply going north?
  • Which is the Washington mentioned in here? How is it different from any other Washington you may find on a map?
  • If you have broadband access to the internet, use GoogleEarth to create a map of multinational companies which have manufacturing units in different parts of India. Categorize them into different sectors – automobile manufacturing, machinery, services, etc. and use different symbols for each category you have. If you do this, save your work and share the link with The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies in the comments box below. A search on Wikipedia may be one way of getting started. Try different search terms to get the information you seek.

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