[Originally published: 1 July 2013; Updated: 9 April 2022]  Communication over long distances in India has a long and interesting history … and geography!From very early times when messages were sent with people who had to personally deliver them, to sending messages and documents with ‘dak runners’ (postal runners who literally ran to deliver the messages), to road and railways based post, to the latest: email and 3G cell phones!

You can read a very nicely-written and fascinating account of the history of communications in India here.  [All links open in a new page/tab]

It used to amaze me that many times, letters written with addresses like “Sri Sambasiva Iyer, Rear House next to tamarind tree, Opp. Village High School, Thiruppallipalli, Kovilnagaram District, Madras State” would actually reach Sri Iyer!  (Madras State was previously the name of Tamil Nadu).

My friends tell me that this kind of thing still works. I have not tried it.

Some of my friends tell me that in remote villages in difficult-to-reach areas, the postman is still the main connection with the outside world.

When I was a kid in high school, in the 1970s, I used to write away to all sorts of organizations to receive free materials from them. By post. Mail, that is. Coming home from school, it was exciting to see if something had come for me by mail. During holidays, I used to eagerly await the arrival of the postman. The distinctive sound of his bicycle bell would raise the anticipation.

Nowadays, postal communication is very different. Not as many people use India Post (formerly called Indian Posts & Telegraph or “P&T” for short).

Email, SMS, and phone calls are the norm. I keep hearing that there are many villages which have gone directly to cell phones, without ever experiencing land lines!

The rate of change is fast indeed.

India Post is still vital for the country as its role is changing in step with India’s modern communication needs. India Post is still used by millions for a variety of purposes including, yes, regular post.

To have proof of having mailed an important document to a government agency, an employer, etc. it is still useful to send it by Speed Post, Registered Post, etc.

Regardless of the roles played by India Post, it too divides up India into many parts so that its work can be better organized.

It was on Independence Day 1972 (what day and month would that be?), that I remember learning about the newly-introduced PIN Code – Postal Index Number code.  (Now, if you say PIN, people presume you are talking about the number you enter to access your bank account at the ATM.)

So, here is a look at the PIN code.

It has six digits.

The country is divided into eight zones (1 through 8), and a special zone (9) is reserved for the armed forces.

Each zone may cover 1 or more states. The second digit is assigned to various states in the zone. Here is a map showing the division of India using the first two digits. (Click on any image to open a larger view in a new window/tab.)

Source: Wikipedia

(please note that another map at the same site does not show India’s boundaries correctly – this is an important point to note in any map of India; for more on this, read an earlier blog here)

The third digit refers to the sorting zone within that state. The last three digits take it to the last major local post office from where delivery occurs to various areas or sub-post-offices.

So, here is the structure and an example.


Example Pin Code Diagram

How did I get the details for the post office shown in the above example? I searched here for 560011 and got this information:

Details for 560011

Details for 560011

Now, you see how much geography is encoded into the PIN code. The numbers literally route the post you send through the geography of India to the address given. Very likely, the actual address is read only at the final post office where they do the final sorting for delivery.

Some things for you to do:

  1. Try to send a letter to someone you know without giving a “door number” or PIN code using only landmarks. See if the letter reaches!
  2. Know a PIN code? Okay, find out its detailed geography here (I used this in the example I gave in this blog).
  3. You can read the 10-part, fascinating history of postal communications in India here.
  4. You can read many interesting articles about postmen (and postwomen?) here.
  5. Send GeoVidyaa a post card or a letter! Here is the address: GeoVidyaa Geography Centre of Excellence, c/o Army Public School, K. Kamaraj Road, Bangalore 560042. (Look up the details of this PIN code).
  6. Make a table of places you have visited and their PIN codes.
  7. If you travel by train, you will notice that the PIN code for each station is given on the large boards at either end of the platform.

Find answers to these questions:

  1. Where is the world’s highest post office?
  2. How many post offices are there in India?
  3. Other than delivering the post, what services does India Post offer? Which of these services are available at the post office nearest to you?
  4. A “special zone (9) is reserved for the armed forces.” Why?
  5. Read this interesting article about the Bengaluru General Post Office in the Deccan Herald, 9 April 2022.

Updated: 9 April 2022 — added item 5 in “Find answers to these questions”

Featured image: India Post logo; courtesy of India Post.


One response

  1. Great post! Keep such posts coming..they are very valuable. I remember that even in the 1990s when I was in school, I had a penpal in New Delhi and wrote to some cousins and friends out of state.It was always exciting to receive letters from them and write back to them. Now when I think my children, still too young for any kind of long distance communication, will never experience that..it makes me sad.

    I like this whole concept of TIIGS. As a young girl, I had a horrible Geography teacher but I learnt a lot as an adult. Still I feel some of my fundamentals are very shaky. I am looking forward to falling in love with the subject through your initiatives.


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