Although the Indian subcontinent is predominantly rural, with about 70% of its total population living in villages or small rural hamlets, it is nevertheless home to some of the world's most populous cities. Five of these could be categorised as falling within the definition of megalopolis - that is with a population in excess of 10 million.
These include Karachi in Pakistan, Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta) in India, and Dhaka (Dacca) in Bangladesh. Moreover, there are more than 8 great cities with a population in excess of 5 million, with a further 50 or so with a population of more than one million. The total number of towns recorded in the Census of India of 2001 (and thus limited only to India) exceeds 5,100 in all, as against a figure in excess of 638,000 for the number of villages. This suggests that India is still predominantly a rural country, and the same is largely true of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Drawing of a market scene in Calcutta illustrating the local people and their customs; it show the different castes and street sellers.c. 1799.
The major cities of India are Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai (Madras). The major cities of Pakistan are Lahore and Karachi, and Dhaka is the principal city of Bangladesh. The process of urbanisation (moving to cities) has been one of the main demographic features of the past few decades. This results from natural population growth, migration and urban accretion in which settlements that were formally towns have now become urban centres.
Cities tend to fall into different categories. Ancient cities arose at major trading spots along rivers or coastal areas, or at strategic locations such as where rivers meet, or in fertile valleys protected by hill ranges. These include the capitals of ancient kingdoms such as Delhi (ancient Indraprastha) and Patna (ancient Pataliputra).
Newer cities were often symbols of wealth and authority, but also had strategic and other purposes. These include the great cities of the Deccan, many of the great cities of the Mughal era (Lahore and Agra especially), and many coastal cities, particularly in the modern states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. There is also the group that were created largely by the British to serve as administrative, military and railway centres, which for the most part remain active as such.
Finally there are the new cities of the post-independence era. These include the new cities of Islamabad in Pakistan, and Chandigarh and Gandhinagar in India, together with sites that were formerly small towns but which are being turned into major new cities. These include places like Nainital, Guwahati, Ranchi, Bangalore, and Pune in India.