Episode 1 India: Nature's Wonderland


Episode 1

Wildlife expert Liz Bonnin, actor Freida Pinto and mountaineer Jon Gupta reveal the hidden wonders of India's surprising natural world.


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Transcript


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India.

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A vibrant, bustling world.

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Home to over a billion people.

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But if you know where to look, the most spectacular wildlife...

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..ancient cultures...

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..and extreme landscapes can be found.

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I'm Liz Bonnin.

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I'm here to explore India's spectacular

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wildlife in one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth.

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I've spent years studying wildlife,

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but every time I return to India, I discover something new.

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ROAR!

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I completely underestimated

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how extraordinary and eye-opening this was going to be.

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Actor Frieda Pinto was born here.

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She wants to share the remarkable bond between India's people

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and the natural world.

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You always see that there is a connection between man and animal.

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Wow!

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And from the highest peaks on Earth,

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mountaineer Jon Gupta explores India's most extreme landscapes.

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My passion is mountains.

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And there is nowhere in the world like the Himalayas.

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We're travelling the length and breadth of this subcontinent

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to reveal the hidden wonders of India's natural world.

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-These are...

-ALL: The wonders of India.

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FREIDA LAUGHS

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BIRDSONG

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India is a place that's captivated me ever since my first visit.

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And I suppose it's made all the more special

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because I have a family connection.

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My great-grandparents came from India.

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And every time I return, I know I'm going to discover something new

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that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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'I want to start this journey with one of India's biggest surprises.

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'It comes in the form of one of this country's most iconic animals.

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'The big cats.'

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India may be known as the land of the tiger, but up until 1970,

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another big cat was the national animal of this country - the lion.

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'India is home to the world's last Asiatic lions.

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'A rare subspecies that once ranged from here to the Mediterranean.

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'I've tracked tigers across India, but I've never seen an Asiatic lion.

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'This is the only place I have the chance to do so.'

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This is the home of India's last remaining Asiatic lions -

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the Gir Forest.

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'A national park that's 580 square miles of broadleaf scrub

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'in the northwest of the country.

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'At one time, there were said to be as few as 12 lions left.

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'Park director Dr Sandeep Kumar and his team have worked

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'tirelessly to ensure the number is now over 500 and rising.

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'After two hours on the road, I get my first sight.

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'Two young males soaking up the early-morning sun.'

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Look at that! Look at that!

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Oh!

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They are just beautiful.

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So immediately, you can see two of the main features that

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differentiate the Asiatic to the African lion.

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The belly fold, and the mane is much shorter, isn't it?

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-And it doesn't surround the face in the same way?

-Yeah.

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'The belly fold is one of the best ways to identify Asiatic lions.

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'It serves no purpose, but is a trait that was retained

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'in those lions that travelled here from Africa.

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'At three to four years old, these males are not quite adult yet.

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'They've only recently left their mother.

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'And they must now display their own strength and independence.'

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LIONS GRUNT

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What are they doing?

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Basically, they are telling how,

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"If there is anybody want to challenge me, please come."

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Yeah. They are beginning to assert themselves.

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Yeah. Establishment.

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GENTLE ROAR GRUNT

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Basically, they will not compete with each other.

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Both of them will try to fight with the other lion.

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'African lions can form coalitions like this, too.

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'Working together to protect their territory

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'and the prides they can associate with for several years.

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'But these two will never live with a pride.

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'For Asiatic males, it's all about protecting territory.

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'But what about the females?

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'If we can find them, we might even see cubs.

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'In Africa, they would be in prides up to 30 strong.

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'They have to be to take down large prey, like wildebeest.

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'But here, we're looking for a smaller group,

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'since their prey is usually smaller.'

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-Now, you can see there are cubs and lioness.

-Where?

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Just in front of this tree here.

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Oh, wow! How old are the cubs?

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They are just four months old.

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'This is typical of lions in India.

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'A couple of females with a few cubs.'

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The cub in the middle is passed out. He is not budging.

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-These two are the males.

-OK. The two awake ones.

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And the sleeping one is a female.

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-OK.

-Basically, male cubs will keep on behaving like a smart guy.

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-Moving head and...

-They're more active, curious.

-Yeah, yeah.

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They're more foolish, probably.

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I now understand what you mean about Asiatic females.

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'These lionesses are incredibly muscular and powerful.'

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And so, it's all about how they have to hunt their prey.

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'In this dense-forested habitat,

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'the females don't need to chase their prey any great distance.

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'They're built to take them down quickly.

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'Not that these lions show any interest in anything more

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'than keeping out of the sun.

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'But in an instant, everything changes.

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'And these remarkable hunters become opportunist ambush predators.

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'A large Indian antelope called a nilgai has unwittingly

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'strayed a little too close.

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'The females are on the alert.

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'The lions are using the terrain to their advantage.

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'Creeping into a dry riverbed, hoping to ambush the nilgai.

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'This time, the nilgai escapes.

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'This has been a fascinating trip.

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'I wasn't sure I'd even see Asiatic lions,

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'let alone get close to them, or witness them in action.'

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They are absolutely perfect.

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Such a privilege to get so close to these extremely-rare animals.

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'With Sandeep and his team dedicated to helping them, these lions,

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'once the symbol of India, will continue to have a home here.

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'Freida Pinto is almost 2,000 miles away, heading to meet another

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'animal you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in India.

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'And the people dedicated to protecting it.'

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In the far-east of India, the state of Assam holds another surprise.

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'I'm not here to see India's cheeky monkeys,

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'but another member of the primate family.

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'One of our closer relatives and India's only ape,

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'the hoolock gibbon.'

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I did not know apes actually existed in India.

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'But more people need to hear about these endangered animals

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'because they have an enchanting skill.

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'Every morning, they sing.

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'Their sanctuary is only eight square miles.

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'For just over 100 gibbons, it's a tiny semi-evergreen forest island

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'surrounded by the modern world - tea plantations and towns.

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'I've come to meet Deben Borah, a warden here.

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'He has dedicated his life

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'to protecting this one small gibbon population.'

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THEY SPEAK IN NATIVE TONGUE

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Deben has been here since 1985.

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And he's been working in the forest right since that time.

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So no wonder he's our man, he's our expert.

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'I'm travelling with wildlife cameraman, Sandesh Kadur.

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'He and Deben have collaborated to film these gibbons for years.

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'Sandesh's camera is the best way for me to get a close look

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'at these gibbons, as they live high in the canopy.'

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You're going to see a great view right here.

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Aw!

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'Gibbons are the only apes that sing.

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'Every morning,

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'this forest comes alive with a complex range of calls.

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'Deben knows every one.'

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Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!

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Woockoo-woockoo-woockoo-woockoo!

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'Hoolock gibbons are monogamous.

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'This is a family with a three-year-old.

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'The babies are born pure white.

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'They turn brown and darken to black if they are males, like this one.

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'Females stay golden brown, like his mother.'

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And the gibbons also recognise him.

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He's part of the family!

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'Before the gibbons sing, they have breakfast.

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'Feeding off the fruits at the top of the trees.

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'When this family notice us, they swing over.

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'They may regard Deben as one of the family...

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'..but they'd still like us to give them space.'

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Oh, it did poop on you!

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LAUGHTER

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DEBEN SPEAKS IN NATIVE TONGUE

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Don't be grossed out, this is gibbon poo. And guess what?

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It's all vegetarian. It's only fruit.

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'Hoolocks spent their lives up to 100-feet high in the canopy.

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'They have specially-adapted joints for gripping and swinging.

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'They are the fastest non-flying animals in the forest.

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'They can move through the trees at 35mph.

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'So when they set off to find other fruit trees,

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'it's a struggle just to keep up.'

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We're following the gibbons now.

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They're taking us for a little bit of a walk.

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They're really making us work very hard for their singing.

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'Across the northeast, forests have made way for homes,

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'industry and roads.

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'The number of gibbons has fallen to 2,600.

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'But Deben's forest has been protected for over 100 years.

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'In 1997, it became the only sanctuary named after gibbons.

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'It's the mother who's easiest to spot.'

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There she is.

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'It just needs one family to start singing

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'and the others will all join in.

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'Deben and I decide to try and get them going.'

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THEY GRUNT

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THEY GRUNT

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THEY CHUCKLE

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'Our gibbons choose to ignore us.

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'Just a few minutes later, something quite extraordinary happens.'

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CACOPHONY OF SOUND

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(That's amazing!)

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(Come on!)

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'The forest starts to fill

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'with the sound of other gibbon families singing.'

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(It's a crescendo.)

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'Locals call this the Singing Forest.

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'It's thanks to Deben and his colleagues

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'that India continues to hear the songs of her only ape.'

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A thousand miles to the northwest, it's like being in another world.

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I'm in the middle of a collision of continents.

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This is where the Indian subcontinent crashed into Asia

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40 million years ago, pushing the seabed up.

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It's the world's biggest crumple zone.

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The Himalayas.

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'I'm 4,000 metres up in the air, and these are just the foothills.

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'When I climbed Everest, I was almost 9,000 metres above the sea.'

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This range is the roof of the world

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and its winds and waters touch every part of the Indian subcontinent.

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It is the youngest and the highest mountain range in the entire world.

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'I've climbed the Himalayas many times in Nepal.

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'But I've never visited the Indian side.

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'There's a reason I needed to come here.'

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My grandfather was born in Shimla, a town further along the Himalayas.

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For me to finally be here, seeing what he would've seen

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growing up as a child, is really special to me.

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'So for my first visit to India, I want to see how these mountains

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'have a dramatic effect on its natural wonders

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'and shape life across the whole subcontinent.

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'The word Himalaya means, "the abode of snow".

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'It's a good name.

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'These mountains bestow a precious gift upon India.

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'Water.

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'This is the source of fresh water

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'for a fifth of the entire population of the world.

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'15,000 glaciers feed five of the largest rivers in Asia.

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'For millions of Indians, one stands above all others.'

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Over there is Chakumba, which means, "Four Pillars".

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It lies at the head of the Gangotri Glacier,

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which feeds the River Ganges.

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'If the mountains are the driving force of India,

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'the Ganges is its engine.

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'The River Ganges originates in the highest mountain range on Earth

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'and ends in the world's largest river delta, at the Bay of Bengal.

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'Almost half-a-billion people depend on its life-giving waters

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'and countless species of animals would perish without it.

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'No wonder Hindus worship the river.

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'Millions flock to holy places all along her banks.

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'Varanasi is considered the most sacred.

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'This holy river has its humble origins in the countless tiny streams

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'formed by the melting snow and ice of the Himalayas.

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'But as the streams grow, the power of the water begins to exert itself.

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'This is truly a force of nature.'

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I'm just sat here and I'm getting buffeted by the wind

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and absolutely drenched.

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'The waters cut paths through the Himalayan rock,

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'shaping this landscape.

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'But these waters do not yet carry the name Ganges.

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'Each time one river joins another, it's marked as a holy place.

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'These sacred confluences are called Prayags.

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'The most important of all is here.'

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This place is called Devprayag, and it means, "God's confluence".

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These two rivers either side of me

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come together just here to start the beginning of the River Ganges.

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'It is a lifelong ambition of every Hindu to bathe in the Ganges.'

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The water here is holy.

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People come from all around the country to swim here,

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to purify their soul and get rid of their sins.

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'So I think I should give it a go, too.'

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Whoo! It's pretty chilly, but it's actually incredibly refreshing.

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And it feels wonderful.

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'This is how Indians prepare for a journey - by washing.

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'For Hindus, the Ganges connects India's past and present.

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'It's a place where they can pay homage to their ancestors.

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'Many people scatter the ashes of relatives in the river.

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'Others make offerings of petals as a mark of gratitude.'

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But the Himalayas aren't India's only mountains.

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I'm travelling far to the south to India's other great range.

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The Western Ghats.

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These lower, forested hills stretch from Mumbai, all the way south.

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They peak at just under 2,700 metres above sea level,

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but they're one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth.

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India is well-known for its tea.

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Assam and Darjeeling are household names.

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It produces over a million tonnes of it a year.

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A quarter of all Indian tea grows here.

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Thousands work in the plantations that carpet these slopes.

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But this part of the Western Ghats is called the Anaimalai.

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It means, "Elephant Hills".

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For centuries, the forests here

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have provided a safe home to India's largest land animal.

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'I've come to discover what happens when one of India's iconic animals

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'has to share this land with the demands of the tea industry.'

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There's elephant droppings all over this road.

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'Asian elephants are easily distinguished by their smaller ears,

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'dented foreheads and the fact that only the males have tusks.

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TRUMPETING

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'The Western Ghats are home to

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'the largest population of elephants in India. Around 10,000.

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'But as trees have made way for tea, so the forest has become fragmented.

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'The elephants still need to get from one patch of forest

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'to the next to find food.

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'Which gives rise to one of India's unique sites.

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'Something I've wanted to see from the moment I first heard about it.

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'Elephants in the tea.'

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-I think I see one.

-Where-where-where-where-where?

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-Look there, to the left. The swap is here.

-Swamp? Yes.

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You see that there?

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No. Yes! Elephant! Ha-ha-ha-ha!

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There she is.

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'My guide is Ganesh Raghunathan.

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'He's been working with the elephants here for three years.

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'We need to approach this elephant carefully.

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'She seems calm, but if we startle her, it could be very dangerous.'

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(We've been upwind of her,

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(but the wind is just changing direction,

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(so we've got to be really careful that once

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(she figures out we're here, that she doesn't get stressed.)

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-(Ah, she's a beauty!)

-(Yeah.)

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So, the elephants don't destroy the tea plantations, do they?

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-They don't feed on the tea?

-No, they don't feed on the tea.

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They walk along these paths.

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In fact, you look at these paths that are here,

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it's something the elephants have walked on for a long time.

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Elephants have fixed travel routes to source food and water,

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using tracks established long before the tea plantations appeared.

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This is a landscape that these elephants have been moving

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through for hundreds of years and they haven't changed their

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habits, they've, sort of, adapted to how the landscape has changed?

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The elephants do this every day and wherever they appear,

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people keep a watchful eye.

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Their migration routes are so firmly established in a herd,

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passed on from the elder individuals to the youngest.

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It's not something that's going to change.

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Ganesh is part of a team tracking the movement of the elephants

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that live in several herds around the tea.

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The more they understand their behaviour,

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the more they can keep elephants and people apart.

0:26:060:26:09

Is she the matriarch?

0:26:100:26:12

-Yes, she's the matriarch.

-How hold is she?

0:26:120:26:14

Definitely over 40 years of age.

0:26:140:26:16

How old is he, then?

0:26:160:26:17

He's about seven to ten years of age.

0:26:170:26:19

So, where are the rest of the herd, right now?

0:26:190:26:22

They're about a kilometre and a half in this direction.

0:26:220:26:24

Do they often separate?

0:26:240:26:26

-They do that very often.

-Why is that?

0:26:260:26:29

It's because...see, again, these are all fragments of forest, right?

0:26:290:26:32

So this herd is about 23 in number - the place wouldn't be able to

0:26:320:26:35

-provide for all of them to forage in one place.

-OK.

0:26:350:26:38

So, they break up, they go in different directions

0:26:380:26:40

but they regroup very soon, as well.

0:26:400:26:42

-Look, she's nudging him, she's nudging him.

-"Get into that forest!"

0:26:440:26:48

But I want to know what happens when elephants and people do meet.

0:26:520:26:56

Thousands work here.

0:26:560:26:58

If they know where the elephants are, they can stay out of their way.

0:26:580:27:02

The problems are caused by unexpected encounters.

0:27:040:27:07

A startled elephant can charge and attack...they've even killed people.

0:27:100:27:14

This happened mostly after sundown,

0:27:160:27:19

so people would walk back home from the bus stop, like a bus stop that

0:27:190:27:23

we have here and they didn't have any clue where the elephants were.

0:27:230:27:27

It was mostly a surprise encounter.

0:27:270:27:30

Since 1994, we've had about 41 people who've lost their lives here.

0:27:300:27:35

But there's a determination to make co-habitation work.

0:27:360:27:40

So, Ganesh and organisation called The Nature Conservation Foundation

0:27:400:27:44

have devised an elephant warning system.

0:27:440:27:47

It uses the mobile phone network to send group texts instantly to

0:27:480:27:52

everyone that's signed up to the service.

0:27:520:27:55

So, that's a facility where you can send out one single text

0:27:550:27:59

message to a large number of people.

0:27:590:28:02

So, right now, I can send out about 1,500 messages

0:28:020:28:06

to about 1,500 people in a span of one second or so.

0:28:060:28:09

And just as vital is the up to the minute information on elephant

0:28:100:28:14

sightings they can send him every day.

0:28:140:28:17

So, how long has this system been up and running

0:28:170:28:19

and have you noticed a difference in the fatalities?

0:28:190:28:22

There used to be an average of about three people who used to

0:28:220:28:26

lose their lives to elephants every year.

0:28:260:28:28

Now, I think that's dropped to about 1.5,

0:28:280:28:31

which is half of it.

0:28:310:28:32

-When you started, did you anticipate it would be such a success?

-No, no.

0:28:340:28:38

-Really?

-No, we didn't anticipate anything since we started.

0:28:380:28:42

Ganesh and the project he's working on are proof of how modern

0:28:440:28:47

India is learning to live in harmony with its natural world.

0:28:470:28:51

Elephants are complex and intelligent animals.

0:28:530:28:56

Despite their size, they can be incredibly delicate and gentle.

0:28:570:29:01

This is their home and thanks to the passion of the people here,

0:29:070:29:11

these hills can continue to carry the name of Elephant Hills.

0:29:110:29:15

Not all elephant stories involve conflict.

0:29:210:29:24

I've come to Kaziranga, 160 square miles of protected wilderness.

0:29:240:29:29

The largest national park in Assam,

0:29:310:29:33

for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

0:29:330:29:36

One of the most wonderful things about Indian wildlife is that

0:29:400:29:44

you never know when you're going to be surprised with something new.

0:29:440:29:47

I just found out that a baby was born, just a month ago,

0:29:470:29:51

and I am going to see it right now.

0:29:510:29:53

Elephants have been working animals in India for 4,000 years,

0:29:540:29:58

hauling lumber and carrying heavy goods.

0:29:580:30:02

In Kaziranga, they're used to help people to see the park.

0:30:020:30:05

They're almost part of the family.

0:30:050:30:08

One of Kaziranga's working mothers is willing to share her

0:30:080:30:12

family with me.

0:30:120:30:14

I'm accompanied once more by wildlife cameraman Sandesh Kadur.

0:30:140:30:18

His knowledge will help me

0:30:180:30:20

understand how best to approach the mother and her infant.

0:30:200:30:24

Just let her come to you, let her come to you.

0:30:240:30:26

Baby's name is Rapogi...beautiful one.

0:30:260:30:30

She's coming, the mother's coming.

0:30:330:30:35

She knows you have bananas, so now you can probably feed her.

0:30:350:30:38

-Just give her one?

-Yeah, give her one at a time, go ahead.

0:30:380:30:41

OK. There you go, Mummy.

0:30:410:30:44

Just keep giving her one.

0:30:470:30:48

Look, look...and she lifts her legs, so she doesn't trample the baby.

0:30:480:30:53

Let's see if we can get the baby close to you.

0:30:540:30:57

Come around me, on my right.

0:30:570:30:59

-On your right?

-Yeah.

0:30:590:31:01

The gestation period for a baby elephant is 18 to 22 months.

0:31:050:31:10

The calf will actually be fully developed by the 19th month but it

0:31:110:31:15

needs to stay in the womb,

0:31:150:31:17

so it can grow tall enough to reach its mother to feed.

0:31:170:31:20

They are dependent on their mother's milk for three to four years.

0:31:230:31:26

-Oh, they're walking.

-They're ready to go to the water now.

0:31:260:31:30

Elephants are not just part of work...

0:31:330:31:36

..they're also part of worship.

0:31:370:31:40

All over India, you see evidence of how important they are.

0:31:400:31:43

For Hindus, the god Ganesha has the head of an elephant.

0:31:460:31:50

He's a symbol of strength and the remover of obstacles.

0:31:510:31:55

You see his likeness everywhere.

0:31:550:31:58

There is even one in my Jeep.

0:31:580:32:00

It's a constant reminder of just how important animals

0:32:040:32:07

and the natural world are to the culture of India.

0:32:070:32:10

To me, elephants are the best example of the ancient

0:32:120:32:16

relationship with animals.

0:32:160:32:18

This is why getting to meet this mother's precious newborn is

0:32:200:32:23

so exciting!

0:32:230:32:25

I know you want to come!

0:32:250:32:27

Oh, that's what you want to do?

0:32:270:32:29

Break time. Time out.

0:32:310:32:34

-Is the baby peeing?

-Yup.

0:32:340:32:36

Time out, she needs a little pee.

0:32:360:32:38

A little pee!

0:32:380:32:39

Hi.

0:32:440:32:46

I can only get this close because the mother has decided to

0:32:500:32:53

trust me and Rapogi is so young her trunk can't hurt me.

0:32:530:32:58

If only she'd take my hand.

0:32:580:33:01

Wow!

0:33:100:33:11

This is clearly one of the most beautiful mother, baby experiences

0:33:150:33:19

I've ever had, this up close.

0:33:190:33:21

To have the baby just trust you

0:33:210:33:23

and to come and wrap its little trunk around you, you know

0:33:230:33:26

that it's going to accept you as its play mate for a little while.

0:33:260:33:30

In Kaziranga, the working elephants live almost like wild elephants.

0:33:320:33:37

When they're not working they're free to roam.

0:33:370:33:39

It provides a wonderful example of the quality that bonds

0:33:410:33:46

people to the wildlife here...

0:33:460:33:48

respect.

0:33:480:33:50

Respect is something you have to show when entering India's mountains too.

0:34:010:34:05

Many of the wonders that India offers vary with the seasons.

0:34:100:34:14

Spring, in the Himalayas,

0:34:140:34:16

is a time when shepherds bring their flocks to high altitude pastures.

0:34:160:34:20

As the sun warms the hillsides and temperatures rise to 30 degrees,

0:34:230:34:27

a unique valley bursts into life.

0:34:270:34:29

It lies hidden amongst India's tallest peaks.

0:34:320:34:34

Over there is India's second highest mountain, Nanda Devi, it is

0:34:380:34:42

believed to be the home to Shiva's wife, Parvati.

0:34:420:34:45

The name Nanda Devi means Goddess of Bliss.

0:34:460:34:49

The peaks that surround the mountain are said to protect her.

0:34:500:34:56

They also conceal a hidden wonder, few have been able to witness.

0:34:560:35:00

Roads towards it can be washed away

0:35:010:35:04

and it takes days of trekking to reach it.

0:35:040:35:07

In winter, it's snowbound...

0:35:090:35:11

..but in spring, when the snows retreat,

0:35:140:35:18

this valley is unique.

0:35:180:35:20

Rolling meadows of alpine blooms.

0:35:220:35:24

This is the Valley of Flowers.

0:35:270:35:30

From June to September, around 500 species of wild flower bloom here,

0:35:340:35:39

33 square miles of them.

0:35:390:35:42

Orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, daisies and anemones.

0:35:420:35:47

A cacophony of colour carpeting slopes

0:35:490:35:52

that are 3,600 metres above sea level.

0:35:520:35:55

Many of the plants are endemic to these mountains.

0:35:570:36:00

As with so much of India's natural world,

0:36:040:36:08

there's a Hindu legend associated with the creation of this valley.

0:36:080:36:12

Herbs, found here, saved the life of the god Rama's brother.

0:36:130:36:17

To celebrate, the gods showered flowers from heaven...

0:36:200:36:23

..giving the valley its unique appearance.

0:36:260:36:28

This place of Hindu legend is now a World Heritage Site.

0:36:290:36:33

But this hidden treasure was not easily

0:36:360:36:38

revealed to the world outside India.

0:36:380:36:40

Expeditions tried to reach it but the valley remained hidden

0:36:410:36:45

until 1931, when three British mountaineers stumbled across it,

0:36:450:36:50

returning from an expedition.

0:36:500:36:52

They wrote, "Others will visit it, analyse it and probe it...

0:36:520:36:57

"But whatever their opinions, to me, it will remain a valley of flowers."

0:36:570:37:01

"A valley of peace and perfect beauty, where the

0:37:030:37:05

"human spirit may find repose."

0:37:050:37:08

From unexpected Alpine blooms to the animal everyone associates

0:37:110:37:18

with India.

0:37:180:37:20

One that has always carried with it a deep cultural significance.

0:37:200:37:25

The tiger is the guardian of the forest.

0:37:250:37:27

He created the rains, regenerates life, brings fertility.

0:37:270:37:31

No other animal has quite so much attributed to it.

0:37:310:37:35

And perhaps that's because, unlike much of her wildlife,

0:37:350:37:39

tigers can be found across almost the whole of India.

0:37:390:37:43

India has 48 tiger reserves but the

0:37:430:37:46

tiger is an endangered animal.

0:37:460:37:49

There are just over 2,000 Bengal Tigers left in the wild.

0:37:490:37:53

There is no greater sight than seeing one hunt.

0:37:560:38:00

It's no secret that I'm somewhat obsessed with tigers

0:39:040:39:07

and there is nothing like seeing one in the wild but when it comes to

0:39:070:39:11

emulating the spirit of the tiger, South India is the place to be.

0:39:110:39:16

Southern India is home to a spectacular celebration,

0:39:210:39:24

the Puli Kali, the Tiger Dance.

0:39:240:39:27

As someone who is so passionate about tigers,

0:39:280:39:32

I simple have to see it!

0:39:320:39:34

No-one's quite sure how this local tradition started but some say

0:39:450:39:49

it began over 200 years ago,

0:39:490:39:52

when a maharaja wanted a dance to celebrate the spirit of the wild.

0:39:520:39:56

And there's no animal that embodies that better for Indians than

0:39:560:40:00

the tiger.

0:40:000:40:02

So, how many painters in total get the honour of making these

0:40:020:40:06

wonderful works of art.

0:40:060:40:08

-25, 30 people.

-Just 30?

0:40:090:40:12

A-ha, and how long have you been doing it, how many years?

0:40:120:40:15

-I have ten years.

-Ten years...and is it difficult?

0:40:150:40:20

When you started, was it like, oooh!

0:40:200:40:22

-I was shaking, body shaking.

-The wobbly belly!

0:40:220:40:24

And do you develop your own style to be distinct from the other artists?

0:40:260:40:30

So, this is different to the other mouth because the belly's bigger?

0:40:310:40:36

So you make the mouth bigger. I see.

0:40:360:40:39

SHE LAUGHS

0:40:390:40:40

I knew the belly was important!

0:40:400:40:42

The bigger the belly, the better the tiger.

0:40:440:40:47

I even get the chance to have a go myself.

0:40:470:40:49

So beautifully done.

0:40:490:40:52

I don't want to let the side down.

0:40:520:40:54

I get to paint a tiger on someone's belly!

0:40:570:41:01

We're performing in the ground of a temple, so it's

0:41:010:41:04

important that we receive a blessing before going ahead with the dance.

0:41:040:41:08

Limbered up, painted up, looking the part.

0:41:080:41:12

I think we're ready for the dance.

0:41:120:41:14

BELLS CHIME

0:41:150:41:17

I've seen tigers hunt, I've seen them prowl

0:41:170:41:20

but I've never seen them quite like this.

0:41:200:41:23

The dance is a seasonal event, performed once a year

0:41:360:41:40

at the harvest festival of Onam, around the beginning of September.

0:41:400:41:44

The biggest can have up to 900 dancers

0:41:440:41:47

and they can dance for hours on end.

0:41:470:41:49

I fell under the spell of a tiger on my first visit to India.

0:41:520:41:56

The female I set eyes on then had such an impact on me that

0:41:590:42:02

when I returned home I took up my studies in wild animal biology.

0:42:020:42:07

Tigers have been part of my life ever since.

0:42:090:42:12

They're clearly a part of the lives of these dancers too.

0:42:200:42:23

TIGER ROARS

0:42:300:42:33

That was incredible!

0:42:330:42:35

It's just so lovely to see so much dedication, so much passion,

0:42:350:42:39

so much energy in a dance like this.

0:42:390:42:42

And when you think the tiger is on the brink of extinction, it's so

0:42:420:42:47

heart-warming to see people who are so dedicated to revering,

0:42:470:42:53

celebrating and protecting the tiger here.

0:42:530:42:55

Brilliant!

0:42:550:42:57

This is a celebration with animals at its heart

0:42:570:43:01

and finally there may be real cause for celebration,

0:43:010:43:05

some studies are reporting that tiger numbers seem to be recovering.

0:43:050:43:09

Back in the northeast of the country,

0:43:150:43:17

I've come to a land that's famous for its climate throughout India.

0:43:170:43:21

A place I've known about since I was a seven-year-old schoolgirl,

0:43:210:43:26

Meghalaya.

0:43:260:43:28

When I was in school,

0:43:300:43:32

in India, I learnt about this little town in the northeast of India,

0:43:320:43:37

in the state of Meghalaya, called Cherrapunji and the interesting fact

0:43:370:43:42

of this place was that it rained almost every day of the year.

0:43:420:43:45

My geography textbook would proudly tell me that Cherrapunji

0:43:470:43:51

holds the world record for most rain in a calendar month...

0:43:510:43:55

..over 30 feet.

0:43:560:43:58

Cherrapunji can get more rain in a month than Britain gets in a year.

0:44:050:44:09

Of course, it doesn't rain every day

0:44:090:44:12

but this a land carved out by water, full of chasms and raging torrents.

0:44:120:44:17

You'd think that no-one could live here but Indians have always

0:44:240:44:29

worked with nature, using what is available to overcome obstacles.

0:44:290:44:33

So, this is home to a wonder that dates back hundreds of years,

0:44:360:44:40

yet is still in daily use...

0:44:400:44:42

..living bridges made from the roots of trees.

0:44:460:44:50

By the way, this is one single tree.

0:44:590:45:02

Not just this, this and this, one single tree.

0:45:020:45:05

It's hard to believe, right?

0:45:080:45:10

The trees are fig trees, chosen because of the way

0:45:120:45:16

they produce a series of secondary roots from higher up the trunk.

0:45:160:45:20

These act as added supports for the trunk.

0:45:210:45:24

The roots grow quickly, taking hold in thin soil and around rocks.

0:45:240:45:29

They are ideal trees for these bridges.

0:45:310:45:35

There are quite simply more roots to use.

0:45:350:45:38

I don't think I've seen anything like this before.

0:45:400:45:44

This is probably one of the most spectacular things nature has

0:45:440:45:48

ever shown to me.

0:45:480:45:50

I don't think I have stood on a bridge that is made

0:45:500:45:54

out of the roots of a tree that is 400 years old.

0:45:540:45:57

In Meghalaya, you have these root bridges almost everywhere

0:45:570:46:02

and it was actually grown by man in order to overcome

0:46:020:46:05

the challenge of crossing the raging rivers, the raging torrents,

0:46:050:46:09

to get from one place to the other, for trade, for example.

0:46:090:46:12

Unlike the bridges I know of, it is a very, very strong bridge

0:46:160:46:19

and it's only going to get stronger in time.

0:46:190:46:22

As the tree grows, the roots that form the bridge get thicker

0:46:240:46:27

and stronger.

0:46:270:46:28

New roots are used to maintain the bridge.

0:46:280:46:31

This skill may be ancient but the local villagers still use it

0:46:310:46:35

to maintain old bridges and even grow new ones.

0:46:350:46:38

It's a skill they proudly pass on to the younger generation,

0:46:410:46:45

like Vaskam Walang who grew up in the local village

0:46:450:46:48

and was taught by the elders.

0:46:480:46:50

Vaskam, my friend, I hear you're an expert

0:46:500:46:53

at training the roots of these living bridges. How long have

0:46:530:46:57

you been doing this for?

0:46:570:46:59

I've been doing it no less than five, six years.

0:46:590:47:02

I learnt from the villagers and first of all,

0:47:020:47:05

the villagers have to plant the tree first and when the roots come

0:47:050:47:08

out they train the roots to come outside of the river.

0:47:080:47:12

-You say, they plant the tree first?

-Yes.

0:47:120:47:15

They don't just pick a tree that already would already have the

0:47:150:47:18

-roots that they could train?

-No.

0:47:180:47:20

That's a lot of dedication.

0:47:200:47:22

OK, so they plant the tree, the roots start growing,

0:47:220:47:25

then what's the next phase?

0:47:250:47:27

What do they do next?

0:47:270:47:29

They direct it by putting this beetle nut trunk...

0:47:290:47:31

-This is a beetle nut trunk?

-Yes, this is a beetle nut trunk.

0:47:310:47:33

And because it's hollow, it's useful to pass the roots...Wow,

0:47:330:47:36

that's interesting.

0:47:360:47:38

-So, these are beetle nut trees right here, right?

-Yes.

0:47:380:47:40

By using beetle nut trunks to train the roots in the right direction,

0:47:400:47:43

the structure of the bridge is brought to life.

0:47:430:47:47

It takes skill but most of all it takes patience.

0:47:470:47:51

And how long does it take to become this.

0:47:520:47:54

Maybe around ten, 15 years to become.

0:47:540:47:57

-Wow, maybe then I should try one, right?

-Yeah, you can do it.

0:47:570:48:00

So, let's take the thin one, like this one's good? OK.

0:48:020:48:06

-Keep it inside.

-Keep it inside. All the way through, right?

0:48:090:48:12

Yeah, all the way through.

0:48:120:48:14

-That's safe and secure now?

-Yeah.

0:48:220:48:25

OK, ten years, I'll be back in ten years.

0:48:250:48:27

These bridges have been a vital part of what's known

0:48:290:48:32

locally as the beetle nut trade.

0:48:320:48:35

It's ground into a powder called paan and chewed.

0:48:350:48:38

A delicacy of the Northeast that reached the rest of India,

0:48:380:48:42

thanks to these bridges.

0:48:420:48:44

But there is something puzzling me about this particular bridge.

0:48:460:48:50

I wondered why they needed two bridges.

0:48:500:48:52

It took 400 years to train and grow the first one, so why spend another

0:48:540:48:58

200, 300 years to build the second one or simply because in the

0:48:580:49:04

monsoon season, which is June to October,

0:49:040:49:07

the lower part of the bridge is

0:49:070:49:09

actually fully submerged, it's under water.

0:49:090:49:12

And if you think about the force of the water during the monsoons, the

0:49:140:49:19

bridge still survives, the bridge still stands strong and just gets

0:49:190:49:22

stronger in time.

0:49:220:49:24

But of course, the people of these villages needed the second

0:49:290:49:32

bridge to continue their day today activities.

0:49:320:49:35

Another important fact to know is that none of this has been

0:49:360:49:39

written down, it's just been passed on by word of mouth,

0:49:390:49:42

through family traditions.

0:49:420:49:45

For all that you know, this could possibly be even 1,000 years old.

0:49:490:49:52

You don't know, you just know that it's very old.

0:49:520:49:54

This has been extraordinary, to see how inventive people are...

0:49:580:50:04

..how they work with nature to create solutions

0:50:070:50:11

has been incredible.

0:50:110:50:13

From the far reaches of the north to the very south of India...

0:50:190:50:23

..for the last of our natural wonders.

0:50:260:50:29

An iconic bird of the rainforest with an extraordinary

0:50:310:50:35

breeding behaviour.

0:50:350:50:37

The best time to see it is in the spring.

0:50:370:50:40

The crack of dawn and we've come to a coffee plantation to try

0:50:420:50:46

and spot one of the most iconic, bizarre

0:50:460:50:50

and spectacular birds of the rainforest

0:50:500:50:53

and just as we were walking up this track we spotted the male,

0:50:530:50:59

that's now in that tree just ahead of me.

0:50:590:51:02

The bird I'm here to see is the Great Pied Hornbill.

0:51:100:51:14

Hornbills make a special nest.

0:51:170:51:20

To protect their eggs, they choose a hollow inner tree.

0:51:220:51:26

The female is sealed up, using dung.

0:51:260:51:28

She'll stay there for four months.

0:51:310:51:33

Twice a day, the male will bring food for her and their young.

0:51:350:51:39

Hornbills mate for life.

0:51:410:51:43

Their nests can be hard to find,

0:51:450:51:49

unless you've been studying them for 15 years, like Divya Mudappa.

0:51:490:51:52

They're such big birds!

0:51:550:51:57

I knew they were big but when you see them with your own eyes.

0:51:570:52:01

Look at that!

0:52:010:52:03

Their colourings are impossibly perfect

0:52:050:52:10

for something natural.

0:52:100:52:13

The shadings of yellow and then the black and white feathers

0:52:130:52:18

are just so beautiful.

0:52:180:52:20

He's on the move, he's going to go across to the nest.

0:52:200:52:24

Does he have food in his bill?

0:52:240:52:27

-In his gullet.

-In his gullet.

0:52:270:52:29

-So, he regurgitates it for the female?

-That's right, yeah.

0:52:290:52:33

I don't even need the binoculars, he's so big!

0:52:340:52:37

Once he flies over, there he is, there he is!

0:52:370:52:40

SHE GASPS AND EXHALES

0:52:400:52:42

He's regurgitating.

0:52:460:52:48

So, how can you tell what he's regurgitating?

0:52:480:52:51

Just by watching it and looking at the shape of the fruit.

0:52:510:52:54

These are magnificent creatures.

0:52:590:53:02

Their wingspan can fully extend to five feet.

0:53:110:53:14

Each nest will normally contain one or two young.

0:53:190:53:23

They're not born with the distinctive

0:53:250:53:28

casques on their bills, theses take about five years to fully develop.

0:53:280:53:32

The bright yellow colour looks artificial

0:53:350:53:39

but it comes from a preen gland secretion, which the male spreads

0:53:390:53:43

onto his primary feathers, giving them their distinctive colour.

0:53:430:53:47

The male brings all sorts of fruits to the nest

0:53:510:53:55

but he'll also seek out small insects and other flying creatures.

0:53:550:53:59

This one even has a bat in its beak.

0:53:590:54:02

I can see the bill of the female.

0:54:100:54:13

-They close up the entrance...

-That's right.

0:54:130:54:16

..to protect from predators, that's something else, isn't it?

0:54:160:54:20

She doesn't get to stretch her wings for, like, months.

0:54:200:54:23

In fact, she might moult when she's sitting in there

0:54:230:54:26

and get a new set of feathers.

0:54:260:54:28

That's dedication for you!

0:54:300:54:32

This really unusual growth on top of the bill, it's hollow and it's very

0:54:340:54:39

lightweight, it's made of hollow cells, supported by two walls.

0:54:390:54:43

And it acts as an amplification chamber, so that

0:54:430:54:46

when they call, in the forest, the sound travels even further.

0:54:460:54:50

And just before mating season, sometimes you'll see males

0:54:520:54:57

butting or clashing their casques together in mid-air, so that they

0:54:570:55:02

can win the female.

0:55:020:55:04

It makes, for their name, the hornbill

0:55:060:55:10

and there's no question, it's quite a bizarre structure.

0:55:100:55:14

These magnificent birds are often called

0:55:170:55:20

"the gardeners of the rainforest",

0:55:200:55:22

because they play such a vital role in the eco-system

0:55:220:55:26

as seed dispersers.

0:55:260:55:28

They feed on so many of the fruit trees around the forest

0:55:280:55:33

and as they fly, they drop all of the seeds,

0:55:330:55:37

all across the landscape.

0:55:370:55:39

Oh, I can't get enough of his head!

0:55:460:55:49

The unusual casque, the shape of the beak, the shadings,

0:55:510:55:55

they're such stunning creatures!

0:55:550:55:58

Ah, he's off.

0:56:010:56:02

The sound of the wings through the forest at dawn, I mean,

0:56:130:56:18

there's nothing more glorious, is there?

0:56:180:56:20

No, my hair stands on end every time I hear it.

0:56:200:56:23

I got complete shivers as he soared across the sky!

0:56:230:56:28

This is a land that seems to have it all.

0:56:390:56:42

From the unexpected lions of the Gir Forest

0:56:420:56:47

and the people's intimate connection with the animals that live here...

0:56:470:56:51

Wow!

0:56:510:56:53

..to the magnificent Himalayas that shape both the landscape

0:56:530:56:56

and its life.

0:56:560:56:58

These are the natural wonders of India...

0:56:590:57:03

..and we've only just scratched the surface.

0:57:060:57:09

Next time...

0:57:090:57:11

That's extraordinary!

0:57:150:57:17

It makes you emotional, right?

0:57:190:57:21

It's just, literally, popped out of a hole and it's just lovely to watch.

0:57:260:57:30

THEY ROAR

0:57:320:57:34

Beautiful female behind me.

0:57:340:57:36

This is unbelievable!

0:57:360:57:38

See you later!

0:57:400:57:42

SHE SCREAMS

0:57:420:57:44

THEY SPEAK IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

0:57:440:57:46

The Wonders of India.

0:57:590:58:01

OK, one, two, three...

0:58:050:58:08

-TOGETHER:

-The wonders of India!

0:58:080:58:10

SHE LAUGHS

0:58:100:58:12

Wildlife expert Liz Bonnin, actor Freida Pinto and mountaineer Jon Gupta reveal the hidden wonders of India's surprising natural world. This is a land where the tea comes with added elephants, gibbons sing to greet the morning, tigers dance and lions roam.


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