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A vibrant, bustling world, home to over a billion people.
But if you know where to look...
The most spectacular wildlife...
And extreme landscapes can be found.
I'm Liz Bonnin.
I'm here to explore India's spectacular
wildlife in one of the most bio diverse places on Earth.
I've spent years studying wildlife,
but every time I return to India, I discover something new.
I completely underestimated how extraordinary
and eye-opening this was going to be.
Actor Freida Pinto was born here.
She wants to share the remarkable bond
between India's people and the natural world.
You always see that there is a connection between man and animal.
And from the highest peaks on Earth, mountaineer Jon Gupta
explores India's most extreme landscapes.
My passion is mountains,
and there is nowhere in the world like the Himalayas.
We're travelling the length and breadth of this subcontinent
to reveal the hidden wonders of India's natural world.
-The Wonders of India!
India is home to a spectacular array of habitats and species,
many of which are found nowhere else.
I've been enchanted by India ever since my first visit.
My great-grandparents came from here.
This land is so vast, you could spend a lifetime exploring it
and still only scratch the surface.
I'm starting my journey 300 miles west of Delhi.
In a place which seems rather unremarkable.
But this village hosts a unique wildlife event.
A collaboration between birds and people I've heard about
but have never witnessed.
If it's half as impressive as they say, I'm in for a real treat.
This is Khichan and it's known as the village of the cranes.
Every year, tens of thousands of birds migrate here
from their breeding grounds on the steppes of Eurasia and Mongolia.
And it's not just the watering holes that border
this village that draw the birds here -
the people play an integral part in the lives of these elegant birds.
I've discovered that the story of India's wildlife
is one of ancient reverence.
Every day in winter, the people of this village fill a square
with food for some weary travellers.
It has created one of the most spectacular
sights on the subcontinent.
Like all the best spectacles, it starts slowly.
At dawn, the birds start to arrive in small numbers.
They fly in formation, like ribbons stretched across the sky.
There's something really emotive about watching them fly overhead.
This fluid, coordinated movement. Oh, it's just, just beautiful.
As the sun rises, so the number of birds increases.
Gradually, the sky fills with cranes.
It might sound a bit like a cacophony
when they're all together, and there is a real order to it all.
They land on a hillside overlooking the village.
Once the numbers reach a critical mass, they take to the skies again.
Oh, my God!
Look at that!
It started off ever so gently, and now it's really,
really kicking off. That's extraordinary!
But the birds don't enter the feeding area straight away.
They are extremely wary.
So while the people of the village go about their morning routine...
..the cranes circle above.
Waiting for the first bird to take the plunge.
For some unknown reason, the first bird is quite often this one.
A bird with only one foot.
Day after day, it's the first one to feed.
Maybe it needs this head start because it can't compete
when the square is crowded.
The rest of the cranes are circling in what looks like a really
synchronised, coordinated type of activity.
All contact calling to each other nonstop.
Once the rest can see there's no danger,
they flock to the square in their thousands.
I'm so impressed with how orderly this all is.
They don't all land en masse to feed.
There's a sort of controlled movement of the birds outside
the enclosure, and then the front bit takes off,
circles overhead and lands on the outside
of the already feeding birds,
and they're doing this in stages.
It could be pandemonium, but it's not -
it's incredibly civilised and orderly.
I completely underestimated how extraordinary
and eye-opening this was going to be.
This flock acts like a well-oiled machine.
No call, no movement is made by accident,
and even the subtlest change in behaviour...
moves through the flock like a ripple!
This has to be seen to be believed.
Demoiselle cranes are the smallest of all cranes.
They were given their name when the French queen, Marie Antoinette,
first saw one.
She loved their delicate appearance.
Demoiselle means maiden or young lady.
But these birds are much tougher than they look.
To get to Khichan, they have travelled 1,200 miles
across the Central Asian plain.
But it's the height they fly that is remarkable.
Specially adapted lungs process oxygen more efficiently,
so they can rise up into thinner air.
They fly over the Himalayas at altitudes of up to 7,000 metres.
The cranes started to come here
because of the watering holes surrounding this desert village.
Sevaram Mali Parihar is one of those that began this project.
How many cranes were there at the beginning compared to how
-many there are now?
So how much grain do you put out every day?
That is a lot. So how do they pay for this?
The people of Khichan are mostly members of the Jain community.
It is a central belief of this ancient religion that animals
and people should be treated with equal respect.
When they saw hungry birds on their long migration,
they felt it was their duty to help them.
The villagers of Khichan have dedicated themselves to the
preservation of these magnificent cranes.
And you go beyond just feeding them, is that right?
I saw some newspaper clippings about telephone or electricity wires?
Yes. HE TRANSLATES
It's an extraordinary amount of dedication.
Why...why go through all of that?
Do you ever get tired of this, every morning, this incredible spectacle?
But these wild birds are nervous feeders.
Anything can scare them off.
As quickly as the cranes entered the square, they leave.
The villagers lay out the food for the next day
and the routine starts all over again.
I've been lucky enough to witness many spectacles.
But they tend to be in wild places, away from people.
To see something as dramatic as these cranes right in the
centre of an otherwise ordinary village is a rare treat indeed.
As an actor growing up in India, performance is in my blood.
One of India's oldest forms of theatre mixes animals and
people into a world-famous spectacle packed with spirit of my home.
To witness it, I've travelled to Assam in the northeast of India,
where, thanks to their isolation, the island communities
of the Brahmaputra River maintain age-old traditions.
Indian culture and religion have a very strong link to the natural
world, specifically animals, and a lot of gods in Indian mythology
and religion seem to appear in some animal form or the other.
So how do they bring these gods to life?
This is the ancient skill of mask making.
They are used to tell mythological stories of the struggles
In India's religions, such gods often take the form of animals.
I think it will be absolutely incomplete,
this trip, if I didn't try to gather some skills myself.
So the next step
-is cow dung and what else?
-Cow dung, yeah, and clay.
And clay. OK, it's a mixture of cow dung and clay
to give the mask whatever character they desire to give it.
So right now you have...
Yeah, yeah, Hanuman.
So right now, he is busy making a very,
very famous character in the Ramayana.
-It's Hanuman, the monkey god.
Hanuman is one of the most recognisable gods throughout India,
a deity with the face of a monkey and the quick witted instincts too.
THEY SPEAK IN HINDI
Well, basically, what he's saying is that I'm very good at this
and I don't need any help.
I'm actually the worst when it comes to crafts and arts, so this
is me pretending that I'm actually an expert, when I'm actually not.
Indian life is full of stories
and religious fables that serve as a bedrock of this culture.
The masks are an ideal way to bring those stories to life.
They are the most colourful and expressive I've ever seen.
One look is enough to convince me I need to try them on.
This is going to be a battle. Good and bad.
That's my Oscar!
Legend has it that the inhabitants of these islands were urged to
learn how to make these masks by a voice from the Brahmaputra itself.
The masks have a spiritual purpose.
These characters are from the story I'm to be shown.
The Ramayana is not just one of the most important books in the
Hindu religion, it's one of the best known stories in the whole of India.
It's the story of Rama
and his battle with the demon Ravana, who is after his wife, Sita.
Here, Sita is being captured.
The vulture, Jatayu, tries to save her.
The demon king kills the vulture and runs off with Sita.
But in the story, it is Rama who triumphs,
thanks to the help of the animal kingdom.
Especially the monkey army,
led by the nimble Hanuman.
These legends have been a part of our culture for centuries.
Like millions of other Indians, they were a central part of my childhood.
This constant telling and retelling of stories
where nature helps overcome adversity
reminds us of the importance of the animals that surround us.
And I want to say thank you so much for this wonderful performance.
This was absolutely wonderful to bring it to life.
Thank you so much for doing this for us. Thank you, thank you.
From a man-made spectacle to one that was created
40 million years ago.
To my mind, these are India's greatest marvel of all,
I've climbed throughout the Himalayas in Nepal
and Central Asia, but never before in India.
The reason I wanted to come here is that my grandfather was born
in the foothills of these mountains.
Though he left India for Britain, this vast landscape was
the backdrop to his childhood.
Finally, I have the chance to come and explore it for myself.
The higher I climb, the thinner the air gets.
It means I can only ever visit these heights for a short period.
At these altitudes, everything is difficult, even breathing.
But all around me
there are animals that have made this place their home.
To stay in their world for any length of time,
I would need to use specialist clothing and equipment.
I want to learn about animals that have perfectly adapted
to life amongst these peaks.
To see them, I've had to come to just below the snow line.
These are tahr.
There's a reason I want to see them in action.
I've heard this goat is the ultimate mountain animal.
They've adapted to live in the most extreme mountain
environment on Earth.
Their long, thick fur keeps them warm in the harsh mountain winters.
Their hooves have hard edges and soft rubbery centres.
Perfect to wedge into rocky cracks.
Their shoulders are shock absorbers.
They can go anywhere, and I do mean ANYWHERE.
Life in these mountains lives on a knife edge -
there's very little room for error.
I've climbed Everest,
but I'd think twice before attempting to descend that.
Yet this is the daily commute for even the youngest tahr.
At each step they take, there's rocks
and grass tumbling down the rock face.
Tahr eat grass, herbs and leaves,
but food is a scarce commodity up here.
By climbing, they can get to vegetation that no other
animal can access.
I can barely watch it!
I can't believe it. There are now two families descending the cliff.
Even the youngest tahr takes this in its stride.
I just wonder at what point the mother stands at the top
of a cliff as big as this, at least 300 or 400 metres high,
looks over and just says,
"Yes, I think it's about time that you, my tiny, tiny little tahr
"come down this rock face with me, and off you go."
I can't help but be impressed at the agility
and the dexterity of the tahr.
It's a perfect example of how India's wildlife has adapted
to live in even the most inhospitable places.
The sheer size of India means there are many extreme
habitats for wildlife.
I've travelled a short way down the Brahmaputra to
Kaziranga National Park - 160 square miles of grassland.
I'm here to see India's longest-running
conservation success story -
India's rhinoceros, the one-horned rhino.
And this is the best way to get close to one.
So this is quite early in the morning.
And the elephant is our chosen mode of transportation.
I'm riding with wildlife cameraman Sandesh Kadur.
He's spent a lifetime studying the rhinos.
We're going to hopefully spot these rhinos today.
Well, where we are, Kaziranga, is one of the best places to see
-the one-horned rhino.
It has half the world's population right here,
-but we do have to look for them.
As we enter the grass, I'm desperate for my first glimpse
of this rare beast.
Look at that, look at that.
Oh, wow, that's amazing. Oh, we're very close to this guy.
This is probably one of the best rhino sightings I've had
in a long time.
Now you can see how big the rhino is.
I've never seen a one-horned rhino before
so this is literally my first time.
The rhinoceros conservation story goes back over 100 years.
Kaziranga was created in 1905 when habitat destruction and hunting
had brought rhino numbers in India crashing to just ten or so.
Since then, these protected lands have helped numbers rise.
There are now over 2,000 here.
People come from all over the world to see them.
They've got very, very small eyes.
-They're practically blind.
Rhinos have bad eyesight but good hearing.
Their ears swivel at the slightest sound to locate danger.
these massive beasts can charge at up to 30mph.
Oh, my God, he's been... He's had a little bit of a fight.
-He's got a...
-Got a little...
See, that's how delicate the skin is.
Any little thing punctures it and wounds it.
It looks like armour, but it is actually very, very soft.
-And another little titbit.
They get sunburnt very quickly.
In summer, temperatures approach 40 degrees.
The rhinos take to the water to cool down.
Their skin gets covered in ticks and mites,
the rhino relies on mina birds
and egrets to pick the parasites from those hard-to-reach places.
So what's...what's your...? What do you feel like? Your first rhino.
My first rhino experience! I actually am...am...
Ah! This is beautiful.
It makes you emotional, right?
Just to be in the presence of these wild animals.
For me, that was the most beautiful thing. It's a real privilege.
Just as we're about to leave,
Sandesh spots an unbelievable treat.
-Oh, look at that! Baby rhino.
-Ah! It's a baby rhino.
Aw. How old do you think...?
Oh, this is a newborn, hardly two months old. This is incredible.
God, we're so lucky. We actually see the mother and the baby.
This is a rare sight.
Rhinos only have a single calf every three years.
But this is a sign of the continued health of the rhino programme
here, in Kaziranga.
-You couldn't have asked for more.
Once, rhinos were found all across the northern plains.
But poaching threatened their very existence.
Thanks to over 100 years of protection in this park,
numbers are on the increase.
There are now over 3,000 of them in the wild.
Over half live in these protected lands.
The lush vegetation that gives the one-horned rhino a home
is typical of the sights you associate with India.
But India is also home to desert.
The Thar Desert in the northwest of India is the largest
desert in the country.
It's as large as Britain.
In places, the average rainfall is just ten centimetres a year.
An ancient legend explains how such a forbidding place came into being.
According to mythology, the Thar Desert was created
when Rama tried to dry the sea to reach Sita, who was being held
captive on an island.
The sea god begged Rama not to dry out his entire ocean
and just to dry out a small section where wicked people lived.
Rama agreed, and so the sea god granted him passage to Sita.
And as a thank you, Rama turned the dried out sea into a fertile desert.
The most barren part is the Rann of Kutch.
This is the home of an animal that is a true natural wonder of India.
It's able to call this baking furnace home.
It's the only place in the world where you'll find
the Indian wild ass.
In the most arid parts of the Rann of Kutch, the wild ass ekes out
an almost impossible existence,
surviving on the little nourishment available in the sparse scrub
that grows there.
This is one of the hottest places in India.
Temperatures peak at almost 50 degrees Celsius.
Living year round in this relentless heat, the Indian wild ass is
one of the hardiest animals in the world.
It has had to adapt to survive.
Rain comes for just a few months of the year.
When the surface water dries up,
the Indian wild ass gets the hydration it needs from eating
the scrubby plants that draw their moisture from the ground.
But it's not the only animal that lives here.
At certain times of the year,
wolves and hyenas will enter the desert, too.
To evade these predators,
the Indian wild ass has a special talent.
It's one of the fastest animals in India,
with a top speed of 50mph.
Every aspect of their lives is driven by water.
The brief rains turn the plains into green marshland.
Mating is timed so that foals will be born into this period
of relative plenty.
Females make it very clear
if they don't think it's the right time to mate.
Living in a place of such extremes, the Indian wild ass is a perfect
example of the resilience of India's wildlife in a hostile landscape.
From a land of baking heat,
it is just 600 miles north
to one of frozen ice.
The Himalayas are home to the greatest quantity
of freshwater ice outside of the poles.
It gives the mountains their empty, barren appearance.
But that's deceptive.
Everything here is alive.
The Himalayas are still growing.
Even though they are the highest mountains on Earth,
they are actually the youngest.
In geological terms, at just 40 million years old,
they are mere infants.
As the land masses they sit on continue their slow motion collision,
the Himalayas gradually rise.
It's mind boggling to think that this is still taking place today
and that the Himalayas are growing by a few centimetres each year.
For me, life in these mountains is simply on a different
scale from the world below.
Having spent a lot of my time living in these high mountains,
it's clear to me that these mountains are very much alive.
Last year, I was on a high camp on a mountain just near Everest and
I took the day off to rest. And as I spent the day sat there watching the
mountains, I couldn't help feel that they were also breathing with me.
In the morning, it's clear, crystal clear. And through the duration of
the day, clouds come up the valleys and disperse into the big hills.
And then later on in the afternoon,
when the temperatures start to plummet, the clouds do the opposite.
They then descend back into the valleys
and slowly dissipate back away, leaving this clear again.
And as I watched these clouds, I couldn't help but feel that these
mountains had taken an entire day just to take one full breath.
But even giants need help.
In the Himalayas,
it comes in the form of one of the smallest inhabitants.
I want to see how this tiny creature plays a vital role
in the life of them.
Sahas Barve studies the animals of these mountains.
Oh. There's one right there. It's...
Oh, yes, yeah. Ah, they are quite small.
It's sleeping. Yeah, they are.
Pika are known locally as the friendly mouse,
but they are actually part of the rabbit family.
(He's going some place.) 'Their hopping run is the giveaway.'
You can definitely see that this is part of the rabbit family.
-It runs like a rabbit.
I know, yeah.
Pika do not hibernate.
During the winter, they make burrows under the snow and under the rocks.
In spring, the tunnels they create become drainage channels,
dispersing the meltwater.
Through the winter, Pika live off food
they have gathered in the short summer.
Pikas live below the snow in the winters.
First of all, they have this big cache of food in their burrow.
But if they need to get to another cache,
they have paths under the snow.
-It's all connected?
Their activity disperses the seeds of many plants.
Their food stores and droppings become fertiliser.
And because they are active year round,
they are one of the few sources of food for predators in the winter.
Pikas are really vital to the Himalayan system
because not only do they aerate the soil, which helps the grass grow,
but they're also a really key prey species for a bunch of animals
like weasels and martens and foxes and eagles.
Without these busy creatures,
the Himalayas would be a very different place.
This vast landscape owes so much to such a tiny creature.
Throughout India, people have a bond with the natural world.
If you go through any book that talks about religion or
Hinduism just in general, you always see that there is
a connection between man and animal.
I'm travelling to Majuli on the Brahmaputra River.
Majuli is the largest river island in India.
It's three times as big as the Isle of Wight.
One of the islands that cluster around Majuli is home to
a man whose dedication to nature is an example to us all.
To meet him, I need to get on a ferry,
and that's not as straightforward as it sounds.
Getting across the Brahmaputra can be quite a task.
As you can see, it gets pretty chaotic.
Somehow, through all this chaos,
like most of India is, things get done.
We will get on the ferry, our cars will load
and we'll finally get to our destination.
Shall I load?
The river is up to six miles wide.
There's constant toing and froing of people,
livestock and other animals.
Which explains the price list for tickets.
OK, we've found it. This one's very important.
India is a very, very kind country
and a very hospitable country, you probably know that by now.
Unlike many other modes of transportation,
we have no passenger restrictions here on the ferry,
so if you want to bring a buffalo, you can.
An elephant with a mahout, of course you can.
Sheep, goat, calf, pig, bull, cow, horse and like animal, we can.
And... If you want to get a wild animal like tiger or lion, you can.
So let's go!
If you're wondering how much a wild tiger costs...
Less than a pound.
150,000 people live on Majuli.
It's a place where time has stood still.
And all over the island, people are looking for ways to work with
the natural world.
This man has even made a bike using bamboo.
I can never resist trying something new!
So he says the only trick to the bicycle is learning how to
manoeuvre the handles.
But he's not the man I'm here to see.
See you later! Aaah!
This unique culture is under threat.
Not by man, but by the very thing that gives it life -
the Brahmaputra river itself.
Since the 1950s, Majuli has lost a third of its landmass
due to erosion from the river.
In 15 to 20 years, Majuli and her neighbouring islands
could cease to exist.
Unless something is done.
I'm crossing to a neighbouring island with someone who has
become a legend.
He has taken action that has highlighted
the plight of these islands...
By planting trees.
Thousands of them.
OK. He's planted every single tree in this forest.
There was practically nothing, it was just sand,
just barren land, and he's planted every single tree.
It has taken three decades, but on this island,
Jadav Pareng has created his own rainforest.
Now roots and vegetation bind the land together,
forming a natural barrier against the current.
And wildlife has returned, too.
Jadav has seen elephants, rhinos and even tigers in his forest.
Jadav tells me his story
and why he has worked so tirelessly to save the land he grew up in.
The fruits that he ate on this island, as a child,
he realised that after the floods,
when the trees would be destroyed and future generations would not
have the opportunity to taste those lovely fruits that he ate as a kid.
So a part of it is him trying to save this place for the animals
but it's also a very...it's a pride in his childhood that he wants to
pass on to the next generation of children.
He's a very generous man.
It's through the efforts of heroes like Jadav that India's wild
places remain protected.
At the other end of the country is a mountain range called
the Western Ghats.
They're India's oldest mountains.
They run for 1,000 miles from Mumbai to the southern tip of India.
They're home to 50 million people.
But the monsoon rains and southern heat create
near perfect conditions for wildlife, too.
This great mountainous tropical rainforest is one of the most
biodiverse places on Earth.
The Western Ghats explode with life,
packed with species that are only found here.
50% of all of India's amphibians are found in the Western Ghats.
Many live nowhere else in the world.
Like the rare purple frog.
This species may be one of the strangest looking creatures
on the planet, but scientists believe it's a rare survivor of a
lineage that dates back 130 million years, to the time of the dinosaurs.
For 50 weeks, this male has remained hidden underground,
buried in the mud where his food is.
His pointed nose allows him to burrow, but it limits the size
of his mouth, restricting his diet to termites and other small bugs.
He emerges for just two weeks every year as the monsoon begins.
He has just one thing on his mind - to breed.
After he's mated, he'll return to his muddy burrow.
With such a short time above ground, this species remained
undiscovered until 2003, when it was formally identified.
And it was instantly added to the endangered list.
The Western Ghats are home to over 300 endangered species.
The one I'm travelling to see is the lion-tailed macaque.
It's thought to be one of the ancestors of all Asian macaques.
This is the only area in which they're found.
Wildlife cameraman Kalyan Varma is one of those helping
to protect the local population of macaques.
Like all monkeys, they're very inquisitive.
Ah, they're just coming from the morning roost.
Wow, look at... Oop! Oh, he's so handsome!
Oh, look at that hand.
They're definitely used to cars anyway.
-Oh, wow, look at this!
SHE MUFFLES LAUGH
-They're just very curious about us.
-I didn't even see him!
Well, good morning.
And that's a lion-tailed macaque.
These are the most endangered of all India's macaques.
There are just 4,000 left in the wild.
Their home in rainforest canopy is being cut down to make way
for tea plantations.
They're being forced to share space with people.
It makes these wild animals more approachable.
I've got lion-tailed macaques above me to my right.
This beautiful female behind me.
And I can't quite believe just how close I am to...
Oh, a mother and infant!
Two. Oh, my God, they're... This is...unbelievable.
There are three females in this troop
with very young infants hanging on to their bellies.
There's one there, there's another one there
and there was another female over there with an infant,
up in the tree. And that is SO rare to see!
Females will only bear maybe three or four offspring in their lives.
Like many species of macaques, science has named these
beautiful animals after their tails, which is somewhat surprising.
For me, it's more the mane around the face that reminds me of lions,
why aren't they called lion-maned macaques?
I always wondered that as well because in the local languages
and all of South India, they call it the lion-faced or
-the lion-maned macaques.
-Do they really?
And I don't know why in English the scientific name
is lion-tailed macaque.
Lion-tailed macaques face threats every day from busy roads.
WHISTLING AND YELLING
The Nature Conservation Foundation has come up with an ingenious
solution to the problem of getting across the thoroughfares that
slice through their forests.
Bridges made from fire hoses.
How much of a difference has this made to casualties and fatalities?
It's quite a bit. I think a lot of them, especially the young ones,
love using this. It's the older ones that are on the road mostly.
So the young ones definitely like the protection of the bridges.
-But once in a while, some of these alpha males have taken that
over as their territory. So you see one alpha male sitting on there,
being a bully, not letting anyone pass through.
So it's no longer a bridge, it's the alpha male's territory.
Absolutely. They like those places. They get a vantage point,
-all this traffic going underneath them.
What I'm loving - not only do you have these bridges,
you've also got those two guys with the signs to slow the traffic down.
-So the will is there. There's a lot of effort being put
into protecting your remaining monkeys.
Yes. And you know, this population is one of the largest single
populations. So we are hoping that as this population grows,
eventually they'll colonise other forest fragments in this landscape.
Lion-tails still face huge challenges.
But thanks to the people here, their future already looks a lot brighter.
I really didn't expect to get this close to these macaques.
I mean, I suppose we're used to seeing monkeys climbing over
cars these days, but these are lion-tailed macaques -
they live really high up in the canopy.
And the only reason this has been possible is
because a very tiny proportion of the remaining population
have adapted and they've become habituated to humans,
and that's the reason why we came here.
And it's totally been worth it.
I normally spend my time thousands of metres up in the mountains.
But for our last wonder, I've left the heights
of the Himalayas to come down to sea level to witness a wildlife event...
..featuring an animal that's very close to my heart.
The olive ridley turtle.
I've actually been fortunate enough to dive with
olive ridley turtles. Now, of all the big animals in the ocean,
there is something totally unique about watching turtles swim.
It's incredibly graceful and effortless.
The experience of swimming with turtles
was so intimate that I've never forgotten it.
So when I heard of the mass hatching of olive ridley turtles
that takes place here every year, I simply had to come.
This is Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal.
The seas here are rich with nutrients picked up
and carried by India's great rivers on the 1,500 mile journey
from their source high in the Himalayas.
Where the rivers meet the sea, they deposit their bounty.
These waters are bursting with life.
This beach is about to add to it.
At the moment, as you can see, this beach is just calm,
like any other normal beach. And it's hard to believe that
through the night and tomorrow morning,
this entire beach will be alive
and will erupt with baby olive ridley turtles.
This is the largest mass nesting
site in the world for the olive ridley turtle.
It's vital to the survival of the species.
It's considered so important that the local government post
guards to protect the young turtles.
Olive ridley turtles spend their lives out at sea.
But each year, at one particular time,
hundreds of thousands of females return here.
It's the beach they hatched on, and they too will lay their eggs here.
It's an event that is known as the arribada.
It means the arrival.
Once the eggs are laid...
..she returns to the sea.
Leaving the eggs to incubate in the sand.
They'll take between 40 and 60 days to grow.
I'm here to see hundreds of thousands of baby turtles
bursting out of the sand.
As night draws in,
the first turtles begin to hatch.
These two little fellas
are the first two that I've seen this evening.
They've just literally popped out of a hole, just to the right
of my foot here, and are now slowly taking their very first steps
towards the ocean, which is just here.
And it's just lovely to watch.
My first baby turtle makes it to the sea,
but this is just the beginning.
The hatching is so important that we have to use a camera
that films by moonlight alone.
It's such a big moment for this little turtle. He's clearly just
taking his time to look around and decide which way he thinks is best.
We believe that they follow the light.
And often when they come out at night like this,
the moon and the reflection of the moon on the sea
is the way...is how they know which way to go.
Light pollution inland makes some of the young head the wrong way.
Across the beach, hundreds of nests start to move.
Scientists have discovered that the turtles co-ordinate
hatching by calling to each other while they're still in the eggs.
Most of the turtles hatch under cover of darkness.
As dawn breaks, I can see why.
They are easy pickings for predators.
Like jungle crows and Brahminy kites.
Even those that make it to the sea aren't safe.
Sharks and other threats await.
Of all the turtles born here,
only one in 1,000 will reach maturity.
It's the reason that there are over a million young.
But it's not just predators that are a hazard.
This poor little turtle's really well caught up in this fishing net,
and I'm trying to free him.
But I've just got to be really gentle, he's so fragile
that I'm desperately trying not to hurt him while I do this.
This could take me a long time.
Here we go, got his little fin free.
The local fishermen stop work during the arribada and the hatching.
And it's not just the fishermen who are helping.
Chetan Rao has spent the last year trying to understand this phenomenon.
There's a few folk on the beach with buckets, can you tell me
what they're doing, what their purpose is?
A lot of these hatchlings start probably and instead of moving
towards the sea, they end up going towards the other side.
-Away from the beach.
-Away from the beach, yes.
So a lot of these locals have volunteered themselves to come here
and sort of pick up hatchlings which are disoriented and
release them close to the water
so that they can all can go back safely.
So these guys are volunteers from the local village?
Yes, they're all local villagers who are here.
They'll pick up any hatchling that they find that's not
going the right direction, and just lead it towards the sea.
-So these baby turtles we see today...
How long will it be before they return here and how do
they know that this is their beach? How do they know to come here?
They return after a span of 15 to 16 years,
when they're sexually mature.
But how they come back is probably part of
an inbred homing instinct.
You know, like, they know where they were born.
That's incredible to think,
cos hopefully these turtles will go, they'll swim for hundreds,
thousands of miles round the ocean. And you're saying in 15 years plus,
they'll come back to this beach and lay their eggs.
-That's incredible, you know.
It is, it is. It's one of nature's great mysteries.
As the baby turtles enter the water, the sun rises on a new day.
The people here are doing everything they can to make sure this
beach continues to be somewhere that babies can hatch in safety.
India has shown us sights found nowhere else in the world.
We've witnessed spectacles on a scale we would never have imagined.
And everywhere we visited, we've met people.
People who don't just want to help,
but who know the true value of the world around them.
Because in India, people and nature go hand in hand.
It's a relationship that dates back
to the beginning of this civilisation.
A relationship forged in the religions and cultures of India.
A gift from the past that can help to ensure that what makes India
so special today will still be here tomorrow.
Maybe that's the true wonder of India.
In a country of over a billion people, there is still a place here
for some of the most extraordinary wildlife on Earth.