India Direct - Part 1 The Travel Show


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India Direct - Part 1

In the first of a two-part special, and as part of BBC World News' India Direct season, Rajan Datar travels to two very different corners of India.


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Time now for the Travel Show.

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India.

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A vast country, home to over a billion people,

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birthplace of illustrious, ancient civilisations...

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And today, a fast emerging global power.

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And 70 years after independence, India is still a diverse,

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ever-evolving assortment of cultures, creeds,

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religions and languages.

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Heading off the well-worn tourist path, we're on a journey that spans

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this vast subcontinent from east to west, travelling from one

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of the driest places on earth...

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It's quite incredible, the sand.

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I mean, it's just hard crystals, white salt.

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You can probably taste it.

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..to one of the wettest.

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These are areas really for the adventurous traveller.

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This isn't India on tap.

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I'm on a quest to find out how history, religion and politics

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have shaped India.

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And I also meet the people who call this intriguing and sometimes

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overwhelming country home.

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It's going to be an amazing journey.

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For thousands of years, India found its riches and influence

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through international trade.

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And at the heart of this enterprise was the sea.

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And the state of Gujarat, with 1,000 miles of coastline,

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served as a shipping gateway to Africa, Arabia and beyond.

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This is as far west as you can get in India, and it's the mingling

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of all the influences from overseas that have helped make Gujarat

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what it is today.

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The region is known as Kutch, and its beaches, like here

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in Mandvi, are a popular domestic tourist attraction.

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But this ancient port town's economy is still anchored in a much

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older maritime tradition.

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This is genuinely incredible.

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I'm in heaven.

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A huge shipyard with boats and ships at various stages of construction,

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all made from wood.

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In an industry dominated by bulky and expensive container ships,

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these smaller, more agile vessels are still in huge demand.

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So here are, really close up to these incredible hulks.

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This one is in mid-construction.

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We can actually go inside.

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I'm going to see how they make these things.

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Apparently, each of these dhows takes two and a half years to make.

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For many of the workers, shipbuilding is a family tradition.

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And this ancient craft is now attracting unexpected new admirers.

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The region of Kutch was home to one of the world's earliest

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The region of Kutch was home to one of the world's earliest

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civilisations, and can be traced back to prehistoric times.

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Its old royal capital is the city of Bhuj.

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Its glory days are kind of over.

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It was badly hit by the 2001 earthquake.

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There's a kind of melancholy about this area, because obviously,

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this was once the real, opulent centre of a rich empire,

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trading empire anyway, and the hub was here.

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But what is still flourishing is Bhuj's 450-year-old market just

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a few minutes away, where the trading tradition continues.

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What do they sell here?

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They sell everything.

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Fruit, vegetables, fabric, groceries.

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All cultural backgrounds can be seen in the marketplace.

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Here, as you can see, all different communities and ethnic

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groups come here.

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But Kutch's natural harmony was disrupted 70 years ago,

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when the British left.

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The country was divided on religious grounds,

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with Muslims partitioned to the north in Pakistan,

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and Hindus to the south in India.

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We drove out of the city towards the border with Pakistan,

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along the way encountering some Kutch herdsmen.

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They've been living here for 400 or 500 years.

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Since, they migrated down south into Kutch from Sindh,

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which is now part of Pakistan.

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Ever since the split, there's been tension between the two

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governments, but to these herdsmen, national borders and religious

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differences mean little.

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For the people of Kutch, India and Pakistan or Hindu/Muslim

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is not that important.

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People are religious, of course, but they're living in harmony

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and the relationship between these two different groups is brotherly.

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When two countries were created from one, indelible scars were left

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on the psyche of the subcontinent.

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ARCHIVE: Independence has not yet brought them peace.

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Rejoicing turned quickly into horror and mourning.

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In dramatic scenes, more than a million people died

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in religious rioting, and many millions more were displaced.

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This all used to be one, but now it's divided in two.

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And now the border itself has become a tourist attraction.

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That way is Pakistan?

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That way is Pakistan, about 70 kilometres up north.

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That is where the India-Pakistan border is, which lies along

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That is where the India-Pakistan border is, which lies along

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the middle of Kutch, which is a geographical valley.

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At nearly 500 metres above sea level, the highest point,

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Kalo Dungar hill, allows us a dramatic view of this geological

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phenomenon, the Rann, or desert of Kutch,

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which continues into Pakistan.

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I wanted to get up closer to this natural wonder.

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It's quite incredible, the sand.

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I mean, it's just hard crystals, white salt.

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You can probably taste it.

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Really unusual to see something like this.

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The further out I walked, the less lovely it became.

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It's actually quite incredible.

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It's more like snow or sludge than white sand or white crystals

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when it gets wet around here.

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I'm getting really deep into it.

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Whoa!

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Today, this shimmering wilderness is a healthy source of income

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for the region, thanks mainly to a three-month long festival

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throughout the winter.

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It is amazing.

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What was a vast, barren landscape has been transformed into this

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colourful complex, whereby at night, there's live music and other

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performances and by day, there's plenty of other activities.

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Just here is what you might call the glamping quarters.

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50,000 people have come here in the last couple

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of months alone.

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I guess this is a cross between a weekend festival

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and a holiday resort.

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It's basically a honeypot for the booming middle classes

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of India in what has been one of the fastest-growing economies

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in the world.

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The revival of interest in Kutch culture, boosted by the festival,

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has been a lifeline for one group of locals

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in particular, folk musicians.

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Music in particular is very rich over here.

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Previously, they used to perform with their cattles, the shepherds.

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Then afterwards, when they came home, they'd get together

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and their speech and songs are being performed.

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It's a day-to-day practice.

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One person plays two flutes of the same time?

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Yes.

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Now, for example, 500 cattles are there and only one

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shepherd is there.

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So he'll sit and start playing this and whatever musical reach this has,

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the cattles will not go out of that range.

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Wow.

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And they enjoy the music, so the digestive system,

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the milk output increases.

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So this is the beauty of it.

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So it's almost like meditation.

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Yeah. Things are changing, definitely.

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As you say, tourism, so many music festivals are there,

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so they are invited in various parts of India and abroad.

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And of course, they are very well paid.

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And not only do I get a demonstration, but also

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the privilege of playing along...

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as lead tinkler.

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And yet again, I'm made aware that Kutch culture is all about a sense

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of community and certainly not about religious segregation.

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From the bottom of my heart, I am telling you till today,

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in spiritual and music forms, Hindus and Muslims sit together

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and perform till today.

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For the next part of my journey, I'm heading to the south-east

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of Gujarat, to the town of Junagadh.

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Ah, the classic Indian railway station.

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To me, nothing sums up this country better

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than the Indian railway network.

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More than any political act, they say that this

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is what unifies this country.

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I remember as a small child being on an Indian train

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and being totally overwhelmed by it, but I love it.

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Ah, this feels imminent.

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Who knows when this was made, this train?

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It looks pretty damn old to me.

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But wow, look at that.

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It's a network that ferries millions of passengers daily across tens

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of thousands of track to nearly 7,000 stations.

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It's one of the world's biggest employers.

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If there's one defining legacy of British rule,

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it's the vast, sprawling, creaking Indian railway network.

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It's still the lifeblood of the country today.

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THEY SING.

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I'll tell you this.

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You wouldn't get this on a suburban train on a cold Wednesday morning

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in London, or any other western city.

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This is unique.

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Do you know everyone on this carriage?

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Yeah.

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Yeah, from the train journey?

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Yeah, train journey, train friends.

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You're the train friends, excellent.

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You have a community.

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Is it lucky to have a seat on the train?

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Yes.

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Very lucky.

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She's very lucky.

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Like you.

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Like you.

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Like me!

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So here we are, the ancient, fortified city of Junagadh,

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crowded and noisy, as I expected.

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Let's go explore.

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Just a few minutes from the station along a dusty, busy road,

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stands this jaw-dropping and little-known architectural wonder.

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Built in the late 19th century, the Mahabat Maqbara is an elaborate

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mausoleum, blending Indian, Islamic, Gothic and European architecture.

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The intricate carvings took over a decade to complete,

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and the whole structure reflects the opulence and influences

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of the time.

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Back in the day, under the British Raj, there were hundreds

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of so-called princely states run by maharajahs and nawabs,

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powerful and wealthy men.

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There was one such character here, a nawab who made a decision that

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still has ramifications for relations with India

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and Pakistan even today.

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These nawabs led lavish lifestyles, in stark contrast to ordinary

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Indians.

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The nawab of Junagadh, Mahabat Khan III, was no different.

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ARCHIVE: This states celebrates the marriage of the eldest son

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of the nawab with all the pomp and splendour of a princely wedding.

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Harish Desai was ten in 1946, and recalls the splendour

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of the ceremony.

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ARCHIVE: Escorted by the royal guard, the bridegroom drives

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in state through the streets.

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Before him and the procession goes a costly profusion of wedding gifts.

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All the princes were there, attired in a princely pattern

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with turbans of a particular type on their head.

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Dance girls used to be brought there, musicians and all that.

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That lasted for several days.

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And he recalls getting his first taste of this other world.

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For the first time, I saw bread, butter, sandwich.

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That was not known to us here.

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My father said "You eat this.

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This is bread and this is butter".

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And I liked it.

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There were small pastries.

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I still remember that made in England, London,

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there were Huntley Palmers biscuits.

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The important thing is the formal photograph of His Highness,

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Mahabat Khan III.

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The nawab's own most legendary indulgence was his love of animals.

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His main hobby was for dogs.

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He was mad after dogs.

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I think almost all varieties and breeds of dogs from all over

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the world were here.

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He used to arrange marriages for dogs, and celebrated

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with parties and honeymoon.

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Honeymoon!

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He used to do it.

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But with the advent of independence, the power and influence of India's

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royal rulers was coming to an end.

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Come partition, the Muslim nawab wanted to make Junagadh part

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of the newly created Islamic Pakistan...

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Even though the town is more than 80% Hindu and hundreds

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of kilometres from the border.

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Infuriated, the new Indian government rallied its troops.

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The news started coming that the army is coming with huge

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tanks and trucks and jeeps and artillery and guns

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and everything are there.

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Junagadh state was besieged on three sides also.

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An economic blockade was ordered, cutting off supplies of food

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and resources into the region.

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Eventually, Junagadh acceded to India and the nawab

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fled to Pakistan.

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Yet to this day, 70 years on, his great-grandson still lays

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claim to Junagadh.

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And the episode lingers as a reminder of the last days

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of the Raj in India.

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And 65 kilometres down the road in the Gir Sanctuary,

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the nawab's legacy as an animal lover extraordinaire continues

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with the most regal of creatures.

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Now, lions may have iconic status here.

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They're a royal symbol and they're in Hindu mythology,

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but at the beginning of the last century,

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they were threatened with extinction.

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I'm going somewhere now which is the only natural abode

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of the Asiatic lion.

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The nawab preserved vast tracts of this forest to provide lions

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with a stable habitat, and banned hunting.

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The Asiatic lions are smaller and paler than their African relatives.

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And these are their modern-day protectors, India's first female

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forest rangers, the so-called lion queens of Gir.

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Now they're part of a team that performs more animal rescues

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than any other wildlife park in the world.

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On average, the unarmed rangers cover 25 kilometres a day and have

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to tackle venomous snakes, leopards and poachers

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as well as lions.

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If they did get agitated, how would you be able to tell

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from the animal?

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How would you know if you're safe or not, being this close

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to the animal?

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And it did get dangerous for her early on in her career here.

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Applications from women for these posts have rocketed,

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and the rangers are role models and trailblazers

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in the region today.

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Ooh, look at that mouth.

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The good news is that from once being in danger of extinction,

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numbers have climbed to over 500.

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The next, much more welcome, problem is if the sanctuary is big

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enough for their growing population.

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So, the first part of my travels across India comes to a close.

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But next week, I head to the north-east of the country.

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I'm on the banks of the mighty River Brahmaputra, and about to go

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to a very spiritual place.

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And with the amount of people crammed on here as well,

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it's going to be an experience.

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A region that prides itself on tradition and creativity,

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and a passionate desire to protect this unique part of the world

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for future generations.

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Hello there.

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With weather fronts strewn across the UK this weekend it's

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inevitable there will be some rain but hopefully it won't be a washout.

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This is how it looked Friday evening in Lancashire,

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In the first of a two-part special, and as part of BBC World News' India Direct season, Rajan Datar travels to two very different corners of India.