As Mauritius celebrates its 50th year of independence, Rajan Datar travels to this Indian Ocean island to explore the legacy of slavery.
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Now on BBC News, time
for the Travel Show.
Mauritius, a force of nature in the
middle of the Indian Ocean.
Mauritius is marking the 50th year
of independence from British
colonial rule, but the intriguing,
rich and sometimes dark story of
this island nation goes back way
On my journey I'm going to explore
the history of Mauritius. See and
taste how multiculturalism works
here. That is nice. Go on a day to
the races. Did we win? Did we win?
And visit a unique conservation
project saving endangered species.
This island is so often labelled as
just a luxury beach paradise, but
the reality is so much more
fascinating than that.
Mauritius, gorgeous beaches,
turquoise waters and lush
vegetation. But the Cuban story is
just as awe-inspiring. -- human.
This mountain on the south-west of
the island faces in the direction of
Madagascar and the stands 555 metres
high. It's also at a 45 degrees
incline. No walk in the park.
For the likes of me, this is a
challenging climb, I've got to say.
In fact, I think for anybody it's
Near the top I join a guy who's done
this climb up to three times a day
every day pretty much everyday for
It's probably from
the first eruption 10 million years
ago. And actually it's very good for
climbing. Yeah, there's lots of good
The mountain marks a dark but
symbolic chapter in the island's
history, the days of slavery under
Dutch, French and British rule. This
is where many escaped slaves called
the Maroons found refuge.
have a look towards Madagascar and
home, that was the site and they
expected one day may be to build,
like, a craft and go back home and
just to escape from this prison.
It's a world away up here from the
beach resorts that populate the rest
of the island, but actually this
trek is almost a pilgrimage to get
to the very hard of Mauritius
identity. There's a particularly
poignant tale told about the Maroons
in what should have been their
moment of celebration. When slavery
was abolished here in 1835, soldiers
climbed the mountain to tell the
Maroons they were free, but the
escaped slaves thought they were
being recaptured and instead chose
to jump off the mountain.
Why do you think this is so
important to the identity of people
Because I guess it's
a unique story. It's part of our
story here in Mauritius and it's one
of the only places we know of that
somehow the slaves resisted to their
masters and for us, it's almost like
a venerated mountain, a sacred
mountain, not only for the
descendants of slaves but for
Mauritius is as well.
After slavery was abolished, the
British brought in hundreds of
thousands of so-called intention
labourers from India and China in
what was known as the Great
Experiment. Today Port Lewis is the
country's capital with its colonial
legacy and contemporary diversity
everywhere to be seen.
I'm about to get a personalised unit
for what this city and Mauritius
offers in terms of its diverse food
and other wares as well. Hi, how do
you do, nice to meet you.
So this is a food place
But you'd never know to
look at it, it's pretty low-key.
Yes, but it's pretty famous as well.
He's making some deep-fried pits,
you can deep-fried almost
everything. He has this batter that
he made, it's with flour, some herbs
Richards may seem isolated
in the middle of the Indian Ocean,
but it was actually nicely placed on
the spice route which linked Asia,
Africa and Europe. -- Mauritius.
he's adding all the herbs you need
for the chilly bites.
they strong chillis?
There's a clear
inference from Gujarati traders
whose forefathers came over from
India in the 19th century but
there's a distinctive Mauritian
accent to the food too. It just hit
Now, this is a multi- ethnic
multicultural multilingual multi-
religion country, so Hinduism is the
majority religion but you've also
got Christianity, Islam, Chinese
religions, Buddhism. It's all here.
Where are we?
We're in a small
market that is made up of street
vendors. All these people used to be
selling everything from clothes to
food to electronic gadgets on the
street but that was illegal so the
state gave them some spaces.
Ca va? So this is after, he used to
be on a street corner in Chinatown
selling dumplings with his father.
So now he is here.
This is the long
Yes, the long fish.
nice, that is really good. How many
will years have you working?
myself, after schooling, nearly 50
years. 50 years!
The sheer diversity
of food is one benefit of the
cultural hotpot in Russia's. Another
is language, French, English and
Creole is all spoken here. And then
there's music. -- Mauritius. Sega is
a rhythm and genre indigenous to
this island. And this lady is known
as the voice of the Indian Ocean.
Be distinctive drum is called the
Ravan, a home-grown incident that
the. -- the.
On the tiny island here Mauritius is
playing host to unique conservation
project which takes us back to a
time five centuries ago before
mankind ever set foot here. The
ecosystem of an island like
Mauritius is extremely fragile, and
ever since mankind arrived in the
17th century, that ecosystem has
been severely disrupted and that has
led to the extinction of some very
important species like, for example,
The dodo lost the ability to fly
through evolution, because until man
brought in predators, they didn't
really need to.
Today the one remaining native
mammal to Mauritius, the fruit bat,
can fly with elegant ease, but it's
not a great favourite for some, like
So this is the Mauritius fruit bat.
It is a bat that is unique to
Mauritius. It can travel for 15
kilometres, 20 kilometres, 40
kilometres in one night. It's like
man that's got hands, but these
hands here have been modified
amazingly to become a wing.
It's an animal that can see very,
very well, despite what a lot of
people think. They need to rest
during the day to save their energy
because it gets hot in the tropics,
but at night, as it's getting ARC,
they leave their daytime roosts, as
they're called, and they go out and
they look for food.
They will first of all eat fruits to
keep themselves alive, but also they
will be dispersing fruits and they
maintain their own survival by
maintaining the forests.
The larger project here is hugely
ambitious and earning international
We actually are recreating the whole
ecosystems. It's one of the few
places on earth were we're not just
trying to save a few odd plants and
a few odd animals, we're actually
piecing together as best as we can,
it will never be perfect, but as
best as we can the whole ecosystem
as it existed prior to the arrival
Should we be frightened of this
animal, should I be frightened being
this close to this animal now?
I'm not frightened of any animal, I
don't know why anyone should be.
There are some countries where bats
are disperses and carriers of
diseases but in Mauritius that's not
the case. Of course where they are
carriers of diseases there are some
precautions to be taken of course,
but that's not the case here. Would
you like to hold the bat?
Yes, it will probably never all you
a little bit if that's OK?
It's claws are going to be
Wow. I can't believe
it. This is weird is all I can say.
This is a magic moment.
thought I'd actually find a bat or
an animal like this vaguely even
cute, but you know what, it is kind
of cute. And luckily not disease
ridden as it bites my finger.
you want to fly off, shall we get
you to fly off?, men.
Animals are central to Mauritius and
identity in more ways than one. Take
this weekly ritual that has been
tightly wrapped up in Russia's
culture, going to the races.
The islands independence from
British rule was declared on this
very racecourse in 1968. -- the
Champ de Mars, in 1968. Built more
than two centuries ago, it is the
oldest racecourse in the southern
hemisphere. And from the start, it
is very and was to bring disparate
communities together. Oh, and to
satisfy the local's love of
gambling, of course. And today,
there is one family who now dominate
horseracing in Mauritius.
locals'. Actually, it was my
grandfather who introduced a family
to horse racing. He was the first
Indian to be a member of the
National Assembly of Parliament. And
in 1904, he was a businessman. At
the beginning, he was a milk seller,
but then he started doing business,
buying land and buying and selling
land and property.
He also realise
that buying a race horse would allow
him to mingle with the big cheeses,
especially French businessman, who
ran the economy then, and loved
racing. Today is a very special day.
It is the final, classic race of the
season, the Duke Cup. And a chance
for this family to great history in
the national sport.
happened in that we have been able,
with a bit of luck, to win the first
classic 's, and if we win the fourth
one today, we will be creating
history. -- classics.
And we got a
peek into the paddock to meet his
I often see you on the BBC,
all over the world!
This is very
much a family affair.
That is the
cup that we are looking for.
one here? Can I touch it?
touch it before, but I want to touch
Afterwards... This is
fantastic. I am getting a real
insight, behind-the-scenes, with one
of the most important men in racing.
Inside the jockeys' room,
preparations are under way. Down by
the track, I can feel a sense of
occasion here. Here is where
everybody gathers, rich, poor,
everyone. Whatever language or
culture they are from, which ever
cultural group. And this is the
first race of the day. I wanted to
get a feel for the passion for
racing and gambling here. So I
approach a local punter.
recommend any losses? A pink is one.
Number three, Rogue Runner, in this
I am not sure.
There is my horse garment number
three, Rogue Runner, and if I put
100 rupees on it, it says I will get
six under Ruby 's back. Can I have
100 and number three, Rogue Runner?
-- 600 rupees back will stop do you
like Rogue Runner? Is that a good
one? And this is my horse. Rogue
Runner. I like his colours. LAUGHTER
. Do you like number three? Number
three. Here they come. ? Ditty
when!? It was very close, or one?
Number three one! At the last
-- did he win? At the last moment!
Yes! And now it is time for the
climax to the season. The big one,
the Dukes Cup, at a time for the
family to make history. They have
not left much to chance. They have
three out of the 12 horses running,
including the favourite, written by
the most successful champion jockey
in the race. Our man is in his lucky
spot to win the race next to his
family. The favourite and there be
hoping that is struggling. It does
not look good.
Let him proxy when!
-- don't let him proxy when.
from the outside another horse from
their stable stars making ground. --
Dukes Cup. Ready To Attack is, well,
ready to attack. -- NACRO one. --
starts. CHEERING. -- don't let him
box you in.
The family have done it and made
history. Now this is over, what do
you feel? A sense of relief, almost?
Frankly, I don't get worked up
before a race. You know, the people
around, and the well-wishers, the
supporters, everywhere you go around
the island, you know, they just wish
you well. I wanted to win that race
And in this 50th
anniversary year of independence, it
seems that the people of this island
have plenty to celebrate. During my
time here, I have seen a strong
sense of nationhood amongst
Mauritian is, and also realisation
that precious wildlife must be
protected. This is a relatively
prosperous country, breaking free
from its complicated and sometimes
shameful colonial past. And what is
exciting that right now, it is
unique cultural identity is still
evolving and making so much more
than just a high-end holiday
As Mauritius celebrates its 50th year of independence, Rajan Datar travels to this Indian Ocean island to explore the legacy of slavery in Mauritius, to see and taste how multiculturalism works there, to spend a day at the the races and to visit a unique conservation project dedicated to saving some of the world's most endangered species.