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The Rise and Fall of the British Raj

The “Raj” – stout British governors of 18th and 19th century India –  gets the Globe Trekker treatment  in a sweeping history special presented  by travellers Bobby Chinn, Zay Harding, Katy Haswell, Holly Morris and Ian Wright. They span the Asian subcontinent to illustrate the spectacular story of the rise and fall from grace of the once mighty British Empire. Changing of the guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan

In the 16th century, before England had even stepped afoot India’s western coast, the land had succumbed to the whims of another empire – that of the Mughals.  This Islamic brand of conquerors united India’s castes and religions and endowed their realm with monuments of great beauty. Ian Wright visits the impregnable royal fort of Agra and the Taj Mahal – garden tomb of Mumtaz, the favourite wife of the great Shah Jehan.

England then claimed Bombay (present day Mumbai) in 1662,  courtesy of Charles II’s dowry from his marriage to Catherine of Portugal. Ironically, the English in India were not to rule as servants of a restored Crown but in the form of the East India Company – a mercantile group of Londoners who were lured to the East by a profitable trade in spices, gems and cloths. Bobby Chinn receives a spice education from guide Suleiman while Zay Harding explores the Bombay fort of Murud Janira, where the Siddis defended themselves against the English interlopers.

The Gateway Of India

The East India Company made Calcutta its headquarters almost a hundred years later through the valiant victories of Robert Clive of India. He overcame the French in Pondicherry and ousted the Nawab rulers of  Bengal after a famous battle at Plassey. Bobby Chinn tours modern day ‘Kolkata’ and indulges in the leftover luxuries of British colonial life  –  a cream tea and a ride on a hand-pulled rickshaw.

Ian Wright then picks up the reins of the story. He goes to Delhi, where at the start of the 19th century,  the East India Company established a British Residency. .. But, despite the acquisition of the old Mughal capital of Delhi, British control of India was not secured until an Indian mutiny was put down in 1857. Zay Harding travels to Lucknow where historian Roshan Taqui describes how Hindu and Muslim sepoys sparked off an immense rebellion in the private regiments of the East India Company which left thousands dead and the Mughals’ last Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar an exile in Rangoon.  Ian Wright visits his dilapidated summer palace in Delhi and learns about Bahadur’s tragic fate after his tragic part in the mutiny.

Red Fort - Agra

Out of this storm, the Raj was born. The East India Company ceased to govern a country it could not contain, so Queen Victoria became India’s Empress. Ian Wright shows us how sixty years later the Crown built New Delhi as the Empire’s centre of administration. He tours the Rashtraprati’ Bhavan – the house of the incumbent President of India and former abode of the British realm’s appointed Viceroys.

Since the Indian mutiny, Britain had become a superpower, fuelled by an industrial revolution which made her the workshop of the world. Bombay cotton was exported to the textile mills of Lancashire and its profits turned the city into a mini Victorian London. Viraat Kasliwal shows Zay around Mumbai’s Heritage mile and its equivalent of St Pancras’ station, while Katie Haswell pops into the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where she is regaled about a Great Exhibition in 1851, when the glories of the Indian Empire were put on display for an envious world to behold.

The industrial revolution chielfy produced an extraordinary railway network in India and in celebration, Zay Harding rides the Indian trains. However, by the 1880s, an industrial India was becoming economically self reliant and it started to take umbrage to Raj rule. Holly Morris examines the birth of India’s independence movement in the coffee shops of Kolkata,  where the National Congress was born. Zay then takes up the baton and travels to Motihari in the state of Bihar, where Mohatama Gandhi  enjoined the indigo workers’ protest against their British landlords. Zay then visits Gandhi’s humble home in Gandevi and learns from the great man’s grandson about his philosophy of non violence as a peaceful means of winning India her independence.  He continues his journey to Amritsar, where a massacre of Sikhs by trigge- happy British troops after World War 1 proved a turning point in Indian fortunes. Zay discovers how Congress and Gandhi combined to lead the nation into a defining “Quit India” movement  but as Ian Wright finds out at the Imperial hotel in Delhi, the nature of independence became the chief bone of contention after the Second World War, when a Muslim League led by Muhammad Jinnah clamoured for an independent  state of Pakistan.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

In 1947, India won her independence after 200 years of Raj rule but Pakistan also won its statehood. There was a terrific exodus as Hindus and Muslims exchanged borders and unspeakable atrocities were committed by both sides during their transit on the railways. Zay boards a train at Amritsar to receive testimonies from the descendants of those involved.

Our Indian odyssey ends with a rumination over the legacy of the British Raj. Holly Morris visits the Coronation memorial in Delhi – a crumbling graveyard of British Viceroy statues. But is seems the British have not been entirely forgotten… as we behold Holly Morris at a Kolkata horse race and Ian Wright winning a game of cricket against England’s mightiest foe in the sporting field… India, of course.



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