Around the World by Train (2019) - Series 1 - Documentary
I'm setting off on the greatest journey of my life... Let's do this! ..to travel around the globe by train. I have no idea what platform we're going from. I'll be riding some of the most spectacular rail routes on Earth, on the fastest, steepest, and most luxurious trains, passing through some of the world's most famous places... The Eiffel Tower. Grand Central Station.
There it is, Mount Fuji. ..and beyond, to parts of the planet I never knew existed... We're totally isolated. ..to immerse myself... This isn't for anything, this is just what people do on a Sunday. ..in the weird... ..the wild... ..and the wonderful. This is unlike anything I've ever done before.
So, here we are in St Pancras, London, this is where it all begins. I'm on the 07.01 train to Paris. I've only got a few days in Paris, then I'm going to blast on to Stuttgart, then Munich, we'll race on to Budapest, and if there's time, even Romania, before hurtling on to the edge of Europe in Istanbul. Right, so off I go around the world, just me and my bag... ..and these blokes, and all this filming stuff... ..and Sam, the cameraman. Come on.
Nearly 20 trains a day speed under the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris, at up to 186mph. We've all got that cliched view of Paris, haven't we? With people walking poodles and the cancan and gorgeous women looking at you with a really haughty face. Mind you, that happens to me anywhere, so that won't be very different. But you know what I mean,
that strange smell of those cigarettes and everything, but I'd like to really break through all of that and try and find something of the real Paris. Just 2 hours 15 minutes later, the train delivers me right into the heart of the city. Yay, Paris! As soon as you step out of the station, it just looks so foreign, doesn't it? Look at her, see what I mean? Carlisle is further away from London. I've got more than 2,000 miles to cover, but first of all, this place, 24 hours, that's all we've got, come on.
Come on! Come on. Paris, so much to see, and definitely not enough time. Did I mention I was lugging a crew around with me? Two more there, mate.
Here we are. The Eiffel Tower. Have a good look, because we're not hanging around. Let's go, Sam.
Just over 2 million people live here... Excuse me, coming through. Sacre-Coeur. ..but every year, more than 33 million people visit it. Montmartre. If you like a bit of art.
You see, the thing about beautiful cities... ..is there's a huge pressure to visit all the famous sites which you've seen countless times anyway. It's all a bit of a waste. And I've only got 24 hours. I'm pretty much in the heart of Paris here. Beyond that yellow bus, there's the Eiffel Tower, this is the Place de la Concorde, you've got the Champs-Elysees there, round here, there's the Tuileries, and the only people I can see are flipping tourists! But surely there's got to be more to Paris than that.
It's the Parisians that make the city, isn't it? Pousse toi! There, there are people crossing, that never happens. Pousse toi. Agh! Oh, get out of the way! Oh, oh, oh. I think I can smell burning rubber.
Yeah, me, too. You haven't got the handbrake on, have you? My Parisian friend Julie Collard is brilliant at unpicking the cliches of Paris for bamboozled foreigners like me. It's funny, I'm not that bothered about seeing the big sights. You don't really care, do you? Not a huge amount.
You're more interested by small things that Paris has to offer, which gives you the real Parisian vibe, right? Yeah, that's what I'm after. Yeah. I'm hoping that you can give me some of that. Well, you're going to have the real good Parisian vibes in a few seconds now.
Look right now, look at that. That's the Arc de Triomphe. SHE BEEPS HORN Like this bus, why does he have priority? No, don't worry. This is like a fighters in the Second World War. Yeah, look. SHE BEEPS HER HORN Why do you think Parisians drive in the way they do? I think we're closer to Italian people, we have the Latin... Oh, you're Mediterranean, yeah, fiery. Latin fire inside of us. Brake! Don't worry.
It's fine, you're not going to die. Safe in the back streets, it's time for tips on cafe culture and French kissing. Kisses! Yeah. Does everybody in France kiss like mwah mwah? No, of course not, no. In Paris, it's two kisses, then in the rest of France, sometimes it's one, sometimes it's three, which is weird.
They'll go, like, one, two, and then you go, like, three? It's the same in England sometimes. And then you never know if someone's going to give you four. Four?! I'm going to show you... I'm going to show you the bises. No-one knows why there's a difference, even the French need help.
What we've got here is an app... Excuse me, Julie, just for one second. ..that shows you where people snog in different ways in France. Pink is how many? It's four, I think. Pink is four, so that pretty peasanty. And then you've got... The light blue is one? It's one. So it's a bit hit-and-run.
I'm glad to see some proper science. See? This is weird, you know, the way the seats are placed. Yeah. We're not looking at each other, we're looking out... I don't need to look at you. I know you, so I don't need to look at you.
I need to look at the street. And what are you looking at out on the street? We're looking at people. See? I'm talking to you right now. Ah, she just looked at us. So, it's a Parisian exercise. You get used to it, see? I'm talking to you, just... But you hardly look at me, do you? Yeah, you look at me too much. No, don't look at me that much. Why not?
I feel like I have something wrong on my cheek, don't look at me. Just turn around. If I really need to look at you, I'll go like, "Hey, Tony." And I'll go like that. And then can I come around? Sure, yeah, then you can look at me, that's fine. Then look at...
And then we go back to looking at... And look at the street, it's fine. I've only just arrived, and I've already crossed off two thirds of the things on my must-see list. But what's the point of coming to Paris without having a proper bang-up meal? The French love it. I mean, they really love it. You can even see this obsession with food in their language. Rather than, "Don't make a fuss about something", they say, "Don't make a big cheese about it." Instead of, "Mind your own business", they go, "Mind your own onions."
And instead of, "I'm drunk", they go, "I'm really buttered." I like that one. I've had a tip about a restaurant around here that's slightly different to the usual fancy, high-end Parisian cuisine. Yeah, this is it. Look up there. See? L'Avant Comptoir de la Terre.
Apparently, it's not pretentious, not expensive, just one slight problem. It's standing room only, with a menu hanging from the ceiling. This place, it's not like a restaurant, it's like a sandwich bar, isn't it? Look at the stuff up here. Langues d'oiseau pistou Parmesan, whatever that is.
If you want to try wine? How many wines have you got? Maybe 250 different wines. TONY LAUGHS Try this. This is Beaujolais. Je vous laisse gouter, si vous aimez pas, on peut changer. I just turned round and very slowly tried to engage this gentleman in conversation, and he's English. This is John. Do you come to this place often?
Yeah, it's one of my local stop-offs. It's incredibly Parisian. It's pretty crowded, isn't it? Oh, it's crowded, but it's authentic. John Branton has lived in Paris for 20 years. And if anyone knows his onions, it's him. There's been a movement, that is called, in general, bistronomie. Bist... Bistronomie. Bistronomie, I like that word, yeah.
Yeah, it's the idea of a bistro and not so expensive. John, what is that? Which is what I was trying to ask you a couple of seconds ago. That's a huge mound of salted butter. Part of the mentality of this zinc counter philosophy is that there are certain things that are free, so you have amazing bread baked in the kitchen here, butter, and very sharp tangy gherkins, because they're bound to bring some charcuterie or some pate along. I don't care about the question or the answer any more! I have no idea what this is.
You taste it first, I tell you afterwards. What is that? You've just eaten a piece of pig's ear. L'oreille du cochon - the ear of the pig.
Which is one of the most down-to-earth dishes that you can get. Sliced up. Yeah. And then fried in two minutes, and served like this.
Oh, dear. Those pigs' ears are lying pretty heavy on my stomach. And I don't even have time to digest them... Next stop, Germany. ..because I'm off again. Coming up, I press on into Germany for a beer... Salud, cheers! I put German engineering to the test on the road... Whoa! ..and I find out what's under the bonnet. My eyes keep wanting to flick down and look at your willy.
It's day two and I'm hurtling through Europe. I've left the French capital and rejoined the rails for the next leg of my journey, on a quick train to Stuttgart. I'm loving this high-speed, hi-tech intercity express. Although it's so slick it's making me drowsy.
I've been asleep for the last two hours. It's such a comfy train you'd never think it's going round about 170mph. These impressive trains were created for the German railway network in the 1990s, and they were so successful they're now used on routes across Europe. It's a brilliant German transport creation. But it's not the only one. I've arrived at the place where Karl Benz invented the automobile.
I'm just getting off here for a few hours, because apparently there's a really good Mercedes centre in Stuttgart, and I've always been nuts about Mercedes. When things started going well for me my very first car was a Merc, and it was like I never thought I would, ever, have my own Mercedes-Benz. So today, if the crew can keep up, I'm on a personal mission - to drive the flashiest Merc I can get my hands on. MUSIC: Flower Duet from Lakme by Leo Delibes This is the GTR, which they use as the pace car for Formula 1 races. Are you a good driver? Fantastic.
Before you go fast, I just have to tell you, I have a wife and a little son at home. Do you want to give them a call? I've paired up with motoring expert Holger Karkheck - presumably so I don't crash the car, or nick it. What is this thing about Germans and cars? 10% say that the car is more important for them than their own partner, so that might give you an idea of what cars are for us. Why do you think the Germans are so good at engineering? We like details. We are good at planning things.
We like to be precise. That isn't just a cliche. No. Germans really are precise people? No. We are, we are.
Precise, and brutally honest. If I asked you about Britain and cars, what would you say? That's a good question. Actually, no, it's a German car industry because we bought all your companies.
So, erm... So there is no British industry. There is no British industry. Look at Rolls-Royce. I mean, Rolls-Royce is BMW, and they're more successful than ever. Even Bentley is owned by the Germans.
Oh, is it? Yeah. Are people in Germany aware of how successful their industry is? Oh, yes, we are. When you ask Germans, "What is German for you?", the number one topic is cars. Mercedes, with Mr Benz, built the first car, and so it was our idea. Cars are our idea.
Safe and sound, just as I predicted, we're back at the museum. And what an extraordinary piece of architecture it is. Look at that. Money, power, design. This is the world's first-ever motor car. It's got its own chassis, it's got petrol, it's got the clutch down there.
Exquisite, isn't it? And wouldn't it be wonderful just to climb on it, start it, ride off this dais, through the door out into the car park and down the road? God, I'd love to do that! CLANKING I've nicked it! I've nicked it. It's very fast. Not quite as comfy as my very first Mercedes C-Class. But it is such a lot of fun. Whoa... I've got to slow it down now! Well, that was a quick stop, but it was fun.
I fancy a beer now. Munich, onwards! From here it's about three hours onto Munich, which is in Bavaria, a region of Germany that likes to celebrate its differences. I think the Bavarians like to think of themselves as rather different from other Germans, a bit like the Scots and English. The Bavarians are, you know, a bit more laid back. We'll see.
The other thing that springs to mind about Germany, of course, is beer. Munich is home to Oktoberfest, the world's biggest beer festival, where, at the end of September every year, 6 million thirsty visitors quadruple the size of the city. I'm going to immerse myself in the local traditions with breakfast, Bavarian-style. Oh, it's a white sausage. A bit like I'm waiting for an early morning flight to Benidorm.
Yeah! It's typical from Bavaria. Thank you very much. You're welcome. Mmm. It's quite nice, actually. There's something that's very off-putting about a white sausage, isn't there? Looks a bit like a drowned finger in a lake. But, with this very sweet Bavarian mustard, it's rather good.
Especially... ..with a zonking great glass of breakfast beer! To get to the bottom of Bavarian beer, I'm heading off to the state-owned brewery. I think I've come to the right place.
Yes, you heard me - a state-owned brewery. Finally, politics I can agree with! The Hofbrauhaus brewery knocks out over 33 million litres a year. Like tiny ballet dancers! The more that's drunk, the richer the state gets on taxes. It smells very hoppy in here. We have only four ingredients.
We have the water, the malt, we have the hops, and of course you need the yeast for fermenting. And that's all there is, in all of this beer? All of the beers produced in Bavaria. I've managed to snag the CEO here, Michael Moller.
That must limit the kinds of beer? Oh, no. In Germany we have roughly 5,000 different types of beers. What's the difference between them, then? There are so many different malts available, so many different hops, and even with the yeast there are many, many varieties.
So you can really significantly change the taste of the beer. Why is beer such an obsession for Bavaria generally? In Bavaria, beer is part of our life. So I set off to sample this Bavarian life for myself, at the Hofbrauhaus - Munich's most famous pub.
And I promised myself I'd experience everything on this trip. Don't say anything. This place has been here since 1589. It's incredibly famous.
Everyone's drunk here. Hitler, Lenin... ..American presidents, astronauts, musicians like Mozart... ..Meatloaf. And look at all these people here - look. Look, look, look.
The bar serves up to 5,000 people a day. And I'm going to lend a hand. It's all going a bit crazy at the moment.
I was worried about skidding, but there's no chance. It's so sticky my feet are practically glued to the floor. There you are, sir. Thank you very much.
It's effortless! So, middle... Yeah. The other one here. Oh, I see. And the other one here, and then you can... Then it's all in one hand.
Yes. Just like this. Perfect. Hello! Here's your beer. Oh...
Nice to meet you. I would never have known that you were Bavarian, never! Oh! For a while I thought this Bavarian easy-going thing was because people were tanked up on beer. But there's something else about this place. I wandered over to the English Garden, their equivalent of London's Hyde Park. It's laid-back here too - and not a beer in sight. It's like a giant, unofficial water park.
Even though signs say it's not allowed. A concrete block dumped in the river here has given surfers a permanent wave to ride. You've got all those surfers breaking every health and safety regulation you can possibly imagine. You've got people swimming in the river, even though it quite clearly says everywhere, "Don't swim in the river." Just so free and easy! In fact, it's incredibly free and easy.
See what I mean? It seems anything goes here. And I mean anything. Excuse me, I can't help noticing that there are thousands of people here either with very few clothes on or no clothes at all, including yourself. What's your name? Alexander. Alexander, are you allowed to do this? Are the coppers going to come and wrap a towel around you? No, basically you're allowed to, or let me say it this way - it's not forbidden.
There are places where it's specifically allowed, like you can see at this place here. So this is a designated place where you can take your kit off? It's a designated area. It's only if people start complaining about you, then the police come and tell you, "Please, dress yourself."
So, theoretically, you could wander through the centre of the city without any clothes on? It's only if somebody complained that there might be a problem? Yes. I find it quite difficult to talk to you in the nude. My eyes keep wanting to flick down and look at your willy, because I know I'm not really supposed to - or that's how it feels. Do you think nudists tend to have a sense of vulnerability about them? Nudism is not about sexuality or something like that. Of course the media sexualise it very strongly, but there's really no problem when you look at me. I mean, I'm just a man, I'm here in the nude, I feel comfortable...
If you don't mind I can just kind of check you out. Yeah. And you're not going to worry about it. It's lovely, you know? Even while we've been talking there have been people wandering by. Some of them have got clothes on, some of them haven't.
But they just... They don't really seem to take much notice. I think that it's a very relaxed mood here in Munich, and obviously even if just the minority of people are doing the nudism thing... I wish I had the bottle to have interviewed you in the nude. I haven't, but I wish I had. I'd... Perhaps you still can! Yeah, maybe one day! Thanks, Alex. OK, good. See you.
Still to come, in Hungary, I roll into their Communist past... Aargh! I get an unexpected surprise on the sleeper train to Bucharest... Oh, blimey, it's not water! And in Istanbul I discover exquisite artefacts... I think we should get that one as well, don't you? It really is the tackiest thing I've ever seen in my life. Thank you. I've left Bavaria behind, and hit the rails again to reach my next destination.
With half of Europe already behind me, I'm heading east another 400 miles, through Austria and into Hungary. A seven-hour train journey has delivered me and my mountain of TV kit right into the middle of Budapest. Isn't this gorgeous? So light and bright, and clear and airy. It hardly feels as though we're in the heart of the city at all, does it? Well, that is because until the middle of the 19th century we wouldn't have been. There were two cities. There was Buda over there,
Pest over there, with the mighty River Danube in between. But then, in 1873, the two cities united, and thus Budapest was born. As I'm only here for the day, to see the city quickly I'm swapping the train for the tram. Budapest is a vibrant, modern city.
It's absolutely gorgeous. It was recently voted one of the nicest to live in in Europe. This is where everyone comes to get their archetypal view of Budapest. You can't blame them, can you? It is pretty wonderful.
It might be hard to imagine now, but less than 30 years ago Budapest felt very different. It was under strict Communist rule. Step into the back streets, look past the designer shop fronts and busy restaurants, and this city reveals its past. All over Budapest, there are pockmarks on the walls. Look right up there.
What they are are bullet holes from the short-lived, but very bloody, revolution against the Communists in 1956. The students started demonstrating all over the country, the people attempted to take back control - which they very nearly did, until the Russians called time and brought in the tanks. If there's one thing that epitomises the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, it's a T-55 tank.
And if anything's going to stop it, it'll be this. To find out how a bunch of cheap frying pans managed to halt an army, I've hijacked a local historian, Gyula Hegedus. Look, it worked. I was told, in 1956, during the uprising, frying pans actually did stop tanks. Did they really do it back then? It was very simple, actually. Young kids stole frying pans from their mothers' kitchens... Yeah.
..they broke off the handle and put it in the middle of a small side street. Yeah. And as the tanks were coming, all the driver could see was something that looked exactly like a mine. So if the street was narrow enough, a whole line of tanks could be stopped that way. The Hungarian Revolution lasted just 17 days before being brutally quashed by the Soviets and their tanks. The country remained Communist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Today, tanks like these in Budapest give tourists a more entertaining Soviet experience. She's very, very difficult to drive! Tonight I'm moving on. I'm on the 7.10 train to Bucharest, Romania... I've no idea what platform we're going from.
..if we can find it. Six! It's that one there. Come on. It's a sleeper train - frustratingly, our slowest so far. It'll be our home for the next 16 hours. The train runs from Budapest into Romania, travelling 500 miles to reach the capital, Bucharest, which I'm not even going to have time to see. It's similar to the original route taken by the Orient Express.
I wonder if I'm going to get that level of luxury. Well, there's a top bunk. I'm not quite sure how you get up there. A little washbasin. Ah! A lot of cupboard. Ta-da! So this is the washbasin, so that, presumably, is just somewhere to store stuff.
Oh, it's a palace! We didn't have time to buy sandwiches or anything before we boarded, and two hours into the journey I'm starving. Excuse me, is the buffet down that way? What? The buffet? Buffet? No buffet, no buffet. No buffet? No.
OK. Vali car? Yeah... Oh, thank you very much! No... Hot, hot, hot, hot! Eros - it's strong. Oh, blimey, it's not water! It's strong. Strong.
OK? Well, this is all right, isn't it? Sam, come and say hello to these people. Say hello. Hello! Hello. This is good. I want to sit here. Home-made cheese puffs and Hungarian moonshine - what's not to love? No buffet, but I've got a bit hammered. Not bad, is it?
I've slept off the Hungarian hospitality and woken up in Romania. I want to get to Turkey, but there aren't any direct trains. So it's yet another quick stop.
I managed to get about five hours' sleep, which wasn't too bad. Now I'm in Bucharest, Romania, which I want to explore and tell you all about it, but I can't because there's another train now going all the way down to Istanbul. And once I'm there I'll be out of Europe, into Asia Minor.
We're heading south across Bulgaria into Turkey, and eventually Istanbul. My 2,000-mile rail journey across Europe has finally reached the end of the line. I've always wanted to come here to Istanbul, and I'll tell you why. Look. That's the Orient Express Restaurant. This is where the original Orient Express ended.
But the thing about Istanbul is this. It's where Europe and Asia collide - the two halves of the city divided by a dramatic stretch of water called the Bosphorus. It's a colossal port, and over thousands of years it became the most famous trading city in the world, and that meant lots of cultures, lots of religions, and lots of exotic goods from all over the globe. Oh, they're cute! It smells amazing. Donkey milk soap. Never seen that before. I'm shopping with local historian Pelin Batu.
It's the best place to buy Turkish delight. They have a zillion different types. Can we just go round the other way, just so that I can show everyone this incredible ceiling? This is a combination of really brassy modernity and really old-fashioned, rather exotic-looking shops, isn't it? Yeah, yeah. It is kind of schizophrenic. Yeah.
I always thought Istanbul was a very feminine city, in that, like, it's histrionic. It changes its moods and its appearances. So it is like a very overly melodramatic women, in a way. I'm glad I wasn't the one who said that a female characteristic was being melodramatic and histrionic. Turkey's renowned for its coffee. And this is one of the most famous coffee shops in the city. You find this queue every day and every hour.
People come here to buy coffee and they've been doing so for almost 100 years now. This smell is incredible, isn't it? So are we going to get some ourselves? Yes, we should. It's all backing up behind now. We've completely destroyed this production line! This is the Iznik design. Nicaea. It's like, you know, what you usually find in these coffee shops around.
Two of these. I think we should get that one as well, don't you? It really is the tackiest thing I've ever seen in my life. Thank you. Even looking around now, it does seem quite a heady mixture of East and West, modern and old. The Golden Horn was one of the most famous ports of ancient history, and it had people from all over the world.
Is it very different from the other cities in Turkey? It's a country, an empire, of its own. You can actually see and feel the cosmopolitan nature of the city everywhere you go. And after the Syrian war, we have lots of Arabs right now. So, like, every five, ten years, it changes its costume and garb, and even the dominant language changes. What you're saying is that throughout the centuries there have been these waves of people coming here with their different cuisines, their different attitudes and their different languages. It's extraordinary how this place has constantly evolved, from the Romans who first established it as a trading point, through the Byzantine Empire, to the Ottomans who transformed it into a symbol of Islamic culture.
And it's all on display to be admired here at the Galata Bridge. It's a good spot for fishing, too. I suppose you could just walk across this bridge thinking about what you might like to have for tea, but... Oh, look at all those fish there! Aren't they great? But if you did that, you'd be missing the most extraordinary panorama that there is here of Istanbul's history. Over there is the Topkapi Palace. When the Ottomans first arrived here in the 15th century that's where all the sultans lived.
Beyond it, there, you've got the Hagia Sophia, which was once the most massive Christian church, which was eventually turned into a mosque. Crikey, he's caught some more! Hiya. What bait do you use? HE SPEAKS TURKISH Your hands smell of fish! HE SPEAKS TURKISH Yeah? I can't hear what you're... Fish, fish, fish, fish! Oh!
Fish. Well, I've got a...fish, fish! HE SPEAKS TURKISH That way? Lots of - lots of! Oh, OK! Have I got one? Yes! Oh, yes! Oh! Ah. Skill, concentration. OK. Yeah.
Oh! Can I put him back now? No problem. OK. Thank you very much. Thank you. The champion! It was that size! I'm here on the Asian side of the city at Istanbul's Haydarpasa railway station. This grand terminus was the starting point for routes to the Middle East and beyond for well over 100 years. But sadly, the tracks alongside its platforms have been pulled up for renovations. The good news, though, is that, when they started digging, they came across some extraordinary finds so that now this railway line is probably the world's longest, thinnest archaeological trench.
From the air, you can see just how impressive this site is. The station's been closed for five years now, and no-one's quite sure when it will reopen. And that's because they just keep finding so much good stuff.
This find's just sticking out here. Have you seen this one? It's an amphora from the 6th century After Christ from the Byzantine era. So this is just the neck here, isn't it? Yes. You've got the mouth bit here, so it would have gone...
All the way over there, yeah. They must have carried liquid, looking at the mouth here, which is narrow. So you can bung it up easily? Yeah, so it would either be olive oil or wine.
This really is an extraordinary big site, isn't it? I mean, how far in that direction do you think it's going to go? It's another 2km. And how big is the excavation so far? It's 300,000 square metres. It's ridiculous! And it's all essentially one trench? Yes. You must have to make an awful lot of cups of tea at 11am! This huge dig has uncovered evidence of a whole ancient town on the banks of the Bosphorus. The really old stuff is twofold.
There's this lovely road here - that's about 4th century AD. But about 800 years earlier than that is down here. You've got a load of flagstones which are tied together with sort of metal ties. Now, it was the Romans who invented the technology of cement and concrete, so this has got to be pre-Roman - 400 years Before Christ, all buried underneath one railway line. Coming up, I'm starting my journey in Delhi, where I take part in a spiritual ritual...
It's just like I'm in bird madness! ..I travel on the most astonishing train... The train is actually going down the middle of the street. I love it! ..and I take to the skies to explore one of the world's most extraordinary ancient kingdoms. It's just bloody lovely. I'm travelling through a couple of the world's most exciting countries - India and Burma.
I'm covering a vast distance from Delhi to Darjeeling, then I'll hurtle across the border to Burma, and take a sharp turn down to the ancient city of Bagan. But there's only one place to start. I'm in Delhi - the mind-boggling mega capital of India which is bursting at the seams. There's currently 22 million people living here. By the end of the next decade, they reckon that will have doubled to 44 million.
This is one of the busiest cities in the world with millions of people commuting in and out every day. I'm on board what's locally known as the EMU train, racing to get to the heart of Delhi. They've built an extra 230 km of Metro to help deal with all the movement, but still, right now the beating heart of the city's transport is suburban trains like this one. I've got very little time here, and there's a lot I want to fit in.
I don't think I've ever been in a town where there's so much unnecessary beeping. HORN BEEPS There he goes. Meep! Delhi's one of India's most historic cities.
Today, it's both a modern capital and a city with a rich past that dates back hundreds of years. The extraordinary thing about this city is that it's in constant movement. Everywhere you look, there are people doing things. It's a chorus of endeavour. For me, this is a city full of contradictions.
On one hand, it's a leading tech hub but, on the other, you can still see poverty all around. Yet everywhere, you get a sense of this can-do entrepreneurial spirit. The next morning, I'm up early. I'm here to see a side of Delhi that couldn't be more different to the chaos I've encountered so far. I've come to the Yamuna - one of India's seven holy rivers. Good morning. Good morning. Thank you very much.
It's 6am, and boatman Ravinder is taking me to a special ritual. Oh! Oh! You're calling for the birds? I can hear them now. Oh! Oh! This area's famous for the birds that come here just as the sun begins to rise.
I think you can see some of them just starting to mass. For most locals, these waters hold a spiritual significance and, apparently, feeding seagulls here brings good karma. Not many have come here yet. Let's throw a bit of this stuff - see if it'll make the difference. Go on, my darlings! Oh! Every year, these gulls migrate over 2,500 miles, escaping Siberia's winter. This is something that rich businessmen do - they get the boatman to take them out so they can lob all this stuff up into the air for the birds.
Oh! Oh! Oh! This ritual's performed on the Yamuna every day. People hope that feeding the birds will bring prosperity and good health. I can't hear anything else around me now for the sound of birds. It's just like I'm in bird madness! I suppose you feel an enormous sense of power, being able to draw all these birds to you. I don't know if that's luck, but it's a strong feeling to start the day.
Incorporating wildlife into rituals like this seems to be at the heart of Indian life. Back in Britain, the only time most of us notice seagulls is when they're trying to nick your chips. It's time for me to leave Delhi. This is New Delhi station, and it's my gateway to one of the largest railway systems in the world. Blimey, it's crowded! That's the sleeper. This one's absolutely rammed.
The train network covers almost all of India, and it carries an astonishing 23 million passengers on 12,000 trains every day. This is one of the longest trains I've been on. I'm practically at the Himalayas! Indian Railways is also the country's biggest employer with nearly 1.5 million workers keeping this massive operation running 24/7. Right, I think it's this way. I think it's number 11. Hello. 9, 10. Oh, 11 here. Thanks. Thank you. Are you selling pens? Two? Only two? It's been fascinating to see how Delhi mixes ancient traditions with a frenzied pace of life, but I do feel a bit overwhelmed.
To be honest, I'm really rather glad to leave Delhi. It's just so nonstop mad. I've been getting hardly any sleep because, somewhere close by, there's been a large party going on every night to about 2.30am.
It's a wonderful place to be in that it's so awesome, but it's not really my lifestyle. TRAIN WHISTLES India is the world's seventh largest country and home to some of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. This train is travelling almost 1,000 miles across northern India to the foothills of the Himalayas. The town of Darjeeling used to be a summer resort for the British Empire's elite, and I've come here to see some of its colonial past.
I'm thousands of feet above sea level, I'm surrounded on all sides by huge mountains and winding valleys, and yet, just there, over the road, are half a dozen magnificent, ancient British-built steam engines because this is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. And if you care anything at all about trains, then this is your Xanadu. TRAIN WHISTLES Like most of India's railways, this was built by the British. They have to keep the fires in the boilers going 24 hours a day. They'd never be able to get them started in time otherwise! Nicknamed the toy train, these are some of India's smallest engines, but they pack a punch.
Even by today's standards, they're an engineering miracle. The tracks are narrow and the engines robust, enabling them to gain serious altitude in just 50 miles. It's mad, isn't it? The train is actually going down the middle of the street. When the cars go by, I can wave at the little kids and they wave back at me.
Hello. Hello. Sometimes, the track actually crosses the street and the train gets stuck in traffic jams. It just has to stay there until the jam clears. I love it! It's so daft! You've got the perfect example of a bit of a traffic jam. He can't go anywhere! He's trying to get past in the jam! TRAIN WHISTLES I continue my journey 25 miles towards India's border with Nepal. At this point, I've had to abandon the train tracks because I'm trying to get somewhere very remote - to a community I've always wanted to meet.
I'm west of Darjeeling now in the town of Mane Bhanjang, which is a border town between Nepal and India. This is very childish and I don't even know if I'm supposed to do it, but here you go. One foot in Nepal, one foot in India. Anyway, I'm looking for a lift.
Home to the world's third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, this region is India's least populated, so getting around can be a challenge. Flippin' heck! Look at this! A swarm of Land Rovers! Wow! Aren't they beautiful? I need to get to Pedong. Yeah. Is there any chance that one of you would be able to drive me there? I'll do that. You'd do that? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which one's yours? This vehicle. Oh, that's gorgeous, isn't it, that one? That's lovely. There are about 40 vehicles here. They're so rare that you'd get about 30 grand for one of these back home.
Have you ever driven on these types of roads? No, some of the London roads, people are complaining about, but they're dead easy compared with this. There's the monastery. So all the people are lined up to welcome you. That's fantastic! I've come here to meet a remote mountain tribe called the Lepchas.
THEY CHEER Hello! Hello! Thank you. THEY SING This is my best greeting ever! THEY SING Hello, little one! THEY CHEER I have never been welcomed so happily, so profoundly, so beautifully in the whole of my life. Thank you so much. THEY CHEER The village is called Kalimpong, and my host here is Jangu Lepcha. Why were they so excited? They don't get to see the foreigners, so they've been waiting since morning and so excited.
They've been waiting since the morning? Yes! It's 4pm, man! As night falls, Jangu shows me where I'll be sleeping. So this is the way down to the main house. Right. I can hardly see anything. Oh, this is like the witch's cottage in Hansel And Gretel! Goodnight, guys. Goodnight. This is absolutely lovely! This is not what I expected at all. All right, so maybe I didn't expect an oven and witch, but I did think that it would be pretty rudimentary.
Look at this! Cute little window! HE GASPS A heater! Hang on, what's this? Is it what I hope and dream it is? Oh, it's a toilet! It's a toilet! Result! I tell you, after you've been in India for a little while, you do start looking nervously around. Oh, this is perfect. Everything a man could want. Oh! The next morning, I wake up to fresh mountain air and a glorious view. You'd think in a place like this I'd feel healthier than ever. HE SNIFFS I've got the sniffles, so now we're looking for the Himalayan version of a pharmacy.
GUIDE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE Be careful. Mm-hm. He has to look for the medicine for the running nose. They're the masters in medicine. Yeah. You know, they know which one is poisonous, which one is medicine.
HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE THEY REPEAT You have to sniff. Yeah. Mm-hm. HE INHALES Yeah. Next, next, next, next. Oh. How are you feeling? It's burning? It's good. That's good, yeah.
It's like a combination of clover and Vicks Inhaler. It definitely is clearing my nose. Mm-hm. Yeah. Yeah. It's good. For sure. Sanjay knows every plant and animal in this forest, but he hopes that the next generation will have different opportunities. What do you want your sons to do? HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE He wants his children to study, because he has done so much of hardship in his life. He is not educated,
so he wants his son to be educated. But if they're educated, maybe they'll go away from the village. There's a chance but he'll try his best, sons to understand the value of our community and the value of the medicine and the value of what he's doing right now.
In a globalised world, this place typifies the untouched. If locals leave to study and backpackers arrive instead, I can see how the authenticity of this place could easily disappear. It makes me feel all the more privileged to have come here today. India is, of course, amazing.
I'd expected the kind of wild, anarchistic chaos that you get in Delhi and I wasn't remotely disappointed, but up here, this is where I lost my heart. I absolutely love it here. But now, reluctantly, I've got to leave. I'm going over the Bay of Bengal to Myanmar, in that direction, about which I know absolutely nothing, apart from the stuff I've seen in the newspaper. It's all a big question mark to me.
A question mark which hopefully will be some extent dispelled in the next few days. TRAIN HONKS Coming up - I take a train to go shopping the Burmese way. This is brilliant. There's a market and it's on the railway lines. I bring out my best moves in a local spirit ceremony. And stumble across a celebration that's unlike anything I've ever seen.
It's fantastic. The whole town has been mobilised. From India, I need to cross the border to Mandalay in Burma, or Myanmar as it's also known. First introduced by the British in 1877, Burma's rail network now covers nearly 3,800 miles.
But although connecting Indian and Burmese railways has been talked about, it's not yet possible to travel between these two countries by train. So, my next train will be taken from the iconic city of Mandalay. Built in the mid 19th century, it was the last capital of the old kingdom. This palace here was the last seat of the Burmese Royal family. I say the last seat because in 1885, the Brits marched in and took over the entire country.
You can see why the Brits might have wanted it, because you've got China there, you've got India there, you've got what was Siam, now Thailand down there, and bosh, right in the middle you've got Mandalay. Burma was ruled by the Brits for 50 years. It gained independence in 1948 and, today, Mandalay is the second largest city here and the heart of regional transport.
I'm taking a local train north just outside the city centre. When I was really young, I wasn't sure that Mandalay actually existed. It was one of those towns that you hear in poems and in songs. Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and went there. Where I'm heading today is a bazaar.
And I don't think I'll have any trouble finding it. This is brilliant. Just here, there's a market and it's on the railway lines and they just step back when the train comes through and then move back in again afterwards.
Such a brilliant use of space. Hi. HE CHUCKLES A whole strip right through a town that back home we'd ignore, but here it's central to the people's trade and commerce. It's ridiculous.
I see a market and it's a lot of people squatting on a railway track and I immediately think poverty, but that's nonsense. Look at the quality of all this veg and there's so much of it, such a big market. This is a thriving, rural economy. Oh, my God. These are... so cute, aren't they?
All destined for the pot. But they are very cute. Mandalay local Zarni is showing me around the market. We have to buy whole chicken... Yeah. ..tea leaves... Yeah. ..fish... Yeah. ..and two sets of banana and popped rice. Oh, look, that lady there, she's got this fantastic stuff... Yes. ..on her face.
Why... What's that? Sun cream. Sun cream! Sun cream. I thought this was some mysterious ritual. It's suncream. Yeah. Come on, let's get on with the shopping then.
TRAIN HONKS We're not just buying dinner. We're getting offerings for a uniquely Burmese spirit ceremony that's taking place up the road. MUSIC PLAYS I just hope we've brought enough bananas.
In local folklore, there are 37 spirits called Nats. These Nats are said to have the power to assist or devastate lives. He say, "I'm your mother." Thank you, Mum. Thank you, Mum.
Hoy! These dancers are mediums who connect with the ancient spirits while worshippers ask them for favours and today, I seem to have a role in the ceremony. This is so exciting, it's real ancient storytelling. It's about two twin brothers who fail to fulfil their religious obligations, so they're executed, but they can't die and so they turn into Nats and the one in the middle, that's their mum, and everybody's cheering in this old story.
It's lovely. In this country, Nats have been worshipped alongside Buddhism for centuries, but I still think I can show them some moves. I head backstage to meet the star of the show. Can I come in? That was fantastic. Thank you so much. Thank you. When did you start to do this? 18 years ago.
And how old were you when that happened? Because you had a dream, you knew what you wanted. Dreams do come true. Yeah. I've seen so much theatre and dance which is masked and people with make-up and people doing all that sort of stuff, but this was the exact opposite of that sort of demure type of show. This was really in your face. It was people saying, "Look at me, aren't I talented?" And I really enjoyed that. Many of the spirit mediums don't conform to traditional gender roles.
Some have faced discrimination in life, but it seems that in the world of spirits, the rules of Burmese society are suspended. The next day, it's time for me to leave Mandalay. It's early in the morning and all this is really quite fun. You've got this huge, battered railway station built by the British over 100 years ago. Lots of little railway lines and very small, slow trains and a cacophony of sound coming from all these shops where people are having their breakfast.
But for me, I'm getting rather excited... COCKEREL CROWS Quiet, please. ..about the next part of my journey. I'm going to one of the most important historical, spiritual, archaeological sites in the whole of the world. It's up there with Angkor Wat and the pyramids.
It's a town called Bagan. The journey from Mandalay to Bagan is just over 100 miles south-west. The route follows the Ayeyarwady River that flows all the way through Burma.
You look out of the window at all the little villages and the fields, and it looks as though Burma hasn't changed for a thousand years, but that's a completely false impression. It's constantly been changing. None more so than in the last century. When the Brits left in 1948, pretty soon afterwards, a military junta was established. Burma was closed off from the outside world for 50 years. Then Aung San Suu Kyi gained power and the world wished for a new era of democracy.
It was a pivotal day for the country. One that was full of hope, although as you seen from the television footage from the last year, this fledgling democracy is still suffering from a lot of agony and violence. In the West, Aung San Suu Kyi has been widely criticised as the violence continues. But none of this is new. Because of its strategic location, Burma has a long history of facing turmoil and it looks like peace isn't coming any time soon.
The next morning, I wake up in Bagan. This is Burma's old religious capital. And even today, people's devotion is clear to see. This morning, our fixers told us that there was going to be a little march through the town today to celebrate the fact that a lot of the young boys were about to be initiated as novice Buddhist monks. But we had no idea it would be as fantastic as this.
It's enormous. It's like the whole town has been mobilised. As you can see, it isn't just the boys, it's the young women, too. They're all beautifully dressed up and the irony for me is that these kids are about to go and enter a life of chastity and poverty, but they're all dressed up like kings or gods out of some ancient manuscript! I find a local man called Zayar who helps me understand what's going on.
Does every boy become a novice monk? You've been a novice, haven't you? Yes, I have. I've been there. What do you do as a novice? Can you still stay at home? So it's like a big sleepover? Exactly! Many of the boys will stay in the monastery for only a few weeks, but some will ordain for life. I can't help feeling a bit uneasy about the use of the elephant, but you've got to admit it does look grand and the little kid right on top of it. It's actually a little boy, it's the son of the main donor, who's got lippy on. It's a great honour to be up there like that.
For poorer families, sending their sons into monasteries means guaranteeing a free education. I've just seen people that are holding up money to the elephant and it lets its trunk down like that and it takes the dosh and it passes the money up to the guy who's riding it. People here believe that donating money during the parades will give them good prospects for their next life. This one of the world's greatest archaeological sites and come on, there's only one way to see it properly. The guy in the basket is called Nobby, he's our pilot and he's a Bristol City supporter. I thought you'd like to know that. CHEERING We're off. So gentle. It's not cold.
Just bloody lovely. We are almost kissing the top of the trees with the basket and already the pagodas are beginning to appear. This is the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, home to around 2,500 Buddhist monuments. It's quite toasty on the head. Particularly for those of us who haven't got much hair.
Look at my director. He actually had long hair at the start of this flight. Are we starting to climb? We are starting to climb a little bit. We're just on the eastern edge of the monument zone here.
The air is very clear. We can see about 50 to 60 miles this morning. Many of these structures have been here for 1,000 years and they look absolutely incredible. The villages that make up Bagan were scattered around here. You can see areas on the ground, imprints, where the villages were made of wood, so they are all gone and the temples have all been left. That's interesting because it looks like it's a temple landscape but it wasn't then, was it? It was just a big city that happened have a lot of temples in it.
This place is where the Burmese nation got its beginnings. Today it's a complex country full of division and violence. But what has struck me about being here is that amidst all the political confusion, the incredible spirit of the Burmese people shines through. Hello. I hope everything works out for the Burmese.
They really deserve it. Still to come... I'll be continuing my epic railway adventure in Thailand. I take a tuk-tuk to the taste of tomorrow. Silk worm? Very good.
Tastes a little bit like fertiliser. I live out my Thai island dreams. And try to get high in Malaysia.
Is there any other way? THEY LAUGH All aboard! Thailand means "Land of the Free" and is the only country in Southeast Asia never to be colonised by the Europeans. In fact, in the 19th century, when Thailand's first railway line began construction, the British offered to help build it. But the Thai King refused because he was suspicious it was a ruse to take the country by force. Why would he have thought that?! I'm in Chiang Mai Province in the north of the country, it's the land of temples, hill tribes and elephants. And I really do want to see those elephants. I've stumbled across one of its 40,000 temples.
This is the gateway to Doi Saket. And I seem to have arrived just at the right time. All these people here, they're waiting for the monks to come down from there to give them food. I've just been and bought some drinks for them, too. And can you see the army starting to stack up? I think I'd better get up there quick. For the last three months, the local monks have remained at the temple for a kind of Lent, but that ends today and they are about return to the community in this special ceremony.
You really get this feeling of ancient ritual being reinvented for the 21st century. I'm continuing my train journey through Thailand and Malaysia, and I've made it through the night on the train to Bangkok. Well, I reckon I had about four hours' sleep, which I suppose, isn't that bad. We're now approaching what I always thought was called Bangkok, but it is in fact called Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop... Can you just hold it a bit straighter? Ta. ..Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
Which in English means, "The city of the angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, "the impregnable city of the God Indra, the great capital of "the world endowed with nine precious gems." This is Hua Lampong Station, which serves around 60,000 passengers each day, but sadly, I'll be amongst the last of them because it closes this year to become a museum. I've only got a few hours in Bangkok before another train south. But before I do anything, I need coffee! NATIONAL ANTHEM PLAYS That was the national anthem. Lots of places around the country blast it out every day on the dot of 8am. Hello, tuk-tuk. Where are you going? What've you got?
One of those little things? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Tuk-tuk. OK. Tuk-tuk driver. What's your name? My name is King Kong. King Kong! Look at this guy. This is King Kong. Welcome to Thailand.
Thank you. Off we go. Bangkok is home to over eight million people, with about 20 million visitors each year. What's that building there? The Second Palace. Second Palace, yeah. You take a photo? Based on average annual temperatures, Bangkok is the world's hottest city, but I'm glad to see Mr Kong's keeping his shirt on cos driving a motorised vehicle bare-chested is against the law. So is leaving the house without wearing underwear, but how can anyone can tell? I drive for ten years. Yeah, you've been a driver for ten years?
Yeah. Does it go very fast? No. Safety first, slowly, slowly. How old, are you? Me? Yeah? You think? 24? Up, up. 28. Yes. You? 72. Oh, no. Yeah.
60. Thank you. Handsome. Compliments! I like this bloke, but did I mention I'm hungry? Recently, Bangkok's mouth-watering culinary scene has developed a taste for fine dining, with 17 new Michelin-starred restaurants, but it's most famous for its street food. OK? You eat, starter. A starter? Yes, yes.
OK. Silk worms. A silk worm? I got to eat this? Yes. Very good. That's OK, isn't it? Yeah.
I wouldn't work my way through the whole bag of them, but... I mean, in 20 years' time, when we can't afford to produce beef and lamb, everybody's going to be having silkworms for their tea. Yes. I, fortunately, will be dead by then, but... That's all right. A little bit like fertiliser, but it's fine.
I'll give you the rest, but... OK. Thank you very much. That was a bit too challenging and not filling enough.
You like pad Thai? Oh, I love pad Thai. Wow. With prawns. Yes. And lots of peanuts. What's your favourite food? Papaya salad. Papaya? Yes. HE LAUGHS So where are we going now? Go to the floating market.
The boats. The boats? Yes. Ah! Wow, look at all this stuff. Yeah. Bangkok was once criss-crossed by dozens of canals or "khlongs", with the buildings on stilts, earning it the nickname of "the Venice of the east". Although most of the canals have been filled in and replaced by roads, the city still treasures its floating markets. A great place for a real Thai feast. Hello. Somboon.
Hi, Somboon. Diners usually eat on shore, served by kitchens on the boats, but Mr Kong knows people, and we're doing the floating market tasting menu. Papaya salad. Very good. Papaya salad. Yes. Oh, that's papaya? Yes. What are these? Little dried prawns, beans and tomatoes? Smash it all up.
Thank you. Thank you. Cheers. Cheers. Mm, very sweet. Very spicy. Like that. Really good.
It is really good. OK, King Kong has pronounced, this is really good. What's that called? Creepy noodles. Creep, creepy noodles? It's creepy noodles.
Really good. We say crispy noodles. Crispy noodles. Yeah, that's right, yeah. Kong, could we have a look at this lady at the end here? Ohh! There's big fish splashing.
What's this? Hipon. Hyde Park? Yeah. Hyde Park? Hipon. Hy... Hipon. Hyde Park. Oh, you've got mussels in it. Seafood. Yeah, it's a seafood omelette, isn't it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Seafood omelette. Thank you. I like the batter, very much and it does feel so fresh. It's very nice. Thank you very much. We like this.
You like the sticky noodle? Yes. Which one's best? I like papaya salad. Paya...papaya salad. I knew you'd say that. Yeah. I think I like this best, this omelette. Local food. Very, very good.
Well. No. Even though she can't stand it. Don't worry. I'll get you a nice big English breakfast. A little bit English. Yeah. The 6.30 overnight train from Bangkok takes 16 hours to travel the 500-odd miles down to Trang on the south-west coast.
Welcome to Trang. Thank you. Having done the hustle and bustle of the big city, I'm keen to experience the slower pace and beauty of Thailand's famous islands. Trang is the gateway to some of the more remote ones. I've hitched a ride on a long-tailed boat with Sang, a friendly fisherman from Koh Muk, which means "Pearl Island". Where's your village? The other side.
How many people? About 400 families. But before we head on to Sang's fishing village, he offers to take me to one of the island's best treasures - the Emerald Cave. Let's do this! Which way are we going? Over there, Tony. You know, I've been boomed in many different ways during 50 years in television, but look over there. That is totally ridiculous. THEY LAUGH Oh, it's very beautiful.
Yes. I love this. Does it fill it up at high tide? Yeah, I say today, the afternoon is full. So we've got to get back before then? Yes. You can't see the sides. You don't know what's below you.
And you've never done it before. It seems a little bit lonely. Wow, I can see the light ahead.
This is what being born must have been like. I'm coming out! Welcome to the world. You stand up now. Whoa! Brilliant! Oh, wow, no wonder you've brought me here.
I can see now why you had to come through the cave because there's no exit on the other side. It's just God's own courtyard. Ah, ha, ha. A little circle with the undergrowth going right up into the sky and we are totally isolated.
Apart from the other tourists who were queueing behind us. This is modern-day tourist isolation. Coming up... When you say, "We're going to climb it," you mean...? You and I. ..I try to get high in Malaysia. Is there any other way? THEY LAUGH I started in the north, finished in the south.
Now it's goodbye, Thailand, hello, Malaysia! But to get there by rail, you have to change trains and get your passport checked at Padang Besar. Now I'm on my way in a whole new country. We're over the border now, it all seems much tidier, lots of different faces, lots more headscarves. When I was a little boy, I had a stamp album and it had stamps of Malaya.
There was King George looking very austere and then a load of local people doing something with rubber or tea and I did know that we had fought the Japanese here in the Second World War and it had been very bloody. And I knew we had fought local insurgents here in the 1950s and that had been bloody, too. And then in the 1960s, Malaya got its freedom, joined with some other countries to become Malaysia and quite frankly, I think the British kind of forgot about it after that.
I certainly did. There's the perfect example here of the echoes of British rule in Malaysia. The stations have all got really exotic names like Subang Jaya and Batu Tiga, but the terminus is called Butterworth. Who was Butterworth? Well, he was a colonial administrator here in the middle of the 19th century, and he was really unpopular cos he was so stiff and pompous. You can imagine him striding around here, can't you? Butterworth.
The station is a stroll from the ferry I need to cross the Straits of Malacca to Penang Island. This area has always been strategically important for trade. And among others, the Romans, the Portuguese, the Dutch and Chinese were all here. In 1786, the British East India Company got hold of it, and 80 years later, it became a British Crown colony, with its main town now the second-biggest city in the whole of Malaysia, known as George Town after King George III. This part of town is a World Heritage Site. It's fantastically multicultural.
Over there, you've got a Buddhist Temple. Which is right opposite a Hindu Temple. And just down the road is St George's Church. And here's a rather nice mosque. All in the same street.
Not surprising locals call it the "Street of Harmony", is it? Rather lovely. I think it's time to make like a colonial Brit and head for the cooling breezes up on Penang Hill. This is a very special kind of train - a funicular. Funicular from the Latin "Funis", meaning "rope", because they used to use two ropes to heave them up and down the hill. It really is muggy and hot in here, which is why I bought this, which is a bit stupid I know but... ..it is very effective. This funicular railway was built in 1923 by the British.
Which is probably entirely the wrong sentence, isn't it? It was built in 1923 FOR the British, so they could stay in their lovely cool mansions. Now, this is the steepest railway tunnel in the whole world. Not long, but steep. And stepping off the funicular, you enter another world. Malaysia's rain forests are almost twice as old as the Amazon, and this part of it, known as "The Habitat", welcomes 80,000 visitors a year and is managed by Allen Tan.
This bridge is fairly impressive. We're right in the middle of the forest reserve. Boom! Right in the rainforest. Yes, we are. 80% of our park, in a pristine rainforest, is wheelchair and pram accessible.
150 years ago, this place wouldn't have been all about accessibility. No. I would have been allowed here. You would have been down the bottom of the hill. Yes, yes.
So you had to be of European descent to even spend a night up here. It was a retreat for the officers of the British settlement to begin with and then later, British-owned companies. And now I have to go through the toll booth and you're the boss. THEY LAUGH Times have changed. Changed definitely. Hopefully for the better.
Ah. Is that something? Yeah, they're our resident dusky leaf monkeys. We call them spectacle monkeys. We have slow lorises, we have flying lizards, flying frogs, flying snakes. Ah, great...! Actually, more than half of the biodiversity in the rainforest is, in fact, in the tree tops.
What is that? You're in for a treat. This is actually, easily, the biggest tree that we have here and we're going to climb it, to experience the rainforest. When you say, "We're going to climb it," you mean...? You and I. We? Yes, not to worry. It's really easy. I'm in Malaysia on a world tour by train, but right now, I'm on Penang Island in a 130-million-year-old rainforest, and have been pressured int