Sunday 23 October 2016

Indians gearing up for eagerly awaited visit by British royal couple

Published 08/04/2016 | 11:41

India is taking a keen interest in the visit by the British royal couple
India is taking a keen interest in the visit by the British royal couple

Indian authorities and ordinary members of the public are preparing for an eagerly awaited visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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William and Kate are expected to encounter much of the starry-eyed giddiness they are used to along with a hint of nostalgia recalling a 1992 visit by the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

William's mother created a media frenzy when she posed alone for a photograph in front of the Taj Mahal, the ivory-white marble mausoleum known as a monument to love because it was built by a Mughal emperor to entomb his beloved wife.

The photo, as well as her close relationship with Mother Teresa, helped make Diana hugely popular in the country.

India, despite its fractious past as part of the British Empire, has always loved reading about the British royals, especially the Duke and Duchess and their young children, although Prince George and Princess Charlotte will not be on this trip.

Media analyst and columnist Santosh Desai said: "There will be a lot of interest and a lot of coverage, but it's mostly going to be about pretty people and pretty pictures. I'd be very surprised if there was anything more substantive or even interesting about this."

The visit begins on Sunday in Mumbai and includes stops in the capital of New Delhi, a wildlife reserve in the eastern state of Assam, the Taj Majal in Agra and the neighbouring country of Bhutan.

Already, local news reports are speculating about what Kate will wear during the visit. Will she patronise a local designer as she has on other foreign visits? Will she wear an Indian outfit to better cope with the sizzling April heat?

"Photos, photos and more photos. It'll be silly to think that there will be any deeper significance to the visit," said Shailaja Bajpai, media critic with the Indian Express newspaper.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood actors - modern India's version of royalty - including Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are among the VIPs invited to a grand ball with the royal couple in Mumbai on Sunday night.

The royal couple are also expected to visit Mumbai's seaside Taj Palace hotel, one of the targets of armed gunmen who killed 166 people in the city in 2008. They will lay a memorial wreath and meet staff who helped protect guests during the attack.

They are also scheduled to watch a cricket match in the city and meet children from a local slum and members of several children's charities.

In New Delhi, they are expected to pay their respects to freedom fighter Mohandas K Gandhi, who led a peaceful campaign for independence from Britain and was assassinated in 1948. They will also visit the India Gate war memorial in the heart of the crowded capital, and have lunch with prime minister Narendra Modi.

In a nod to William's conservation efforts, the couple will next travel to Kaziranga National Park in the eastern state of Assam. The park is home to two-thirds of the world's population of Indian one-horned rhinos as well as endangered swamp deer.

From Assam the royal couple will head to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan at the invitation of its own royal couple, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.

The Duke and Duchess, who routinely showcase their athletic skills, will also hike for several hours to visit a 1692 monastery called Paro Taktsang, or Tiger's Nest.

The couple plan to end the tour with a closely watched tour of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian city of Agra.

The Cambridges' communications secretary Jason Knauf told reporters ahead of the trip: "He feels incredibly lucky to visit a place where his mother's memory is kept alive by so many who travel there." It is unclear if the couple will pose for photos at the same bench in front of the medieval monument where his mother was photographed smiling for the camera.

Indian journalists are already preparing for the media frenzy. "What did Diana wear, what Kate wears, there'll be that sort of thing," Ms Bajpai said. "Unless they make a mistake of some sort, that's really all anyone will discuss."

Press Association

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