FOR WILLIAM & KATE THIS IS A HOMECOMING
The couple’s first visit to India will be interpreted by royal watchers as a nod to Prince William’s late mother Princess Diana as well as his stepmother Camilla
pilgrimage to the world’s most famous ode to imperial love, the Taj Mahal, and a most unusual cross-country hop to Assam to spend a couple of days at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kaziranga National Park.
These two engagements, of course, will be interspersed with solemn wreathlayings (at Mumbai’s Taj Hotel, and New Delhi’s Gandhi Smriti and India Gate) and earnest interactions with NGOs in both cities, not to mention a Bollywood gala and a party at the British high commissioner’s residence for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.
But their Taj Mahal pitstop will inevitably draw attention back to the famous 1992 photo of a downcast Princess Diana sitting at the same spot, even though the Cambridges’ stated intention is to “create new memories”. That photo call sounded the death knell for her marriage to Prince Charles, so images of the muchin-love junior Wales’ of today could be a welcome sequel. Thei r two- day trip to Kazi ra nga National Park will see them take part in Bihu celebrations and speak out on the endangered one-horned rhino, 68% of which live and thrive in Kaziranga. A morning safari around the park in jeeps is on the cards, though atop elephants may be more appropriate given their subsequent visit the Kaziranga Discovery Centre.
This event is what royal watchers should consider to be further evidence of their excellent relations with Camilla, whom Diana’s fans still love to hate. For the elephant clinic at the Kaziranga centre is named after Camilla’s late younger brother, Mark Shand, a fervent champion of the Indian elephant. Also, Camilla and Prince Charles are now the joint patrons of Elephant Family, Shand’s charity that is helping with the creation of more elephant corridors in the area. The publicity of this royal visit to Kaziranga — and the Cambridges’ “call for artists” for a fund-raising elephant parade later in the year — will certainly boost the Park’s hopes for international funds for the task.
As for the brief sojourn in Bhutan, the odds are on baby talk at King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk and Queen Jetsun Pema’s private dinner for the junior Wales —or are they the senior Cambridges… The other major item on the agenda — a six-hour steep hike to a monastery that Prince Charles also hoofed it to in his day — will definitely not have a paparazzi pack following.
A piquant aside: the royals will be staying in New Delhi at the residence of the British high commissioner, Sir Dominic Asquith, whose great-grandfather HH Asquith was the British prime minister when William’s great-great grandfather George V came for the 1911 Delhi Durbar. And the Cambridges will may be amused to note that Sir Dominic’s elder brother is the current Earl of Oxford…
(Left) Kate flaunts a sheer navy blue dress from India-born British designer Saloni Lodha and (right) Lady Diana on her India trip to Agra in 1992