The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Taj Mahal on Saturday in a tour marked by symbolism and nostalgia, sitting on a marble bench where Prince William’s mother Diana had posed alone for a memorable photograph 22 years ago.
“Stunning,” was how Prince William described the 17th century monument of love as he accompanied his wife Kate Middleton around the white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his wife Mumtaj Mahal.
The Duke and Duchess were rounding off a tour in which they met another glamorous young royal couple, the king and queen of Bhutan, and saw rhinos and elephants in Assam.
The final stop at the Taj Mahal was an emotional one for William, who was 15 when Diana died in a car crash in 1997. He has often spoken of how much he misses his mother, and that he thinks of her every day.
Ahead of the British royals’ visit, about a dozen armed policemen entered the complex and the left section was cordoned off. Other tourists were allowed to enter the building from the right. The royal couple caused a great deal of excitement, with dozens of people taking pictures on their cellphones.
William and Kate’s visit was filled with symbolism.
Comparisons were made to Diana and the lonely figure she cut in 1992 when newspaper headlines had suggested that Diana was delivering a hidden message about the end of her marriage to Prince Charles. Four years later, the two announced their divorce.
Ahead of their visit, William and Kate’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, told reporters in London that William “feels incredibly lucky to visit a place where his mother’s memory is kept alive by so many who travel there.”
Despite the scorching April temperatures -- it was well over 40 degrees Celsius -- the royal couple smiled happily for photographs.
Much has been made of Kate’s wardrobe choices during her visit to India, and on Saturday she wore a summery white and blue dress by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan. Prince William braved the intense afternoon heat in a blazer and open-necked shirt.
The royal couple’s guide Mohd Rizwan later said they showed keen interest in the art, architecture and history of Taj Mahal.
“The royal couple inquired about the creation of Taj Mahal and story behind it, as they were amazed by the intensity of love that an emperor had for his beloved wife, which resulted in the creation of this wonder,” Ahmed told HT.
The royal couple also inquired about the scaffoldings on three of the monument’s minarets, put up by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) for the “mudpack therapy” given to the monument to maintain its whiteness.
“The couple was impressed by the maintenance of the monument. They were also amazed by the 400-year-old technique through which fountains at Taj Mahal still function,” he added.
A team from the British High Commission had reportedly requested to have the scaffoldings removed during royal couple’s visit but the ASI turned it down because of months of labour and investment made in laying them.
It was raining earlier in the day when the couple flew out of Bhutan’s only international airport, a day after they trekked to a Buddhist monastery 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) up a mountain.
William and Kate arrived in Mumbai on April 10 and laid a wreath at the Taj Palace hotel, which was targeted in the 2008 terrorist attacks that killed 166 people in the city.
They played cricket with local children and met Bollywood stars and business leaders at a charity ball before flying to New Delhi, where their schedule included lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a birthday party to honour Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 90 next week.
The couple, travelling without their two young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, then flew to Assam state to visit Kaziranga National Park, which has two-thirds of the world’s population of Indian one-horned rhinos.
With inputs from agencies