It isn’t often that Queen Elizabeth invites foreign dignitaries to her residential palace, the imposing Windsor Castle. But she did it for President Pratibha Patil whose three-day state visit to the UK began on Tuesday with the boom of the 21-gun salute, the roll of drums and a spectacular display of pomp and pageantry that emphasised the growing importance Britain attaches to India.
It was a visual spread of sound and colour for 30 minutes at the Quadrangle of the Windsor Castle as the two women heads of state followed by their consorts, the Duke of Edinburgh and Devi Singh Shekhawat, and the royal couple in waiting and minister of state for HRD D Purendeshwari drove into the Quadrangle in horse-drawn carriages.
Patil, who presented the Queen with a Kashmiri shawl and a Kashmiri carpet, became the first Indian President to stay at Windsor Castle.
The day had begun gray and rainy. “Don’t worry. It’s said that the sun comes out whenever the Queen comes out,” said Claire Bruce, our escort, much to reporters’ amusement.
An hour later, the skies cleared and the sun struggled to come out as the Queen, in a blue outfit and the Duke in a dark suit, emerged from the castle.
They sat in their chocolate-coloured unnumbered Bentley and drove out from the gate marked the Sovereign Entrance to receive the President at Datchet Road.
At Datchet Road, the royal couple took over from Prince Charles and his wife who had escorted her from her hotel.
The procession was an exercise in precision. And when the six white horse-drawn gold crested carriage, carrying the Queen and Patil, entered the Quadrangle, the bands began playing the National Anthem.
After they alighted and the anthems played, Patil inspected a guard of honour as the Duke of Edinburgh escorting her and her husband and the Queen watched from under a white canopy. Once that was over, the Queen led the President into the Windsor Palace.
Later in the day, Patil and Shekhawat viewed Indian items from the Royal Collection and the President received prominent UK party leaders.