Prince William and his wife Kate arrived at the Taj Mahal Saturday, wrapping up their week-long trip to India and Bhutan with a visit that carries poignant echoes for Britain’s royal family.
When the late Princess Diana was photographed sitting alone outside the tragic monument to love in 1992, it sparked much media speculation and later became a symbol of her failing marriage.
The Taj Mahal was cleared of tourists minutes before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived, after flying in earlier to Agra, its streets decked out in fairy lights and flowers to welcome the high-profile visitors.
As temperatures soared, workers sprinkled ice water on the famous “Diana bench” in front of the monument, before the pair posed for a photo, Kate wearing a white-and-blue dress and her husband in a matching blue blazer.
“It’s a beautiful place, stunning designs in there,” Prince William told reporters after the couple spent about half an hour inside the mausoleum, famous for its pure white marble.
The Duchess said it had been “incredible learning about the romance of the building and its really beautiful architecture”.
Their visit to India‘s most recognisable landmark follows a whirlwind week that saw the young royals feed baby rhinos in northeastern Assam and trek to a mountain monastery in Bhutan — retracing the footsteps of Prince Charles.
Also waiting for the royal couple in Agra was a 73-year-old fan whose family memories stretch back even further, to the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1961.
“I have been dreaming of meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ever since I got to know they would be coming to the Taj,” Surendra Sharma told AFP.
Sharma’s late uncle Kailash Nath Sharma, a keen photographer whose studio in the city is still thriving, took several black-and-white pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip.
In one, the Queen is shown dressed in an elegant overcoat and a knee-length dress, sitting next to her husband in an open-top car.
Sharma may have reason to hope he gets his wish — in Mumbai, the couple took time out from engagements to meet with a 93-year-old admirer, Boman Kohinoor.
The Britannia & Company restaurant owner became the star of a social media campaign that saw arrangements made for him to meet the royals at the last minute.
Security was beefed up around the monument, a UNESCO world heritage site, ahead of the Duke and Duchess’s arrival, with several paramilitary personnel standing guard with sniffer dogs.
The mausoleum is currently undergoing renovation work, with scaffolding covering three of the minarets — and a senior archaeological official told AFP it would not be dismantled for the visit.
It marks the final stop of a hectic itinerary for the royal couple, on their first official trip to the country that the British ruled for close to 200 years.
Their whistlestop tour has seen them hobnob with Bollywood stars in Mumbai and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi for lunch at a former palace in New Delhi.
They then spent two days in Bhutan, meeting the king and the queen of the remote Himalayan kingdom, trying their hand at the national sport of archery, and taking a mountain hike.
The couple are set to return to England on Sunday in time for the Queen’s 90th birthday on April 21.
Crafted in white marble and inlaid with precious stones, the Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 under Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
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