British royal couple to be eagerly watched during India trip

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When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in India on what’s being called their most ambitious tour to date, they’ll encounter starry-eyed giddiness along with a hint of nostalgia harkening to a 1992 visit by Princess Diana.

Prince William’s mother created a firestorm of attention when she posed alone in front of the Taj Mahal, the marble mausoleum known as a monument to love because it was built by a Mughal emperor to entomb his beloved wife.

Newspaper headlines crowed suggestions that Diana was delivering a hidden message about the end of her marriage to Prince Charles. And the photo, as well as her close relationship with Mother Teresa, helped make Diana hugely popular in the country.

India, despite its fractious past in the British Empire, has always loved reading about the British royals, especially the duke and duchess. Their young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, will not join the trip, which begins Sunday in Mumbai.

Local media are speculating on what the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, will wear: the work of local designers, perhaps an Indian outfit to cope with the sizzling April heat?

“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,” media analyst and columnist Santosh Desai said.

“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.

But high-level visits create equally high expectations for economic ties and cultural exchanges. The two allies share their imperial history and India inherited the British judicial and parliamentary systems, along with a vast railway network. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has visited India twice.

“Royal visits improve atmospherics, leading to better political and economic ties,” said former Indian Ambassador to Germany and France, T.C.A. Rangachari. “Such visits also provide an opportunity to the royalty to familiarize themselves with a vast country like India.”

Celebrities including cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are attending a grand ball with the royal couple in Mumbai on Sunday night.

William and Kate are also expected to visit the Taj Palace hotel targeted in a 2008 attack on the city. In New Delhi, they have a scheduled lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a nod to William’s conservation efforts, the couple will visit Kaziranga National Park in Assam state that has two-thirds of the world’s population of Indian one-horned rhinos as well as endangered swamp deer.

They then will visit Bhutan at the invitation of the Himalayan kingdom’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.

They plan to wind up the South Asian tour with a closely watched visit of the Taj Mahal.

“He feels incredibly lucky to visit a place where his mother’s memory is kept alive by so many who travel there,” the Cambridges’ communications secretary Jason Knauf told reporters. It is unclear if they will pose for photos at the same bench where his mother was pictured smiling shyly for the camera.