India gives Prince a beautiful welcome

XX The Telegraph

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Garlands and beauty queens greeted the Prince of Wales yesterday as he began his fifth official visit to India, his first for 11 years.

The garlands were provided by young children in an impoverished part of New Delhi being educated by the Delhi Brotherhood, an order of British priests.

And the beauty queens, Miss India International and Miss Tibet, were introduced to him at a show staged by Tibetan refugees living in the city.

Both women seemed impressed. "Very charming," pronounced Shonali Nagrani, 22, a television journalist and winner of Miss India International 2003.

"I wish I was a little older and he was a little younger. I wish he had brought his sons, too. I look at Prince William and I get goosebumps," she confessed.

Miss Tibet, Tsering Kyi, 19, only the second Miss Tibet ever and the sole contestant for this year's title, was more reserved. "He looked like a very calm person, very down to earth and very responsible," she said.

The theme of yesterday's events was "youth". Thus, the Prince found himself touring the St John's Vocational Training centre, set up by the Delhi Brotherhood, where youngsters marginalised by society are taught skills ranging from mechanical engineering and electrical work to sewing, cooking and make-up.

"This is what I find so fascinating," he said as he squatted down to watch young Indian women painting intricate henna patterns on their hands. He was also very taken too with the elaborate red bridal sari worn by Manouruma Singh, 19, to help students learn to apply the traditional bridal trappings.

He was impressed with the new Delhi metro system, strap-hanging on a new train that had been cleared of commuters for security reasons. "It works," he exclaimed as he placed his token in the automatic barrier.

Was it his first time on the underground, inquired one middle-aged photographer. "Oh no. I went on the Tube long before you were born," quipped the Prince.

Delhi's Metro network will not be complete until 2021 - but it should reduce the city's 900 annual pedestrian fatalities and relieve the serious road congestion.

The Prince also enjoyed a private meeting with APJ Abdul Kalam, India's president, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace. It was at this magnificent Lutyens building that his beloved "Uncle Dickie" - India's last viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten - had watched the lowering of the Union Flag and the raising of the Indian tricolour as the former colony gained independence in 1947.

"India has deep roots in our past," the Prince told a meeting of the Association of British Scholars, prominent Indians educated in Britain who have returned to their native country to share their skills.

"It is part of our collective memory. It will also be a long-term partner in our future security and prosperity."

The Prince will visit the desert state of Rajastan before going to Mumbai on this tour, which will be followed by a four-day official visit to Oman.

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