As workers eased the scorching marble bench on the central path leading to the Taj Mahal with cold water and wet towels, onlookers and hosts at the 16th century monument waited for a repeat of that moment. On February 11, 1992, Princess of Wales, Lady Diana, had posed on that bench, with the Taj as the backdrop, and the seat went on to be called the ‘Diana bench’ — a quintessential spot for couples to be photographed.
Twenty-four years later, her son, Britain’s Prince William, and his wife Kate Middleton were nudged on by their hosts to recreate the moment, and the British royal couple were happy to oblige.
During the hour-long guided tour, the couple asked questions on the historical background of the monument and its maker, while marveling at its intricate architecture. Like his mother, Prince William also did not write any comment on the visitor’s book, only signing it.
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“When the Duchess of Cambridge arrived at the central path, she was so overwhelmed that she just said ‘wow’ and looked on in amazement. Prince William, too, was taken aback,” said Mohammed Rizwan, a local tour guide picked for the job following weeks of personal interviews held by the British High Commission.
“When I first met them at their suite (in hotel Oberoi Amar Vilas, barely a kilometre from the monument), Prince William asked me what Indians thought of the Taj. He wondered whether it had a religious connotation. I told him it is a matter of pride for us to have this wonder in our country, and that there is nothing religious about it,” Rizwan said. “They were keen to learn more about the history of the monument and its maker, and also curious about the Mughals.”
There is a controversy over the scaffolding put up on three of the four minarets around the main mausoleum as part of ongoing conservation work, and Middleton also reportedly asked about it, Archaeological Survey of India officials maintained that it is not feasible to pull them down only for a VIP visit. “VIP visits to Taj are common and work has to go on. Despite the visit, this time we managed to keep the monument open for tourists and cordoned off only one side. Usually the monument is closed to general visitors on such days but this time the MEA sent a directive to keep it open and cordon off just one section,” an ASI official said.