True to the British belief that “the sun comes out when the Queen comes out,” the sun broke through gathering rain clouds at the precise moment when the procession carrying Queen Elizabeth II and President Pratibha Patil entered Windsor Castle — the largest inhabited castle in the world, covering an area of 26 acres and encapsulating 900 years of British history.
Ms. Patil, who is on a three-day state visit to the United Kingdom at the invitation of the Queen, will be a guest at the castle till Thursday, when she leaves for Cyprus.
It was truly a spectacle fit for royalty, as the procession comprising five exquisitely crafted horse-driven carriages and hundreds of mounted horsemen ceremonially wound its way to the castle — starting from Datchet Road, where Ms. Patil and husband Devisingh Shekhawat were received by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh — passing by as many as 90 flagpoles bearing the Union and Indian flag colours, and finally coming to a stop at the sovereign entrance — reserved for the exclusive use of the Queen — at the far end of the 11th century castle’s grass and gravel quadrangle.
In the first of the carriages, drawn by six statuesquely built white horses, sat the Queen and the President. Mr. Shekhawat and the Duke of Edinbugh followed in the second, while the third bore Prince Charles and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Minister of State for Human Resource Development D. Purandareshwari. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, the President’s private secretary Christy Fernandes, and Indian High Commissioner Nalin Surie brought up the rear.
As the Queen and President Patil took their places on the dais, the guard of honour gave a royal salute, following which the band played the Indian and British national anthems. Thereafter, the Duke of Edinburgh conducted the President to the guard of honour. Prince Charles and Ms. Bowles stood on the ground to the Queen’s right.
The pageant was breathtaking, as was the march-past that came in its wake. Led by the Mounted Band of the Blues and Royals, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Sovereign’s Escort of the Household Cavalry filed past the quadrangle, serving up a rich confection of colour, majesty and music.
Once the ceremony was over, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh escorted Ms. Patil and Mr. Shekhawat to the White Drawing Room to view an exhibition of Indian items from the Royal Collection.
Those who called on the President at the castle included Leader of the Opposition David Cameron and Leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg. In the evening, the Queen hosted a banquet in Ms. Patil’s honour at the Grand reception Room.
Palace sources pointed out that not all state visits were hosted at the Windsor, which was placed a notch higher than the Buckingham Palace in terms of prestige and standing. The Queen’s only other guest this year, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, was put up at the Buckingham Palace.
Earlier, a 21-gun royal salute signalled the start of the procession. The salute was fired simultaneously from the Royal Dais and the Tower of London.
The only fly-in-the-ointment was the dissatisfactory arrangements at the castle to view the spectacle. Indeed, for the Indian media assembled at the castle quadrangle, it turned out literally to be a case of “standing on ceremony,” thanks to tight British security procedures prohibiting seating arrangements at the castle precincts.