As reported earlier, the King and Queen of the Belgians have started their State Visit to India. This year India and Belguim also celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations. Here’s a wrap-up of the first two days.
On Sunday evening, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde arrived in New Dehli for the first days of their State Visit. On Monday King Philippe and Queen Mathilde boarded the plane once again to fly to Agra. There the pair visited the famous Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The monument is seen as the epitome of love. The Royal couple and the Belgian Delegation, consisting of 172 people, received a guided tour around the site. For the occasion, the monument was closed for visitors. As many royals have done before them, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde sat on the bench in front of the Taj Mahal. The pair held hands and seem to be in high spirits. His Majesty took out his own camera and pictured the Queen as she sat on the bench. The image was shared on the Instagram account of the Royal family. For the occasion, Queen Mathilde recycled her coral coloured dress of her favourite brand Natan.
The King and Queen ended their visit with the signing of the Gold book and with a group picture with the entire delegation. Then the couple and their delegation boarded the plane once again and flew back to New Dehli. This also meant the end of day one.
Day two kicked off with the official welcoming ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, his wife and the Prime Minsiter of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi greeted Their Majesties upon arrival. Then the Indian and Belgian National Anthem were played followed by the inspection of the troops by King Philippe.
Also, several Belgian Ministers are travelling with the King and Queen on the State Visit. As part of the official welcome, they were presented to the Indian government. Their Majesties also took part in a traditional wreath-laying ceremony. Philippe and Mathilde paid their respects to the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi. They laid a white wreath with a black-yellow-red ribbon with the inscription: “The King and Queen of the Belgians”.
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde seemed remarkably relaxed during the meeting. It was as if they felt the Indian vibes. Maybe the Royal couple thought back about their honeymoon in India. And then something quite extraordinary happened as King Philippe unexpectedly decided to speak to the Indian press. Normally the Belgian King and Queen never speak directly to the press.
“First of all: thank you for all the arrangements and the warm welcome we received here. This is a country we love very much. We have been here often and we have many friends here. My wife and I have even been on honeymoon here, a long time ago. And this time we are here on a State Visit. We hope to improve existing contacts in various sectors. Because I think we can do a lot together in the globalized world.” Then the King continued to speak about his love for his own country: “We are extremely happy to be here, for which many thanks. And for all our Indian friends: come to Belgium and discover our well-kept secret.”
Then the ways of the King and Queen parted. The King had several meetings. His first meeting was with the Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and the Vice President of India. The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders, was part of the meeting. They had an “engaging conversation on expanding warm and friendly bilateral relations”. Then it was time for the King to head to Hyderabad House where he met with the Prime Minister. The two held a meeting and the King signed the guest book afterwards.
After his meetings, the King attended a ceremony in which the Indian soldiers who fought on the Belgian Front in WW1 were commemorated at the India Gate. The King laid a wreath and held a minute of silence. Two Belgian buglers, who play the Last Post every day at the Menin Gate, played the “Last Post” this time at the India Gate.
In the meantime, Queen Mathilde visited Fusion Microfinance, an organisation that helps to empower women through microfinance. The Queen visited the organisation as part of her role as Special Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. For the occasion, Queen Mathilde wore a dress by a local Indian designer. The Queen was also given a handmade football. She said: “Thank you so much, my children will be very happy.”
The Queen had lunch with the First Lady of India Savita Kovind. After lunch, they also held a meeting on bilateral relations.
Then Queen Mathilde visited Childline 1098. Childline is India’s first 24-hour, free, emergency phone service for children in need of aid and assistance. The Queen was shown around by the Indian Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi. Queen Mathilde herself is Honorary President of Child Focus Belgium, a Foundation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children. Childfocus is very similar to Childline. Queen Mathilde learned how the organisation operates and what kind of calls they receive each day.
In the evening it was time for the traditional State Banquet. Queen Mathilde wore a bright pink dress with embroidered diamonds. The event was black-tie as there were no tiara’s nor orders worn. King Philippe also addressed their hosts as he held a speech. He said: “With good people you should make friends and your friendship will last forever”. This was also the end of day two of the State Visit.
The King and Queen are still three more days in India on State Visit.