Echoes of Diana: Charles and Camilla pose in front of Indian landmark (after he receives a birthday cake from schoolchildren during visit to New Delhi slum)
- Charles was presented with the chocolate cake by pupils at the Katha school
- The school is a beacon of hope in the Govindpuri slum in the south of Delhi
- Later the couple visited the magnificent Akshardham Hindu temple complex
In a scene reminiscent of the iconic Princess Diana Taj Mahal photo, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were pictured on day three of their India tour in front of a magnificent Hindu Temple complex.
And earlier in the day the couple became Slumdog royalty, where Charles was given an early birthday surprise.
The gesture came courtesy of pupils at a school in the Govindpuri slum in the south of the city, a labyrinth of filthy two and three-storey shacks with precious little water or sanitation.
Camilla and Charles outside the Akshardham Temple during day three of their official visit to India
One of the largest ‘jugghis’ in India, with more than 200,000 inhabitants, families with six or seven children cram into a single room.
Water-borne disease is rife and rabid mongrels defecate in the streets as children play.
In amongst the squalor, however, is the Katha school, a whitewashed beacon of hope for the slum’s thousands of children, many of whom would be forced into child labour without its help.
Of its 1,350 pupils aged three to 17, 98 per cent pass their state exams while 56 per cent go on to university.
Indeed, pictures of the non-profit school’s success stories are pinned to the walls – along with how much they are now earning.
One, a young woman called Gayatri, has just taken her civil service exams and now works in the Indian government’s customs office earning 50,000 rupees a month – around £500.
Until last month she lived in the slum with her deliveryman father (who would earn around 3,000 rupees per month or £30), but has now moved into an apartment in a more salubrious area of the city.
Parvinder Kaur, assistant executive director of the school, which has so far helped more than 162,000 children, said: ‘Around 80 per cent of the inhabitants live here permanently while the other 20 per cent are migrant workers from rural India, labourers, carpenters, plumbers and the like.
Gesture: Prince Charles is presented with a cake from pupils at the Katha school as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, looks on
‘There are around 2 lakh (hundred thousand) people here living in houses with no real sanitation.
‘Success stories are looking down at you from these walls.’
The head teacher, Geeta Dharmarajan, began her project in 1990 by offering vocational training to the slum’s downtrodden women so they could earn more money and over-rule their husbands’ refusal to send their children to school.
‘When Geeta started, families were not willing to send their children to school. Their mothers weren’t in control. The fathers wanted the children to become servants. She focused on the mothers to give them income so they could fend off the alcoholic fathers,’ explained Arun Seth, a board member, whose former employer BT funded the growth of the school.
Since then it has become one of highest achieving schools for the poor. If it was a government school, it would be ranked in India’s top ten per cent.
Former Labour Health Sectretary Patricia Hewitt had played a key role in BT funding the charity which runs the school.
The couple arrived almost half an hour late – caught up in the city’s notorious traffic – but there were hundreds of locals waiting for a glimpse of the VIP visitors.
Charles beamed and politely put his hands together for what is known as a ‘namaste’ greeting, which was returned by many of the barefoot slum residents.
He and his wife quickly went inside for a tour of the impressively clean facilities, chatting with some of the adorably excited nursery age children.
The Prince told teacher Sudhir Jha he was ‘very impressed’ with the school’s bilingual approach and its focus on lifting people out of poverty.
Among the students they met was Kumar, 32, who was living in the slum with seven other people in one room when he joined a bakery course at the school.
Now he is working in a restaurant earning 35,000 rupees a month and has moved out of the slum into a house of his own.
‘If it wasn’t for the school I don’t know what I would have done with myself,’ he said. ‘Thanks to them I am doing so well.’
He is still single, but has no plans to marry yet. ‘I want to get into a chain of hotels and become a big shot chef,’ he said. ‘Then I will think about settling down.’
During another part of the visit, the Katha schoolchildren kicked off Charles’ 65th birthday celebrations early when they presented him with a home-made Black Forest gateau.
Pupils gave him the cake with ’65’ in chocolate on top a week ahead of his pensionable birthday next week. The prince will celebrate his birthday on the last day of his nine-day tour to India before flying to Sri Lanka to represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The cake was made by catering students at the 1,300 pupil school under the tutelage of local Master chef Ram Kumar. One of the trainee bakers said they had out five eggs in the mix for a high cholesterol treat.
The couple eventually went their separate ways with Camilla visiting workshops for young women training to be seamstresses and designers, while Charles viewed children learning computer skills.
The Duchess asked the women to show them their skills and even tried her hand at some silk printing.
The couple left after around 20 minutes, their convoy speeding through the dusty streets.
While Charles went for a private lunch with the Vice President of India, Shri M Hamid Ansari, his wife went to the home of the British High Commissioner where she met with women from the Self-Employed Women’s (SEWA).
The Duchess was greeted with a welcome symbol painted out in red and white powder on the ground called a Rangoli.
The SEWA organisation helps Muslim women break out from poverty by working for themselves and Camilla watched astounded as a group of ladies in brilliant jewel coloured saris span silk from cocoons using their feet.
‘I have never seen anything like that in my life. It is remarkable,’ she said.
The cocoons are especially cultivated and then boiled for the women to spin from. They can earn up to 800 rupees (£8) for a piece of cloth through SEWA, double what they would normally earn.
Camilla then teamed up with her husband to visit one of the world’s largest temples, Akshardham, opened in 2005.
As they arrived they were given garlands of fragrant frangipani, while Charles was anointed with a red dot on his forehead known as a chandlos by a Swami (or priest) and given a friendship bracelet.
The couple posed outside the Hindu temple’s colossal main area, which measures 141 foot high and 316 foot wide.
It was built from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble and is covered from top to bottom with elaborately carved details of flora, fauna, dancers, musicians and deities.
It also consists of 234 ornate pillars, nine domes and 20,000 religious figures.
The main monument is ‘supported’ by 148 elephants, which have huge importance in Hindu culture.
Photographs of the couple posing outside the temple echoed a legendary picture of Charles’s late first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, who memorably sat alone for photographers in front of the Taj Mahal in India in 1992.
The poignant shot was widely interpreted to be a sign of the state of the couple’s marriage.
Afterwards Charles and Camilla couple flew on to Mumbai by private jet where they will attend a lavish Bollywood dinner thrown by India’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani.
With a personal fortune of $22 billion, he is also the second wealthiest man in Asia and is ranked 37 in the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People.
On Thursday Charles visited the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun which was established in 1906 and is the largest centre of its kind in South Asia, recognised for its wealth of knowledge on forestry.
It trains most of India’s forest officers and offers masters degrees in courses such as environment management, wood science and technology.