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Bharat Joshi

British Deputy High Commissioner, Chennai

Part of UK in India

15th November 2013 Chennai, India

Royal Visit: Wheels-Up

That’s it. It’s all over. Just under an hour ago, their Royal Highnesses flight took off for the short hop to Colombo and what could be a more difficult Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting than is usual.

The day dawned beautifully for the Prince of Wales’ 65th birthday – divine intervention in God’s own country? TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall

Another day that will be remembered by the people of Cochin, my team and – I’m pretty sure – the Prince and the Duchess for many years to come. In the morning, the hotel presented a birthday cake with a beautiful iced picture of the couple. After a shortcake-cutting ceremony, and agreement that most of the cake should be shared with a nearby orphanage, the Chief Minister and his wife called upon the Prince of Wales.

They had an excellent discussion about Kerala, both its successes and challenges, and agreed that our two governments should continue to work together on sustainable urbanisation projects like that in Aluva. The Chief Minister and his wife had also brought gifts for their Royal Highnesses – an elephant for the birthday royal, and a beautiful traditional Keralan saree for the Duchess.

A one and a quarter-hour drive took us into the historic centre of old Cochin (we’d timed it at an hour, but once again the Royal Couple took the time to wave to the people lining the streets.

A quick tour of the Matancherry (aka Dutch Palace) to see the beautiful 17th Century Ramayana murals and the legacy of the Cochin royal family, including a sword handed to Maharaja Rama Varma, who was made the ‘Knight Commander of the most Exalted Order of the Star of India’ by the then Prince of Wales Albert Edward in 1876, Prince Charles’ Great Great Grandfather and later to become Edward VII.

It was a short walk from there to the beautiful and historic Synagogue, the last of what were 8 synagogues in Cochin serving a large and prosperous Jewish Community which had thrived in what was then Cranganore since at least 70 BC (some believe that there were Jewish sailors from King Solomon’s time more than 600 years earlier).

Their Royal Highnesses were received by Queenie Hallegua, herself a fourth-generation Jew who, with her late husband, had received Her Majesty the Queen during her visit in 1997.  There are now only 7 Jews still living in Cochin (including the oldest, the sari-clad Jane Cohen) – most have left for Israel or the US – and holding services is increasingly difficult.

But this – the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth – remains a peaceful and powerful symbol of Kerala’s religious tolerance dating back to 379 CE, when the King of Travancore gave the Cochin Jews copper plates recognising their rights to raise tax, own property and to practice their religion freely, including by building synagogues, for “as long as the world and moon exist”. A magical and touching visit.

The final stretch was a walk along the very atmospheric – and crowd-lined – Jew Street, with random renditions of happy birthday – of varying quality – ringing out. Their Royal Highnesses saw traditional – and sadly near-extinct – lace-making skills by the wives of local fishermen. They also visited some antique stores to view Kerala traditions, and a ladies collective which trades in spices, tea and handmade cosmetics, and local clothing. 10921145036_dfe30d4199_b

I won’t give away any secrets, but it’s probably fair to say that there will be some happy family members when they return to the UK.

A quick hop to the airport for a final farewell line-up by the State Government, and a thank you from their Royal Highnesses to the Chennai Team saw the Royal Couple board the Royal Flight. Once the flight took off, there was a strange moment when the team looked a little confused as to what was to happen next.

A very unsettling sense of anticlimax after realising that, after being a part of something so large, special and all-consuming, life was very quickly going to go back to normal.

Photos available on British High Commission’s Flickr channel.

19 comments on “Royal Visit: Wheels-Up

  1. Bharat honestly I have no clue how I ended up in so many pics, its all Mahadev’s grace but I have thank you and Vidya for putting the faith in me.. But It was in the end just like a game of Football u need to shooters along with the great pass makers along with the defenders to score a perfect goal…

  2. Yes, it’s all over with lots of good memories that would be recounted over and over again. I agree with Vidya, I still get dreams of the visit even though we are trying to relax after the historic visit. What an experience!!! Thanks Bharat and thanks Vidya for the confidence and support!!…

    1. It’s not over, it just feels like it. We have all learnt things that will change us. Our horizons have broadened. And we have new confidence about what we can achieve together.

  3. Memories Never fade they just grow into a tale as one grows old with ..
    The visit of TRH Prince of Wales & Duchess of Cornwall to Kochi will be a Tale that we all will be telling for a long long time!!

    1. Thanks Sriram. I agree. I still can’t understand why the best photos are all with you. You should share the secret.

      And brilliant work on your first outing with BDHC.

  4. A beautiful experience in God’s own country, excellently blogged by Bharat Joshi. Kerala will never forget the graceful Royal couple, and they in turn will never forget the hospitality and charm that makes Kerala a world-famous destination. Proud to be Indian.

  5. Hi…awesome pics….and you bring the whole scene alive by your beautiful writing…am already your fan..

  6. When I woke up today morning I realised that the past One week was a living dream. From Meeting with the HRH Prince of Wales at the dinner reception to gifting the Elephant along with CM of Kerala. I am still on Cloud 9. No words and the smile can’t hide….

    1. It was pretty special. I’d welcome a guest blog from you on your experiences as a new team member.

  7. That’s all — it is over …….. still seems unbeleivable. I am still getting dreams. Now all we are left with is talking about interesting episodes, behind the scenes actions and yore …..

    The pace At which we were operating was amazing, the Royals are not Royals without a reason.

    Well as I said – bring em on , we are ready to roll

  8. History was in the making. The walk down memory lane included lamps being lit along with the PRINCE. Thankfully the charming fire warden got an opportunity to push His Royal Highness around; TWICE!!! And also had a a Royal Protection Officer at her feet. What an idea Sirji! Great job Chennai Stars? We rock DHC too.

    1. Like you, I thought the lamps were beautiful. And the picture with you is one of the best of them all.

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About Bharat Joshi

Bharat was brought up in Kent. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1995 from the hotel industry and has had diplomatic postings to the Gambia, Dhaka and…

Bharat was brought up in Kent. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1995 from the hotel industry and has
had diplomatic postings to the Gambia, Dhaka and Qatar. He was most
recently British High Commissioner to Cameroon, and non-Resident Ambassador to Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic.
Before that he worked as a Private Secretary to two British Ministers, as well as in various Departments of the FCO including the European Union Department and Press Office.
Bharat has experience of crisis management and has been deployed to the scenes of major incidents involving British nationals, including after the tragic bombing of the British Consulate-General in Istanbul in 2003.
Bharat’s varied career has been spent dealing with a full range of
HMG objectives, including promoting political and economic reform and
improved human rights; improved UK prosperity through trade; climate
change and UN policy issues. A major part of his portfolio in Chennai is supporting mutual prosperity between the UK and India, transforming lives through jobs, entrepreneurship and skills partnerships.
Bharat has been very happily married (at least forhim) to Bhakti for 18 years and they have two
wonderful daughters. His interests are cricket, badminton, history, reading and travelling.
Bharat speaks English, French, Gujarati and Hindi and Spanish, and is desperate to learn Tamil.