Thiruvananthapuram, November 14: Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, celebrated his 65th birthday in Kerala on Thursday with the God’s Own Country’s idyllic backwaters and rich tapestry of cultures and customs setting an ideal stage for the royal event.
The celebrations began in the backdrop of the majestic Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom, where the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, were joined by Kerala Chief Minister Shri Oommen Chandy and his family to cut the birthday cake.
Later, the British royal couple, who arrived in Kerala three days ago, paid a visit to the 16th century Jewish synagogue, the oldest in the whole of Commonwealth countries, located in the heritage town of Mattancherry near Fort Kochi. They also strolled through the narrow lanes of the old Jewish town lined with warehouses built for a flourishing spice trade centuries ago, visibly savouring every moment of the experience at the breathtaking waterfront of Fort Kochi.
Prince Charles and Camilla also took a tour of the Mattancherry Palace Museum, an imposing building blending traditional oriental and European architecture built by the Portuguese in the same 16th century as the synagogue, as a gift for the then king of Kochi and home to some of the best known works of Hindu temple art in the country today.
Prince Charles, who gave himself the rare birthday gift of Kerala’s old world charm and natural beauty, was on an official visit to Kerala at the last leg of a nine-day tour of India.
The decision of Prince Charles to choose Kerala for celebrating his birthday is significant as the state, a top tourist destination in the world, receives the biggest number of foreign arrivals from Britain.
“It is a matter of honour for Kerala that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall chose the state to celebrate his 65th birthday,” said Kerala Tourism Minister Shri A P Anilkumar.
“We are truly delighted that the royal couple enjoyed their stay in our state and experienced the many facets of the serene beauty and diverse cultural life of Kerala,” Shri Anilkumar added.
Prince Charles and Camilla, who arrived in Kerala on November 11, had a taste of the state’s abundant natural beauty and rich cultural heritage during their four-day stay. On their first day in Kerala, they sat through a Kathakali performance and witnessed a Kalaripayattu show in Kochi.
The Prince also went to the Vazhachal Forest near Chalakudy, about 70 km from Kochi the next day, to see the famous Athirapally Waterfalls, described as ‘India’s Niagra’. Walking in the rains sporting an umbrella, he met representatives of a tribal colony situated inside the Vazhachal forest and inquired from them about their customs and traditions.
“The fact that Prince Charles and his wife spent his birthday in Kerala is an endorsement of the international status of the state among the world’s top destinations for a unique holiday experience,” said Kerala Tourism Secretary Shri Suman Billa.
Prince Charles and Camilla had chosen New Zealand’s capital Wellington, another top tourist destination in the world, for celebrating his 64th birthday last year.
“The visit by the British royal couple will leave a lasting effect of the state’s ever growing international reputation among both domestic and international travellers,” said Kerala Tourism Director Shri S Harikishore.
Britain is Kerala’s biggest tourism market outside India, accounting for nearly 150,000 arrivals last year. British travellers also form a sizeable chunk of repeat visitors to the state.
At the just-concluded World Travel Market in London, the world’s leading tourism trade fair, the Lonely Planet international travel magazine named Kerala fourth among the 10 best global destinations to go with the family for a holiday in 2014.
During their first-ever visit to Kerala, Prince Charles and his wife carefully mixed their vacation, choosing the natural environs of the majestic backwaters and rain forests along with the state’s cultural symbols of Kathakali and Kalaripayattu.
One of the highlights of the visit was the royal couple watching a brief performance of Kathakali at the Cochin Cultural Centre.Impressed by the expressive portrayal of ‘Narakasura Vadham’ or ‘Slaying of Narakasura’, the demon king, considered one of the most dramatic performances in Kathakali, Prince Charles stayed on to talk to the artistes.
According to the Kathakali artistes, the Prince was so intrigued by the size and scale of their costumes that at one point during the conversation he asked how anyone could wear such a large headgear. He also told them that he wanted to return to witness a longer Kathakali performance.
Prince Charles also visited the Cochin Shipyard and received Shri Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the present head of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, at the Taj Malabar hotel in Kochi.