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Queen to visit hotspots on tour of subcontinent

The Queen and Prince Philip today begin their tour of India and Pakistan, the first since 1983. It will be a mixture of run-of-the-mill state banquets, investitures and gestures of royal politesse with a few livelier and more unlikely items.

Next Thursday, for example, the Queen will drop in on a film set in Madras (now known as Chennai) and spend half an hour watching a Tamil language film being made.

This imaginative fixture was the idea of the film's director, Kamal Hasan, southern India's biggest film star, with 170 films to his credit. He thought the Queen might be interested in his ambitious new film, Marudanaayagam, because it concerns the adventures of an 18th century Indian rebel who fought against Robert Clive and the British, gained an understanding of their perfidious ways, dreamed of a free, united India, and perished at theend of a rope. Astonishingly, she was.

Or perhaps it is not so astonishing: there is a politically correct slant to a number of the stops on the tour, and honour will be paid to Mohamed Ali Jinnah (in Pakistan) and to Gandhi (inIndia, twice), both deep-dyed enemies of the Empire.

In India, all the interest in the royal visit has focused on the Queen's solo trip to Amritsar next Tuesday. Hers will be the first visit by a modern-day head of state to the Golden Temple, Sikhism's sanctum sanctorum, which may be the reason that she will be permitted to keep her stockings on.

The Golden Temple was the site of a bloody siege in 1984, the consequences of which included the murder of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards and the massacre of innocent Sikhs in Delhi. The temple and what happened there arestill hot issues in India, and in August the present Indian prime minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, advised the Queen to skip the place. However, the visit isgoing ahead.

While in Amritsar she will also visit JallianwallahBagh, the park where troops under British command massacred some 400demonstrators in 1919. Here, too, she will present a wreath, but is not expected to utter an apology, despite the many raucous demands that she doso.

Nor is she expected to bring the Ko-i-noor diamond in her handbag andgive it back. Not only is it firmly ensconced in the British crown jewels,but Mr Gujral, in another helpful intervention, intimated that India did notneed it.