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An evening with the stars, under the stars

Rashtrapati Bhavan can overwhelm virtually anyone.

The breathtaking view of the dome as one rides up Raisina Hill, a glimpse of the Jaipur column, then the building itself, a majestic monument in two shades of sandstone.

When he arrived at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday morning to be accorded the ceremonial welcome India grants visiting heads of State, George Bush was, we guess, unprepared for the pomp and the pageantry that awaited him.

Back in July when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington, DC, the Americans greeted him with an impressive ceremony rarely seen in the Bush White House, bagpipers and all.

The Indians more than matched that welcome on Thursday morning with a smart guard of honour presented by the special contingent drawn from the three wings of the defence services and genuine warmth on the Indian side (despite a tiring night of hardball negotiations over the nuclear issue for the prime minister and his leading aides).

What took Bush and his entourage's breath away, we have it from a source travelling with the Texan, were President Kalam's bodyguards, all over six feet tall, astride their awesome steeds.

"It was so very impressive," the source informed us at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday night, "the men and their horses must be so well trained."

The surprises continued for the American leader when he arrived at the Presidential Palace for the State Banquet on Thursday night.

Image: Rashtrapati Bhavan, all lit up for the occasion.

Text: Nikhil Lakshman. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Also See: A Red Carpet for Bush

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