Albanese covered in petals as he seeks to strengthen trade deal with India

A cascade of flowers has welcomed Anthony Albanese to India during an exuberant Hindu festival that saw the prime minister covered in petals while surrounded by dancers and musicians.

The prime minister called his return to India, a country he first visited as a backpacker, one of the “honours of my life” while celebrating the Holi festival with political leaders in the northern city of Ahmedabad.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during a Holi celebration in Ahmedabad, India.

Alex Ellinghausen

Albanese began his official visit with a stop at the Sabarmati ashram where Mahatma Gandhi once lived, a place visited by thousands today.

With Australian exports to India worth more than $24 billion, according to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, this week’s visit is seen as a way to accelerate a larger trade agreement between the two countries.

The solemn start to the visit was followed by the colour and energy of the Holi celebrations, where Albanese was the guest of the Governor of Gujarat, Acharya Devvrat.

Albanese watched the events alongside the Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, while dancers and musicians performed songs from Gujarat and Rajathstan.

Like others at the Holi festival, which ends with people throwing coloured powder over each other, Albanese was daubed with red on his forehead and cheeks.

As the music reached a crescendo, some of the dancers threw golden marigold petals over Albanese and O’Farrell as well as the Indian political leaders.

With a plentiful supply of flowers at hand, Albanese cheerfully tossed marigolds over the people around him – including some of his staff – while being covered in petals himself.

When his time came to speak to the political leaders and others, Albanese praised the “magnificent nation of India” and reminisced about his journey as a backpacker.

Anthony Albanese and Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell view a performance during a Holi celebration.

Alex Ellinghausen

“This isn’t my first visit to India,” he told the crowd.

“My first was as a young man in 1991, when I caught trains, buses, I hitchhiked — we went through every form of transport possible over a six-week period.

“And it brought to me a love of Indian culture, and an understanding of the way that Indian people embrace and welcome you to this wonderful country.”

Albanese has a crowded agenda of commercial and strategic talks. Regional security is a big part of the agenda, with Australia planning to host military exercises with India, Japan and the US later this year despite objections from China to the “Malabar” exercises in the past.

Anthony Albanese makes a speech during his visit to interview in Ahmedabad.

Alex Ellinghausen

Albanese is due to go to the Fourth Test in Ahmedabad with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, where the two leaders will meet the Indian and Australian cricket teams before the first day of play.

Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, ensured a generous welcome for Albanese with the help of the current chief minister, Bhupendrabhai Patel, who is from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Scores of posters and large billboards with pictures of Modi and Albanese lined the highways around Ahmedabad while the Australian motorcade travelled between the events, with hundreds of soldiers and police stopping traffic so the visitors could pass.

At the Holi event, however, Albanese remembered travelling through India in a simpler style.

“If you want to understand a country, don’t go in a car with a motorcade, go on a train with the population and buy a ticket at the ticket box – that is a big, big plus,” he said.

“So it is one of the honours of my life, I must say, to come back here.”

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