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India's Varanasi to get facelift, with Kyoto as inspiration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a plan for a facelift of the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. Modi wants to turn it into a "smart city" and will use Japan's ancient capital and thriving modern metropolis Kyoto as inspiration.

INDIA: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a plan for a facelift of the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. Modi wants to turn it into a "smart city" and will use Japan's ancient capital and thriving modern metropolis Kyoto as inspiration.

The prime minister was at the signing of a memorandum of understanding in Japan, which aims to turn Varanasi into a “smart city” with help from Kyoto - focusing on modernising the historic city while preserving its rich heritage.

Syed Akbaruddin, Indian foreign ministry spokesman, said: "The first item on the agenda was to witness the signing ceremony between the city of Kyoto as well as the city of Varanasi in India to have a cooperative agreement, which will ensure that they will work together in terms of their cultural heritage, city modernisation, culture, art and education."

Varanasi's development in recent times is in stark contrast to its Japanese counterpart - while one ancient city has balanced the demands of balancing new and old, the other is losing its sheen. Much like Kyoto's shrines, Varanasi has hundreds of temples dotting the skyline, and both are special places for pilgrimage. But millions of visitors have left a trail of filth through Varanasi and left the Holy Ganges badly polluted.

Far from wanting to rid Varanasi of its culture however, the pact will attempt to create a blueprint to drive rejuvenation with urban technology and create a safer, modern city for more than one million people. But residents know there are significant hurdles ahead.

One Varanasi resident said: "It is extremely difficult to reach a certain level when the gap between the two cities is huge. People of Varanasi should understand that it will take at least a decade to reach up to their level." Another said: "Japanese technology can't work here. This is the only doubt. Varanasi is an ancient city. If 10 or 20 per cent of development is done here, then we might be able to see something."

Prime Minister Modi wants to create 100 smart cities across India, many of which will eventually be linked by high speed rail. The cooperation with Japan is the launch of an ambitious long-term project, which could also involve investment from countries such as Singapore, South Korea and the United States.