Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh: Tucked away in the quiet by-lanes of Pandey Ghat, at the Guest House she runs, we meet Kumiko, a Japanese national who moved to Varanasi almost two decades ago and today calls it home. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Japan visit last month, where he was instrumental in sealing the Kyoto-Varanasi partnership between the two ancient cities, Kumiko has been flooded with queries about the ancient imperial capital of Japan.
"Kyoto is an ancient city, so is Benaras. Kyoto has thousands of temples, so does Benaras. If this city can learn a few things from there, I think that would be quite welcome. But I hope they model it after Kyoto, not Tokyo," she says in fluent Hindi.
The two cities have signed an agreement to ensure greater co-operation in the fields of art, culture, conservation and modernisation. The holy city of Benaras or Varanasi is often referred to as the oldest living city in the world and holds an important place in India's religious and spiritual map. Kyoto, often called the city of ten thousand shrines, was the ancient capital of Imperial Japan. Today it is confluence of modernity and heritage.
"Now tell me, do tourists come here to see malls? They come here to see the ghats and the by-lanes. That's our heritage. And we have to preserve it. Look at Kyoto, they have a very planned development, ours has been unplanned development," said Varanasi Mayor Ram Gopal Mohale.
From ancient cities dotted with shrines, with age-old traditions of weaving to manufacturing wooden toys, both Varanasi and Kyoto have a lot in common, but the partnership hopes to take it a step further as a part of the PM's plan of building smart cities.