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G20, Trocadero, Ghats of Varanasi, a look at an India that flies towards its and our future

Dernière mise à jour : 23 janv. 2023

Shortly before our trip to Varanasi at the end of December 2022, someone said to me "oh lala, you're going to see, the Ghats, Modhi built a scary thing, gigantic, all in concrete, they destroyed the old districts to make a tourist thing, overhanging the Gange".

So the observation is there, it is true, the place surprises. A huge site has been deposited in the heart of the city, this very old city with pedestrian streets in which the rotting bodies of the deceased carried on 4 shoulders spin at full speed in the direction of the Ganges for the liberation of the soul that it shelters, according to the Hindu traditions.

The place has literally been cut with a knife. As you can see in these pictures, the original buildings of this maze of narrow streets have been literally cut away to create a perfectly rectangular space into which has been cast a modern, concrete site, an esplanade to the afterlife including even an escalator that the locals are eager to show us with pride.

Varanasi through my visits

The very first time I discovered the ghats of Varanasi was in 1977. It was not called Varanasi but Benares at that time.

Then I went back in in 2001, 2002, 2017, and recently, at the end of 2022. It is true that over the years, the banks of the Ganges have evolved. Docks were drawn which is not a bad thing! Formerly, certain points were only slopes in rather dirty ground which led to water, it was often necessary to pass by the top to join another ghat. Today, these quays allow you to walk easily from one ghat to another. Platforms have been installed, offering practice points for yogis, in a clean environment, and mini-places now welcome pilgrims, tourists and visitors.

The Ganges, certainly the most sacred river in the world, ranks as the 5th most polluted river in the world... human sewage and animal waste disposal, increasing population density and industrial waste disposal are the direct causes. Varanasi is the most important Hindu pilgrimage site in India. Every day, 300 corpses are burned, thus promoting, according to Hindu belief, the realization of the good deeds of the past life of the soul thus released. The ritual of cremation includes many steps which will be explained to you by a priest while you will accompany us in one of our trips, because it is not the objective of this article to develop on this point however very interesting.

From Varanasi to Trocadéro

Let us return on this esplanade. As I move towards its center, the amazement slowly gives way to a projection. I see before me not this surreal Ghat, but the Trocadero. The image becomes clear. I see myself a few months ago walking on the platform of the Trocadero and wonder. How was it in the past? To my great surprise, after a little research, I found that the Old Palace of Trocadero was built in front of the Eiffel Tower, where the Trocadero Square is today. It was a magnificent palace in the Indian-Persian-Egyptian-Moorish style, whose purpose, through its particular design, was to remind us of the French victory in Andalusia.

And this palace was built on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1878, a universal exhibition with a 100% economic goal, whose objective was to revive the industrial dynamics of France, which had just lost Alsace-Lorraine, and to show Europe that France was still a great power.

It is in 1935 that it will be destroyed, but the wings kept, in order to leave the place to the palace of Chaillot, the eclectic design of the Palace of Trocadero not satisfying the taste of the Parisians!

A consequent health evolution

Over the decades, I have seen India change. From 1977 to the 2000s, I am struck by the health progress. In 1977, suffering spilled over from the streets. Every 20 meters, either a being in a state of extreme suffering showed his stump of cut leg with gangrenous, purulent, green, yellow flesh, sucked by dozens of flies, which formed a flawless carapace, agglomerated to each other... or there were faces with holes in them every day, with smallpox, eradicated in 1977 thanks to vaccination, but the marks remain until the death of the people (old age, disease, etc...) and so I confirm that I came across too many of them, far too many, every day..... or bodies deformed by polio, elephantiasis, Cloves syndrome (Elephant man...), and so on. In the 2000's, I see that vaccination has had its effect. Cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, polio, dengue, ..., all these diseases are either reabsorbed or controlled, and the facts are there. The anti-vaccines will shout at me, it will not be the first time, I will not know what to answer them, I have seen the before and after. That's all there is to it. We cannot deny what is reality, even if it displeases our environmentalist convictions.

Corps flottant sur le Gange, à Varanasi, alors Bénarès, en 1977
Floating body on the Ganges, in Varanassi - Collection Gattiini JC 1977

The health aspect in general has made great progress and I can see this in a very raw way. Look at this picture. This is a child. The Hindu tradition is that children are not burned when they die, but put in a burlap bag and thrown directly into the Ganges.

Or maybe it is a priest? indeed other categories of individuals are not burned but either thrown in the middle of the Ganges, or weighted down by stones, or buried in the banks but the bodies, with the passing of the monsoons, return half putrefied in the Ganges.... They are priests, sadhus, and pregnant women, their souls being considered pure. Prostitutes, lepers, or people who died from snake bites due to impurities are not cremated either. It was common to pass them over the hours...

Today, in the few hours I spent near the Ganges, I didn't see a single one. So there are fewer deaths, that's a fact, and fewer child deaths, for sure, and we know that vaccination plays a key role in that.

To have a small idea, here are some figures that speak for themselves. The infant mortality rate, i.e. for children under 1 year old, has gone from 125 per 1000 in 1977 to 27 per 1000 in 2020! It was 160 per 1000 in the 1960s. For comparison, France was at 12 per 1000 in 1977, 3 per 1000 in 2020 and 24 per 1000 in 1960.

Suffering exists. Whether we like it or not. Whether we look at it or deny it.

The reality of suffering is a fact. Even if we don't like it, it is so. Suffering is. You can put on 10,000 layers of protection, as we do in the West, but that won't eradicate the suffering that exists. The visible suffering, like the one you see when you travel and start to look beyond the traditional travel agency clichés, is there. It is a reality. Even if we deny it, it is present and affects far too many people on this planet. This suffering also manifests itself in more subtle forms as we learn in Buddhism, and particularly affects the Westerner in search of more and more, dissatisfied with not having without ever realizing that we have so much... This is also a reality, whether we like it or not. Buddhism provides methods to eliminate mental suffering, those subtle sufferings that make us run tirelessly after temporary happinesses, or spend our time in aversion, and there are methods to try to eliminate more and more physical suffering. Sanitary development is one of these methods and vaccination, which is part of it, has allowed many countries to get out of a hell which seems so unreal and which was nevertheless very present.

2000s - March towards industrialization and deployment of the Internet

During my stays in India in 2001 and 2002, including a full year, I could see that industrialization was taking place. The first highways are timidly taking shape and now welcome many vehicles, electricity is becoming more stable, the cuts less frequent, less long, water is becoming widely available at the taps in the guest-houses, rather than the big barrel full of water in which one dips a small pot to collect the water of the shower or the flush. Everywhere the Indian kitchen adapts. The spices are still there of course and fortunately, but it is now possible to ask for something less spicy. In 1977, when I was a child, my palate found it difficult to accept this sudden and so painful change that the contact with chilli in all its manifestation, and it was literally impossible to get a dish with white rice. Every time we asked for it, it arrived tinged with yellow and flavors... for the record, for 2 months I was eating a diet of fruits, peanuts and I ate a diet of fruit, peanuts, grilled corn in the streets and glucose cookies for babies.

The other big change, the shock to me, was the clothing. The Indians had now adopted the western uniformity. The Gandhi dhoti that most men wore gave way to pants, the sari with its plump bellies revealed gave way to tunics and pants.

And last but not least, the internet access! We are in 2001/2002. Do you remember what it was like in France? Great stammerings. And yet in India, while the waste forms a protective layer over the rivers and the lands of the cities to preserve them maybe from the uv rays? (it's humor... you just have to learn. to see each waste under the shape of a flower and everything is ok), so in spite of all this aspect which doesn't evolve at the time of writing these lines, in 2001, the internet access was proposed at each corner of street! Internet stores, including about ten computers, allowed everyone to come and connect, exchange, and open their eyes to the other world, the world of the West, the world of technologies, the world of the future. It is in these Internet stores, with a book like "HTML for dummies" bought in a store in Delhi, that I slowly trained myself to develop my first websites...

2017 - March towards digitalization

2017 marks a new step in this change, this normal evolution of a society on the move, with... ? the DIGITALIZATION! In the stalls are displayed the first PAY TM stickers, inviting the customer to pay... with his phone!!! The cell phone is everywhere, even the sadhus have adopted it. It's quite normal... remember... while we were playing the prudish mothers saying "oh, internet? no, I prefer to stay in my mold, plant my cabbages, etc...", they, the Indians, have very quickly taken the step and understood that there was a development tool available to all. We are 17 years later, one generation later... it is therefore normal that from 2017 we see a total integration of digitalization in the life of all. And I mean everyone, read my article on Patel, India's first digitalized beggar.

The other point, is the construction of roads. I see then the first aerial roads, viaducts that do not connect 2 hills or mountains as we do in the West, but that fly over a main artery in order to split it.

2022 - March towards demonetization

2022, the post-Covid era. As I explain in my article quoted just before, the pandemic is a key factor in the entry into digital currency and the generalization of online and QR Code payments throughout India. Everything now revolves around these new types of payments and as I mentioned in this other article, India has just launched the digital rupee these days, a new step towards a 100% digital operation in which bills and coins will be an old memory. As a child, I had the extraordinary chance to travel to many countries in Asia, Africa and South America, and I used to bring back from my travels the coins of different countries. The beauty and variety of shapes of Indian coins was the starting point for this. While the majority of the population was illiterate and many beggars were blind, due to disease or burns when exploited in beggar's trade networks, the coins had adapted. There were all sizes, all textures, all shapes, it was a real joy for a child to collect all these wonders.

The other important development that I discovered on this post-covid, is the development of the famous aerial ways, these viaducts which superimpose the traffic lanes of the cities. They literally fly away, both literally and figuratively! A striking example Patna in Bihar. An incredible aerial network has been developed. Crossings, junctions, roundabouts, everything takes place in the air! One can almost imagine that in 50 years there will be other levels of aerial levels connecting one aerial zone to another but at a level above...

New roads cut through the countryside and villages, old ones cut directly through the houses. You will agree, it hurts the heart.

In the cities, the shopping malls stretch their buildings to the sky with innovative shapes, illuminated with 1000 lights when the night falls, creating a kind of visual fairy tale projecting a new world turned towards temporary illusory happiness.

And tourism settles down. It is growing exponentially and struggling to keep up with the exponential flow of new Indian visitors. You can read this article I wrote a few days ago about the development of tourism in India. By the way, stay tuned to my newsletter as I am planning to write an article on the tourism development of Buddhist sites.

Nostalgic turism ?

As we can see, India has made its way towards a future that matches the rest of the world, and thus out of its medieval era, one might say, in terms of material conditions. So of course, our tourist eyes do not like this. We like to immerse ourselves in a different environment. We don't come to India to see places that look like ours. Of course there is the whole spiritual aspect of India, but let's face it. Think about it when you go back.

Isn't there a part of something else? Probe it. Meditate on it. Observe your feelings when you discover or walk through certain places and take a picture.

Everyone is entitled to a more spacious, more levelled environment, less typical of course, but haven't we enjoyed seeing the dirty streets of our cities transformed over the last 150 years into comfortable, clean and pleasant spaces to walk around?

The example of the Trocadero built to support its place in the world is the same as this ghat transformed into a large esplanade overlooking the Ganges.

There is in this transformation generated by Narandra Modi a vision similar to the one that our leaders engaged in the construction of the Trocadero Palace manifested today in the form of the Trocadero Square.

March towards future

Our humanity is engaged in a development of comfort and its challenge is to do it from now on on on the basis of a spirituality allowing not to depend mentally on this comfort, associated with a development which must be based on new technologies in ecology and energy.

India has a card to play here and it knows it. On our side, we were a step ahead with the advent of the industrial era, and we now have to change everything to adapt to new standards. China has shown that a country can go very fast in terms of developing places and the environment when it starts from scratch. You just have to go there to understand it. India is still behind, but it has all the cards in its hands to directly draw the future that could become everyone's in a few decades.

We must therefore accept to see the sites change, the cities modernize. As a child, we often borrowed pushcarts, these two-seater vehicles pulled by a man pedaling his bike, sweating under the sun. They are still present in Varanasi because the streets are narrow but everywhere they have been replaced by rickshaws which are quickly becoming electric and silent. The same vehicles pulled by horses were then common, today they are found only on certain tourist sites in order to connect an overcrowded parking lot and therefore set aside and allow to connect the tourist point concerned. It is the case to go to take the cable car of the Peak of the Vultures, in Rajgir, where the Buddha taught the Prajnaparamita and thus I speak in this article.

This is how the G20 2023 will be held in Delhi on September 9 and 10, 2023, so in a few months...

India has the best growth in the world and should, thanks to its ongoing urbanization and modernization, accelerate the pace. This year, it becomes the most populated country in the world, ahead of China with 1.4 billion people, and its GDP will exceed that of Japan and Germany in 2027 according to forecasters. In 2022, it is expected to grow by 6.8%, which is TWICE as fast as the world economy...

Conscious walk of the spiritual journey

We must, when we travel, develop a virtuous state of mind in the sense that we must travel consciously, not to watch as voyeurs observing the differences in comfort, cleanliness, possibilities offered to each between the people we visit and our countries, then forget everything once we return to our own personal comfort, but rather to travel by attaching ourselves to the messages that these people and so-called exotic countries can bring us in terms of inner transformation. The journey must be an inner enrichment.

The enrichment is the fact of growing, conscious that the balance of the world will only manifest itself through the transformation of all beings towards positive, compassionate, supportive and above all impartial states of mind, that is to say turned towards all, without discrimination, working in perfect collaboration.

To be followed and discovered with us during our next trips!


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