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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Pilgrimage is one of the fastest growing motivations for travel with an estimated 600 million ‘spiritual voyages’ undertaken each year. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) predicts that Buddhist pilgrimage to South Asia will reach an annual figure of 22 million by 2020, from a current figure of four million. At the site of Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, located in Nepal’s Western Terai the figure is predicted to expand from 800,000 in 2014 to five million by 2020. Aware of the economic potential of the development of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuits, ADB has invested millions of dollars in a 'Tourism Infrastructure Development Project' targeting mainly in Northeast India but also the Nepali Terai.

For the ADB “tourism development can create expanded economic opportunities, generate employment and incomes, and promote infrastructure development," and "increased tourism... can also contribute to mutual understanding and development of a stronger sense of community among the countries and peoples of the region". This is shared by the World Bank's Buddhist Circuit Strategy which stressed that pilgrimage will deliver "sustainable and inclusive economic growth" and that "benefits reach deep into local households" (IFC/2013). But neither project offered tools for measuring benefits or identified negative impacts. UNESCO's approach to UN Sustainable Development Goals state "Culture contributes to poverty reduction and paves the way for a human-centred, inclusive and equitable development". However, whilst heritage tourism is often seen as beneficial for national economies the outcomes are less certain for residents and stakeholders. For example, villages were relocated outside the protected cores of Nepal's Chitwan National Park and Lumbini's Master Plan (McLean 1999; Molesworth & Muller Boker 2005) as part of major international investment programs. Most on-going projects do not offer tools for measuring the benefits of development or identify negative impacts for these local communities.

Moreover, the ADB road projects to ease pilgrim journeys across the Indian border to Lumbini have also attracted heavily polluting industries (IUCN/2013) which affect the conservation of the local environment but also the conservation of local heritage sites. Indeed, accelerated development is destroying many core pilgrimage sites, and a 2015 survey by UNESCO and Tokyo University identified that 71 % of known sites in Kapilbastu district had been damaged. Thus, it is critical that site protection and mapping methodologies, ranging between semi-intrusive (augering) and non-intrusive methods (geophysical survey, fieldwalking) are piloted, as well as the benefits of pilgrimage identified and shared with residents and negative impacts flagged with managers.

As a result, the sustainable development of heritage sites in Nepal’s Western Terai is facing a dual challenge. On the one hand, heritage sites across Nepal’s western Terai need to be protected from rapid urbanisation and associated demands for agricultural intensification and raw resources as well as by unplanned and planned developments associated with Buddhist pilgrimage. On the other hand, the development of these sites needs to ensure that as many communities benefit from forthcoming investment in pilgrimage centres.


The project is funded by the following grants.

  • Promoting The Protection Fo Heritage Sites In Nepal's Western Terai In The Face Of Accelerated Development (£48316.00 from AHRC)
  • Promoting The Protection Of Heritage Sites In Nepal's Western Terai In The Face Of Accelerated Development (£3990.39 from HEFCE)


The aim of this project is to promote the protection of heritage sites in Nepal’s western Terai in the face of accelerated development whilst piloting the monitoring of the positive and negative impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage on local communities and the sites themselves. The project’s objectives are to:

  • Develop a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to the protection of heritage sites and the monitoring of the social and economic impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage in Nepal's western Terai.
  • Establish pilot methodologies for the protection of heritage sites within Nepal's western Terai and the benchmarking and monitoring of social and economic impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage at five sample sites
  • Identity and promote the potential benefits of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage, and reduce negative impacts, by sharing pilot data results with INGOs, NGOs, IGOs and GOs in Nepal's western Terai.
  • Share new site protection methodologies and pilot monitoring toolkits to regional clusters of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage 


The project successfully mobiliaed a multi-disciplinary network of academics and practitioners from across South Asia and the UK, including archaeologists, historians, philologists, conservators, architects, environmental scientists, heritage managers, planners, engineers and economists. Through interaction with, and feedback from, local stakeholders, community leaders and administrators the participants co-produced the following resolutions for the enhanced protection and rehabilitation of heritage in the face of accelerated development. Many pertinently reiterate existing resolutions agreed by the delegates of the 2014 Lumbini International Buddhist Conference (IBC2014) and UNESCO’s 2017 International Scientific Committee for Lumbini (ISC2017).

B1. A Heritage Impact Assessment should be conducted before every new development project (including construction, roads, drains, walls and carparks etc.) or a contractual agreement, at sites protected as heritage and archaeological areas within the Greater Lumbini Area (ISC2017).

B2. Archaeological investigations must be carried out to understand the potential of archaeological sites within the Greater Lumbini Area, before any infrastructure work, and risk mapping prepared for all potential archaeological areas (ISC2017).

B3. Recognising that Buddhist archaeological sites form living cultural landscapes, that any new structures at sites should be located only in areas of low risk to heritage and that they respect 8 design concepts: non-intrusive, reversibility, shelter, visibility, focus, access, ownership and authentic materials and that interventions or new constructions within Buddhist cultural sites should be tested against these criteria during Heritage Impact Assessments (IBC2014).

B4. If machinery is necessary to be used at the sites protected as heritage areas and archaeological sites within the Greater Lumbini Area, including Lumbini Development Area, it should be accompanied by archaeological watching briefs by the Department of Archaeology and the Lumbini Development Trust (ISC2017).

B5. The natural surroundings of the Lumbini area should be safeguarded and sources of air, noise and ground water pollution should be monitored and controlled and existing regulations enforced by the government. No new industrial factories shall be approved or existing ones expanded by the government within the Lumbini Protected Zone (ISC2017). Polluting industries should be relocated in accordance with the 2009 decision of the Nepal’s Industrial Promotion Board (IBC).

B6. Approach and take off flight paths from Bhairahawa Airport should avoid key heritage sites, in particular Ramagrama and Lumbini (ISC2017).

B7. Bylaws and planning regulations should be implemented at protected and potential archaeological sites within the Greater Lumbini Area (ISC2017).

B8. Land acquisition by the Department of Archaeology is an appropriate planning development and should be continued (ISC2017).

B9. A systematic GIS-based cataloguing and digital documentation of inscribed and non-inscribed movable and non-movable objects should be established and implemented together with pro-active monitoring process.

B10. Every archaeological assessment and excavation process should be linked in a coherent and integrated approach with community consultation and engagement. This should be implemented through the development of a long-term sustainable partnership and shared custodianship.

B11. Community engagement should be linked with realistic social and economic benefits to adjoining communities and be linked to a clear strategy related to pilgrim and tourist activities. Regular monitoring and evaluation of protection and maintenance processes and the economic and social benefits that local residents receive from on-site activities should be undertaken.

B12. There is an urgent need to raise awareness through grass-roots initiatives with lay and Sangha participation through information-sharing mechanisms, from web-based portals to social networks, to create cultural awareness for the preservation, promotion and protection of Buddhist values and cultural heritage (IBC2014). This will involve the development of courses on monuments and sites for students and heritage management courses/programs for the Sangha and designation of teaching sites/field laboratories (IBC2014).

B13. There is a need for additional targeted exchanges and training, with the adoption of training materials, to strengthen the capacity of national agencies and NGOs tasked with the protection of sites and monuments in the face of accelerated development. The deployment of physical security by a regular force will further ensure the physical security of sites and monuments. We recognise the urgent need to integrate these activities within a trans-border context and co-operate with key responders in neighbouring countries.

B14. There is an urgent need for UNESCO’s International Scientific Committee for Lumbini to continue to act, along with the Project Steering Committee, as the key mechanism for the sharing, coordination and archiving of methodologies and outcomes from multilateral and bilateral programmes of protection and rehabilitation within an overall regional planning framework.

B15. There is an urgent need for the development of a network of South Asian experts to formulate, share and implement responses to protect sites and monuments in the face of accelerated development and climate change. 


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