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Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage

Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal’s Western Terai in the Face of Accelerated Development


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 


From the Department of Archaeology

From other departments

Map showing the location of Lumbini and Tilaurakot, Nepal