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Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal

A research project of the Department of Archaeology


Funded by: AHRC-GCRF £ 59,910.35 (AH/P005993/1)(2016-2017) and Newton Fund/HEFCE £3,990.39 (2017).

Pilgrimage is one of the fastest growing motivations for individual travel with an estimated 600 million ‘spiritual voyages’ undertaken each year and the Asia Development Bank predicted that Buddhist pilgrimage to South Asia would reach an annual figure of 22 million by 2020, from a figure of four million in 2013. At the site of Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal’s Western Terai, these numbers have expanded from 50,000 in 2006 to 1.2 million in 2019. 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 resident communities benefit from forthcoming investment in pilgrimage centres.

The aim of this network was 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 were 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; and share new site protection methodologies and pilot monitoring toolkits to regional clusters of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage.


The project successfully mobilised 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 at a series of workshops and community interactions. Through interaction with, and feedback from, local stakeholders, community leaders and administrators, the participants co-produced a set of 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). Our book, Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Protection and Community Engagement in South Asia, co-edited by Robin Coningham and Nick Lewer with contributions from collaborating partners within the network, explores issues of archaeology, community engagement and cultural heritage protection and considers heritage management strategies through community engagement. We highlight the challenges faced by communities, archaeologists and heritage managers in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts in their efforts to protect, preserve and present cultural heritage, including issues of sustainability, linkages with existing community programmes and institutions, and building administrative and social networks. Our selected case-studies illustrate larger-scale projects to small micro-level engagement, across a range of geographical, political, social and economic contexts and we conclude by providing a framework that links and synchronises programmes of archaeological activities alongside active community engagement.

Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Dr Mark Manuel
  • Dr Chris Davis


Recognising limited community consultation and involvement within the Greater Lumbini Area, members of the network co-produced community micro-scoping and engagement interactions to enable knowledge exchange with local residents and stakeholders. This has resulted in the development and co-design of local archaeology clubs and educational resources for school students. It also contributed to the co-design of exhibitions in the Government of Nepal’s new site museum at Ramghat and UNESCO’s part-sponsored annual Heritage Festivals at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu, which, in turn, resulted in a request from the Ministry of Education to co-design educational materials, which have now integrated heritage into the District curriculum. After visiting our activities in 2016, UNESCO's Director-General, who stated that "There is no need to choose between the preservation of heritage and the needs of the Buddhist pilgrims...This is the role of UNESCO and this International Scientific Committee, and we are determined to carry forward this important task...I know this works lies at the heart of UNESCO Chair at Durham".


  • 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. 

Published Results

Authored book

  • Coningham, R.A.E. & Lewer, N. (2019). Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Protection and Community Engagement in South Asia. Palgrave Macmillan.

Journal Article

  • Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Manuel, M.J., Davis, C.E. , Kunwar, R.B., Simpson, I.A., Strickland, K.M., Smaghur, E., Tremblay, J. & Lafortune-Bernard, A. (2018). Archaeological investigations at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu, 2014-2016. Ancient Nepal 197-198: 5-59.

Chapter in book

  • Bhaddamanika, S., Bidari, B., Choegyal, L., Coningham, R.A.E., Cuppers, C. & Rai, G. (2019). Balancing competing requirements of faith and preservation. In The Sacred Garden of Lumbini. UNESCO UNESCO. 210-223.
  • Lewer, N., Lafortune-Bernard, A., Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P. & Kunwar, R.B. (2019). Community Engagement in the Greater Lumbini Area of Nepal: The Micro-Heritage Case Study of Dohani. In Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Protection and Community Engagement in South Asia. Coningham, R.A.E. & Lewer, N. Palgrave Macmillan. 59-74.
  • Lafortune-Bernard, A., Coningham, R.A.E. & Acharya, K.P. (2018). Recording the social and economic contribution of local heritage at Tilaurakot: a pilot study. In The Cultural Heritage of Nepal, before, during and after the 2015 Earthquakes: Current and Future Challenges. The Oriental Cultural Heritage Sites Protection Alliance (OCHSPA). Kathmandu: Vajra Publications. 170-179.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Kunwar, R.B., Manuel. M.J., Davis, C.E. & Lafortune-Bernard, A. (2017). Promoting the Protection, Preservation and Presentation of the Natal Landscape of the Buddha in Nepal. In Buddha Rashmi Vesak Volume: Essays in Buddhism and Buddhist Monastic Archaeology. Gunawardhana, P., Coningham, R.A.E. & Nampoothiri, K. Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka. 13-26.

 Photograph of a small local community gathering