Skip to main content

Understanding Pilgrimage & Heritage in India

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Funded by: 

  • British Council India Knowledge Exchange Partnership £11,000.00 (2014)
  • UK-India Education and Research Initiative £66,270 to Durham and 1.58 Million Indian Rupees to MS University of Baroda (2016-2020)
  • AHRC-Indian Council Historial Research £44,919.80 (2019-2021).

UNESCO, and many international development organisations like the OECD (1967) and the World Bank, recognise that cultural and natural heritage has the potential to be utilised as a driver for development. South Asia, and India in particular, has benefited from recent infrastructure investment for tourism and pilgrimage across the region as part of the Asian Development Banks South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project (Bangladesh, India, and Nepal) and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank’s Buddhist Circuit Tourism Strategy.

To explore and identify the potential social and economic impacts of pilgrimage on heritage, as well as on local communities at a sample of pilgrimage and archaeological sites, a series of projects have been co-designed by Durham University’s UNESCO Chair, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, the University of Allahabad and the Archaeological Survey of India, to bring together UK and Indian heritage managers and archaeologists. The projects utilise workshops, practical field laboratories and data collection at heritage sites to pilot the benchmarking of the current social and economic impacts of heritage, and explore ways that sustainable pilgrimage and tourism can be better promoted at sites whilst simultaneously protecting them from any developments. Field laboratories have been undertaken at the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Champaner-Pavagadh, Patan (Gujarat) and Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), as well as the archaeological sites of Lothal (Gujarat) and Sanauli (Uttar Pradesh).


At Champaner-Pavagadh, geophysical survey, auger-coring and archaeological excavations were undertaken to explore the early construction of several monuments within the World Heritage Zone. This was supplemented by interviews with pilgrims, tourists, residents and business owners to develop an understanding of the social and economic impacts that pilgrimage and heritage strategies have on local communities. Supported by community asset mapping to develop a detailed map and database of existing non-heritage assets that exist within the boundary of the World Heritage Property, these elements feed into the creation of an archaeological risk map to guide future site management. At the request of the Archaeological Survey of India, geophysical survey has also been conducted at Sarnath and Sanauli in Uttar Pradesh to develop archaeological risk maps, which will help aid site managers and planners. Additional interviews with pilgrims, tourists, residents and business owners were also undertaken at Sarnath, Lothal and Patan to build our understanding of social and economic impacts at these sites.

The project has moved into a third phase of investigation with a joint award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council-Newton Fund and Indian Council of Historical Research. Entitled ‘Holy Lands: Scoping the nexus between heritage, pilgrimage and diaspora in India’, we are exploring the role of the Indian diaspora in the pilgrimage, tourism and heritage sector in India.

Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Dr Mark Manuel
  • Dr Chris Davis


A core element of this project has been a series of exchanges, bringing students from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and Allahabad University to Durham to work on projects in the UK. In total eight students have travelled to the UK to work on excavations at Nevern Castle in South Wales Lindisfarne in Northumberland, as well as visitor interviews on Durham World Heritage Site and engaging with the John Marshall Photographic Collection at the Oriental Museum. Workshops in India have been geared towards providing embedded training within research projects and practical hands-on experience.

Project Partners

  • Professor K. Krishnan and Dr Vrushab Mahesh, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India
  • Professor P. Sinha, University of Allahabad


From the Department of Archaeology

Photograph of two men talking in front of brightly coloured shops