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Promoting Sustainable Pilgrimage and Protecting Heritage within India

This project brings together UK and Indian heritage managers and archaeologists to explore and compare the social and economic impacts of heritage within Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh at a sample of Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It builds on an earlier British Council (India) Knowledge Economy Partnership (KEP) and six years of UNESCO-funded research on pilgrimage sites in Nepal’s western Terai. It utilises workshops, practical field laboratories and data collection at heritage sites to benchmark current social and economic impacts of heritage, and explore ways that sustainable pilgrimage and tourism can be better promoted at sites whilst protecting them. The earlier British Council funded Knowledge Economy Partnership between Durham University and the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India established a series of benchmarks in order to monitor the economic and social impact of cultural heritage sites on the communities within which they are situated within South Asia. The most recent part of the project is funded by the University Grants Commission and UK-India Education Research Initiative.

The new project will bring together archaeologists, historians, heritage managers and practitioners, as well as members of the public and students in three annual field laboratories (2017, 2018, 2019), each with a connected workshop aimed at tackling different challenges within the field of heritage preservation and management. The field laboratories combine small targeted excavations at a sample of sites in order to establish chronometric dates, mapping, geophysical survey and auger-coring in order to define subsurface archaeological features and their extent. These features will then be added to archaeological risk maps for each site and shared with statutory managers. The resultant risk maps will guide the placing of future infrastructure, such as water pipes and power lines to avoid damaging subsurface heritage. Alongside this archaeological project will be an ongoing system of visitor recording and interviews, and targeted interviews with heritage site stakeholders in order to gauge current levels of social and economic impact of heritage on local communities.

The three field-based workshops will be practitioner-led and explore themes surrounding the social and economic impacts of heritage, potential for site development for tourism and pilgrimage, site preservation and presentation strategies, and plans for enhanced, yet sustainable, pilgrimage and tourism. The workshops aim to be multidisciplinary and encompass participants from undergraduate level through to policy-makers and residents. Two further workshops will be held at Durham University that will explore the wider implications of the collaborative work, including how politics and identity influence heritage protection and the future development of sustainable pilgrimage and tourism.

Explaining an archaeological trench to studentsImage: Dr Davis explaining the archaeological sequence at the Jammi Majid, Champaner to students