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ARC Home > Projects > Wildlife :

Wildlife and Forests: India

The Hindu God Ayyappan rides a tiger. POSTER: Hinduism Today

In India, an ancient link exists between Hindu tradition and nature. Many sacred sites—among them rivers, mountains, and temples—are found within protected areas. Every year millions of pilgrims move through India’s tiger reserves in order to reach temples and other pilgrimage sites.

In July and August every year, for example, a million pilgrims take sacred Ganges River water through Rajaji National Park to a revered temple on a hillside. In their wake they leave trails of trash and human waste while disturbing animal movements and habitat with noise, lights and traffic.

Many pilgrims forget that they are making a sacred journey where every step, every tree and every creature on the path is sacred, not just the destination.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority has mandated every reserve develop plans to manage religious tourism, but the challenges of balancing conservation with community visitation rights have hindered implementation.

Delegates at the Rishikesh meeting show their green palms after symbolically 'signing' a specially designed banner with their handprints
ARC and our Indian partners have developed the first management model to assist park authorities in meeting these challenges—developed in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in southern India.

In this ‘Green Pilgrimage Model’, government, civil society, and religious stakeholders co-manage activities ranging from waste disposal to awareness-raising campaigns linking conservation and religion. Although challenges remain, this project has led to observed shifts in visitor attitudes and behaviours, underscoring the potential of faith-based approaches and partnerships for nature conservation in Indian protected areas.

In 2015, ARC supported an Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) mapping initiative that identified more than 50 sacred sites in the 13 tiger reserves of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot.

India programme support has come from WWF, The Rufford Foundation and The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Most tiger reserves and other protected areas in India have sacred sites within their boundaries. This echoes a global phenomenon in which reverence for holy natural sites has safeguarded them from disturbance; and, as a consequence, they have been recognised as some of the best-conserved parts of a landscape. Many such sites are contained within the core of formally protected areas. Some of India’s largest pilgrimages occur in the Western Ghats, including KMTR. The green pilgrimage model developed in KMTR has been shared with other tiger reserves. ARC is also partnering with WWF India in Nandhour wildlife sanctuary in the Terai Arc Landscape in northern India to reduce poaching of tiger prey by local religious communities.

Launch of Green Pilgrimage in Tiger Reserves Programme, Rishikesh, 2012

This initiative follows on from a meeting on greening pilgrimage with Hindu leaders in Rishikesh in November 2012 where religious leaders, temple authorities, conservationists and city and town officials all worked together to develop a preliminary action plan of how to make pilgrimage inside tiger reserves more environmentally-friendly.

The meeting explored creative ways to achieve green pilgrimage in the parks, including asking those temples inside reserves to conduct environmental audits of their current practices, and develop action plans with the help of conservationists.

These include:

  • the development of environmentally friendly waste management systems
  • installing community kitchens that use solar and gas rather than fuelwood
  • prohibiting private vehicles inside the park
  • developing a bussing system for pilgrims to reach the temples and holy sites i
  • installing bio-toilets, especially during pilgrimage events attracting additional tens of thousands of people


Managing Religious Pilgrimage to Sacred Sites in Indian Protected Areas : Case study on ARC’s green pilgrimage work in Indian protected areas: Elkin, C., Rattan, S., Devy, S., Ganesh, T. (2019). Towards best practices in managing religious pilgrimage to sacred sites in Indian protected areas. This is an accepted manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in Verschuuren, B., Brown, S. (eds), Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected and Conserved Areas: Governance, Management and Policy. Available online: ISBN:978-1-138-09118-4

Further links



Bhumi Project

Green Pilgrimage Network - India Chapter

Wildlife Trust of India

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Related information

Green pilgrimage network members
The vision is of pilgrims on all continents and the pilgrim cities that receive them, leaving a positive footprint on the Earth
Projects overview
A complete listing of all current ARC projects
December 27, 2012:
Green Pilgrimage Network meeting in Rishikesh
Last month the Bhumi Project and ARC hosted a unique meeting of pilgrim towns, cities and sites in India as part of the Green Pilgrimage Network's India chapter.