The recent KUMBH Mela at Allahabad has yet again brought forth the important role that pilgrimage plays in the lives of people. It also highlighted the requirements of few urban areas to cater to accommodating a floating mass religious congregation at certain times going up from a few days to a month sometimes. The extensive preparation, management and providing for stay is a herculean task. Yet most of the times it is managed efficiently, however the environmental repercussions are many. The Green piligimage Network aims at reducing the impacts of such activities

On October 14th, the 7th day of the U.N.’s COP 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, some of India’s holiest Hindu pilgrim towns and cities gathered to participate in the launch of the India chapter of the international Green Pilgrimage Network (GPN).

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and ICLEI (Local governments for Sustainability group) hosted the meeting in partnership with the Bhumi Project. Hindu cities at the event included Rishikesh, Varanasi and Ujjain. Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist cities were also represented.

On any given day of the year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are on pilgrimage. The goal of the network is to encourage pilgrims, and pilgrim cities and places of every faith throughout the world to become models of care for the environment by ensuring that the planning and implementation of tourism at pilgrimage sites have minimum negative environmental impacts. The Green Pilgrimage Network aims to help different faiths make their holy cities and sacred sites as environmentally sustainable as possible, based on their unique religious beliefs.

It is fitting that India should host the largest branch of the Green Pilgrimage Network, as nowhere else in the world has more pilgrim cities or greater numbers of pilgrims. It is said, for example, that the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2001 was the largest human gathering in recorded history – up to 70 million people. Other major pilgrim sites attract millions every year including 30 million in Tirupati, 30 million in Amritsar, and 1.5 million in Ajmer. Other pilgrim places such as Rishikesh, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya also attract a sizeable number of pilgrims.

Representatives from the government of Andhra Pradesh, including the Mayor and city commissioner of Hyderabad and the Honourable Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, endorsed the meeting and mentioned some of the greening initiatives already underway in the state, such as solar powered cooking for Tirupati temple’s 15,000 daily devotees. In his opening address, the Commissioner commented:

This new program being launched today is unique, in that it aims to bring together religions and local governments. I cannot think of a better place to have such a network than India. With religious sites in every corner of the country, India has a sacred geography that is inclusive of every major religious tradition in the world.

A follow-up meeting is now being planned in 5 weeks to be held in Rishikesh for Hindu members of the Network. This second meeting will look in more detail about the challenges and opportunities for Hindu sites to be more environmentally-friendly.

Commenting on the need for such an initiative, Gopal Patel, Project Manager for the Bhumi Project, noted, “Pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hindu tradition. We have a responsibility to ensure that pilgrim sites which have been visited for countless generations are equipped to deal with increased number of pilgrims and the pressures that brings on resources and infrastructure.”

Member cities at the Hyderabad meeting agreed to meet again in a years time, where they will share sustainable solutions for pilgrim cities for greening waste, sanitation, buildings, transport, food and accommodation and share strategies to make the hosting of large scale pilgrimage more sustainable and environmentally friendly. This new network will encourage the sharing of best practice between pilgrim sites in India, and with those around the world.

It is expected that the Green Pilgrimage Network – Indian Chapter will:
·         Create a network of sustainable and earth-friendly pilgrim sites across India
·         Join an existing network of 12 international member cities
·         Create a theological basis for green pilgrimage for each religion
·       Encourage religions to work with government agencies, NGOs and private companies
·         Create plans for promoting sustainability and care for the earth
·         Share stories, wisdom and tradition
·         Ask pilgrims to walk lightly and travel responsibly in the spirit of their religion
·         Inspire pilgrim sites to celebrate their pilgrims and green their religious festivals


  1. Green Pilgrimage Network Handbook
  2. Green Pilgrimage Network Newsletter