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Summary of Green Pilgrimage Network meeting Rishikesh, November 2012

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) & The Bhumi Project


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY!................................................................................3 CITIES REPRESENTED!..................................................................................4 KOLKATA!.................................................................................................................................................4 MAYAPUR!.................................................................................................................................................4 RISHIKESH................................................................................................................................................ ! 4 VARANASI!................................................................................................................................................5 VISHAKPATNAM!......................................................................................................................................5 VRINDAVAN!.............................................................................................................................................6

PARTNERS!.........................................................................................................7 ICLEI (LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FOR SUSTAINABILITY)!.........................................................................7 PUJYA CHIDANAND SARASWATI!.............................................................................................................7 SRI CHATURVEDI SWAMI!.........................................................................................................................7 UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE (URI)!....................................................................................................8

OUTCOMES!......................................................................................................9 Breakout Group 1: Green Pilgrimage in Hindu Cities & Towns!......................................9 1. Municipality and temple authority partnerships!..........................................................9 2. Immediate actionable projects and programmes!...........................................................9 2.1 HINDU ENVIRONMENT DAY OR WEEK!.............................................................................................9 2.2 STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES!.........................................................................................................10 2.3 ECO-COMPETITION BETWEEN TOWNS AND CITIES!..........................................................................10 2.4 GREEN SCHOOL CURRICULUM........................................................................................................ ! 11 2.5 STATE-WIDE GPNS!...........................................................................................................................11 2.6 KUMBH EVENTS................................................................................................................................ ! 11 2.7 WEBSITES!..........................................................................................................................................12 2.8 OTHER IDEAS.................................................................................................................................... ! 12

Breakout Group 2: Green Pilgrimage in Tiger Reserves!...................................................12

MOVING FORWARD!....................................................................................18 KUMBH MELA!........................................................................................................................................18 STRUCTURE AND STAFFING.................................................................................................................... ! 18 NEXT MEETING(S)!..................................................................................................................................18

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The Green Pilgrimage Network (India) Hindu cities and sites meeting was held at Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh on November 23rd and 24th, 2012. The meeting was hosted by the Bhumi Project, ARC and the Ganga Action Parivar. The meeting was a follow-up to the launch of the India GPN held in Hyderabad on October 14th, which was hosted by ICLEI and ARC. The first day of the meeting was dedicated to learning about work being done by existing members, and about the international GPN and the challenges and opportunities for pilgrim sites. The day ended with a ceremony on the banks of the Ganges led by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati. On the second day delegates broke into two groups - one to discuss pilgrimage in tiger reserves, the other for cities and towns. Through these discussions a number of ideas were presented and agreed upon for implementation. The day ended with delegates signing the GPN vision statement. The delegates agreed to have a followup meeting in 12-18 months to launch their green pilgrimage plans. Some of ideas that emerged from the working groups include: • Develop partnerships between the municipality and temple authorities • Launch a Hindu Environment Week to raise awareness about the links between Hinduism and the environment • Create state-wide Green Pilgrimage Networks to allow the network to grow strategically and better facilitate knowledge sharing • Develop green school curriculum with a focus on waste management • Conduct environmental audits and develop green standards and guidelines in temples that include waste management and energy use • Religious leaders bringing about awareness among pilgrims and local communities about Hindu theology and nature protection • For pilgrimage sites inside tiger reserves, regulate light, sound, pilgrim movement in parks, and shut temples at certain hours or on certain days. Install bio-toilets. Prohibit private vehicles inside the park and create a bussing system for pilgrims to reach the temples and holy sites lying inside park boundaries. • Demarcate special places to deposit remnants from puja where pilgrims can receive blessings instead of dumping them on land or in rivers

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CITIES REPRESENTED The following cities were represented at the meeting by temple and city officials:

Kolkata Jayanta Basu has been working since 2007 to make the annual Durga Puja festival in the city environmentally friendly. Jayanta also attended the Hyderabad meeting. The pujas in greater Kolkata attract up to 100 million pilgrims, and 150,000 different pujas are performed in the greater Kolkata region. These large numbers of people put a strain on city resources and generates a huge amount of waste. The deities used in these pujas are submerged into the Ganges, which pollutes the river as they often contain toxic elements. Since 2007, efforts have been made to mitigate the environmental impact of the festival. In 2007 only one puja had a green theme, now one in four pujas has a green theme. These themes include tiger conservation, climate change, and forest degradation. Also in 2007, only one puja used lead-free paint for their deity. Now 60% of the pujas use such paint.

Mayapur Mayapur is located in West Bengal, four hours north of Kolkata. It is home to the international headquarters of ISKCON where one of the largest Hindu temples in the world is being constructed. Mayapur was represented by Bhumi Devi, the personal assistant to the project manager and architect of the new temple, which is due for completion in 2016. A number of green technologies are being employed for the temple including LED lighting, a power turbine in the Ganges (which is located one mile from the temple), solar powered water pumps and over 3,000 trees will be planted.

Rishikesh Deep Sharma, Chairman of Rishikesh Municipality attended the opening session of the conference. He gave his support for the GPN and hosted a separate press conference the day following the meeting to announce that Rishikesh would become a green city.

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Sadhviji Adityananda Saraswati of the Ganga Action Parivar (GAP) attended with other members of her team. In her presentation she spoke of the work GAP is undertaking across India for the protection of the Ganges. She highlighted that 70% of the villages along the Ganges have no toilets and that GAP will install 1,008 toilets along the Ganges by April 2013. This toilets programme is one of Swami Chidanand’s “6 T’s” programme - Trees, Taps (water), Toilets, Tracks (greening railroad tracks), Tigers and Trash. More details can be found here: http://gangaaction.com/details.php?proID=33

Varanasi The Mayor of Varanasi, Ram Gopal Mohley, attended. Mr Mohley expressed the urgent need to address environmental concerns in all pilgrim towns across India. He raised the issue of a lack of funding as a reason that certain projects cannot be undertaken. As an immediate step, he said he would install more toilets surrounding the main Kashi Viswanath temple in Varanasi. He gave his full support for the GPN. Mr Mohley was elected in August and has already shown a commitment to improving the environment. He gave an example of the Kashi Viswanath temple, surrounded by small medieval streets lined with shops. At the beginning of this year the entire area had no rubbish bins; Mr Mohley has installed bins, engaged the municipal trash collectors to collect the rubbish several times a day, which is a model that could be emulated. He has developed a reputation for calling the rubbish inspectors at 6am, randomly, to ensure they are doing their job.

Vishakpatnam Vishakapatnam is a major pilgrim city in the state of Andhra Pradesh. A famous temple of Lord Narasimha, called Simhachalan, is located in there. The temple is located 10km outside the main city on a hill 800ft above sea level. Dr. Rajendra Krishna, who works as a Human Resource Development consultant for the city, attended the meeting. Dr. Krishna also attended the meeting in Hyderabad. The assistant Executive Officer of the Simhachalan temple also attended the Rishikesh meeting. The temple is surrounded by lush greenery, and food (prasad) at the temple is given on leaf plates or in cotton bags. The interior of the temple uses LED lighting. Temple authorities have given their endorsement of the GPN.

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Vrindavan A number of delegates attended the meeting from Vrindavan. They represented: Friends of Vrindavan (FoV), Food For Life Vrindavan (FFLV) and World Vaishnava Association (WVA). Being three hours from Delhi, in recent years Vrindavan has seen a significant increase in the number of pilgrims. This has led to a number of changes in the town. For example, the ancient parikrama marg (pilgrim path) surrounding the city, which was traditionally walked barefoot, has been changed from a sandy path into a tarmac road. This has resulted in a number of pilgrims being killed by speeding cars. All three organisations currently work together on environmental concerns in Vrindavan, addressing concerns from waste management, pollution in the river Yamuna, and education.

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PARTNERS ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) Ramiz Khan attended the conference representing ICLEI. He spoke about the resources and expertise ICLEI provides, and helped facilitate one of the discussion groups. ICLEI is a key partner for the GPN, providing technical expertise and links to government, from national to local levels.

Pujya Chidanand Saraswati Swamiji agreed to be the chair for the Hindu members of the GPN. Within this capacity he has agreed to: !

1. Host an event at the Kumbh Mela showcasing the GPN

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2. Visit three member cities of the Network over the next year

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3. Try and attend the next international GPN meeting in Trondheim, Norway

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4. Help identify the location for the next GPN meeting in India

Following the conference, Swamiji pledged to make his ashram the first green ashram in India, and his camp at the Kumbh Mela in January the first green camp. With Bhumi and ARC, he has agreed to draw up a plan for how this could be achieved along with developing a long-term plan for his various environmental initiatives. A 12-year time-frame was suggested, to tie-in with the cycle of the Maha Kumbh festivals. The vision was that at the next Maha Kumbh Mela in 2025 every camp would be green. Mr Deep Sharma, Chairman of Rishikesh Municipality, held a press conference the day following the conference. He announced his commitment to the GPN and making Rishikesh a leading member of the Network. He has given his commitment to making Rishikesh a green pilgrim town.

Sri Chaturvedi Swami Sri Chaturvedi Swami is the founder of the Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust, an organisation of the Sri Vaisnava tradition based in Chennai. He gave the opening address on the second day of the conference, which was very well received by all the

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delegates. He committed himself wholeheartedly to the efforts of the GPN and pledged offer his support wherever needed. Of note, he spoke of the need to be living examples of good environmental care in order create lasting change. He spoke of mantras and rituals that were traditionally used to request permission from the natural world to use its resources, and the need to revive such practices. United Religions Initiative (URI) Patrick Nickisch is the URI representative to the UN in Geneva. He expressed interest in the URI working with the GPN and promoting it to URI members. He signed the GPN vision statement on behalf of URI.

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OUTCOMES Breakout Group 1: Green Pilgrimage in Hindu Cities & Towns The breakout sessions for the temple and city officials on Day 2 identified the need for a two-pronged approach to address environmental concerns at religious sites.

1. Municipality and temple authority partnerships It was identified that any long-term success for a town or city required a partnership between the municipality and local temple authorities. Such partnerships would ensure that issues are addressed with all concerned parties and would be more likely to attract funds from local and national governments and NGOs. Temple authorities at the meeting expressed difficulties when trying to work with municipalities, and vice versa. With ICLEI it was decided that four or five cities would be identified initially to address green pilgrimage issues. ICLEI would work with the municipalities of these cities to encourage them to work with local temple authorities. In parallel to this, Bhumi and Pujya Swamiji would work with temple authorities, encouraging them to work with their local municipalities. It was suggested a third party be established to liaise between temple and city officials. The Bhumi Project has offered to play this role, as it is a neutral party and in many ways is already playing this role by hosting the meeting in Rishikesh. Forming such partnerships would be a long-term goal. We should expect the establishment of any such partnerships to take between six months and a year.

2. Immediate actionable projects and programmes Six immediate and actionable projects and initiatives were identified and agreed.

2.1 Hindu Environment Day or Week A week of action and awareness-raising was suggested (rather than just having one day), as many existing Hindu festivals and celebrations last for 7-10 days. There was also the option of one day during the week being the main event day, with celebrations to happen in the week around it. A number of times in the year were suggested for when the week could be celebrated:

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• Hari ali teej (July / August) • First week of Kartik (October / November) • During month of Shravan (August) • Shiva Ratri (January / February) • Vasant Panchami (February) • Govardhana Puja (October / November) It was agreed that Pujya Swamiji would decide when the week will be. He has suggested that it happens at a time of the year when trees can be planted. The dates suggested will be reviewed in light of this and presented to Swamiji for confirmation.

2.2 Standards and guidelines It was agreed that clear standards and guidelines need to be identified for pilgrim towns, cities and temples. These would include waste management, sanitation and energy. These would need to be established in partnership with ICLEI, temple and city officials. Temple Social Responsibility (TSR) programmes should also be implemented, so that temples take responsibility for the impact pilgrims have in the areas surrounding temple grounds and in the town or city.

2.3 Eco-competition between towns and cities Once standards and guidelines are identified a system could be established, similar to a competition or rating system, to see what percentage of the standards and guidelines a pilgrim town is meeting. Some of the criteria and ideas suggested were: • Legal dumping grounds for waste • Daily waste collection and disposal • Large vehicles, such as 4x4’s and buses required to park outside the town and pilgrims enter the town on rikshaws • Limits on noise pollution • A ban on billboards that advertise religious events and commercial activities • Pilgrim paths free from cars 10


2.4 Green School Curriculum Working with schools and young people in pilgrim sites was identified as a way to raise awareness of environmental concerns and encourage good practice from an early age. Food for Life Vrindavan runs a very successful school for children from rural backgrounds. They have implemented a number of environmental initiatives, of which waste management is their main theme. They have agreed to document their environmental programmes and package them to be distributed to other schools in pilgrim towns.

2.5 State-wide GPNs Within each State in India there are sometimes two, three or more major pilgrim sites. In the state of Uttarakhand there is Haridwar, Rishikesh and Rajaji National Park. In Uttar Pradesh there is Vrindavan and Varanasi. In Andhra Pradesh there are Vishakapatnam, Sri Sailam, Ahobilam and Tirupati. State-wide GPNs would encourage cities to work closely with each other, as they would have similar needs and concerns. It would also bring in more members to the Network, as one member city in a state could encourage other cities in the state to join. Dr Rajenda Krishna from Vishakapatnam volunteered to co-ordinate efforts between cities and temples in Andhra Pradesh. Similar coordinators are required for other states. This approach would allow the pilgrim cities to work region by region in India, rather than selecting cities and sites from across the country. In addition, if the initiative were to get the state government’s endorsement, it would make working with the towns easier, as city authorities would be more willing to engage in a programme that has the endorsement of the state government.

2.6 Kumbh events Pujya Swamiji agreed to host an event at the Kumbh Mela on either the 18th or 19th of January to promote the GPN. All delegates were invited to attend the event on that evening if they are at the Kumbh. Pujya Swamiji has also agreed to green his Kumbh camp, to set an example for others.

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2.7 Websites Two domain names were agreed upon and have already been purchased. They are gpnindia.com and gpnindia.net. The websites are still in development and hope to be ready for launch in early 2013.

2.8 Other ideas A number of other ideas were suggested. These were: • Creating temple / ashram federations in each town to represent temple interests • Working towards a ministry of pilgrimage towns with the national government • Encouraging other temples and cities to sign the GPN Vision Statement • Publishing monthly events that occur in a town / city in a journal in order to remove large banners and hoardings that are displayed in pilgrim places • Banning plastics from temples

Breakout Group 2: Green Pilgrimage in Tiger Reserves Some of India’s holiest sites are found in wild natural areas, some of these in the country’s tiger reserves. Ten conservationists from the Forest Department, the NGOs Wildlife Trust of India and WWF, and wildlife enthusiasts from five tiger reserves in 4 states came together over two days of meetings in Rishikesh to discuss ways that the negative impacts of pilgrimage could be mitigated in tiger reserves. Unfortunately temple and district authorities could not participate in the Rishikesh meeting as it took place at the same time as important meetings on pilgrimage in several of the parks. The benefit of this was that the conservation community had the opportunity to have a very productive discussion and were able to agree on potential solutions, next steps and how to reach out to temple and district authorities.

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1. We identified the main threats to tiger reserves from pilgrimage including: • Millions of pilgrims move through the parks every year. The sheer numbers of people in the park during pilgrimage months is highly disruptive to wildlife populations • Pilgrims leave a sea of human and solid waste on the land, including huge amounts of plastic bags and bottles. Trash attracts animals and spreads disease • Pilgrims crowd riverbanks, preventing animals from using their habitual water sources and choking rivers with their ceremonial statues, offerings and clothing • Thousands of cars drive on park roads, endangering animals as they try to move through their corridors. Noise and lights from cars and festivities also disrupt wildlife populations • Fuelwood is extracted from the forest for use in cooking, by locals filling orders from food stall owners who set up shop along pilgrimage routes. Pilgrims also cut wood in the forest to use for their cooking, and pose a fire hazard • There is high water use by temples and pilgrims, which can degrade ground water levels • The number of ashrams and temples has been growing as the number of visitors increase. Temples and ashrams are constructing more buildings inside the park without proper planning • There isn’t enough low cost accommodation for pilgrims so multitudes sleep in the forest

2. We explored some creative ways to green pilgrimage in the parks, including:

• Temples inside reserves could conduct environmental audits to look at their current practices and take steps to green their temples. This has many benefits beyond protecting tigers and is part of a growing movement across India to ensure temples are as environmentally friendly as possible. The concept of TSR (‘Temple Social Responsibility’) can be highlighted. This idea is best introduced by other religious leaders who are greening their temples and ashrams. • Instead of having a proliferation of small merchants ordering fuelwood from

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villagers living in and near the park, temples can help establish community kitchens that use solar and gas, and that absorb the food stall sellers into the enterprise so that they don’t lose their livelihoods. These langars could perhaps be established outside the reserve to minimize waste inside the park • Work with the authorities for them to prohibit private vehicles inside the park and create a bussing system for pilgrims to reach the temples and holy sites lying inside park boundaries • Demarcate a special place to deposit remnants from puja where pilgrims can receive blessings (However Mr. Subudhi cautioned that parks need a Supreme Court approval for special waste areas. Could this be outside the park?) • Install bio-toilets, especially during pilgrimage events when tens of thousands of people are in the forest (perhaps mobile toilets to get around Supreme Court issue) • Temples could develop a rainwater harvesting system to help recharge groundwater • Initiate a plastic clean up based on the Polluter Pays Principle, enshrined in India’s Environmental Protection Act: add cost of clean up to the price of plastic bottles, and incentivize cleaning up in the park by paying for the return of bottles. In Ranthmabore, part of the parking fee pays for a sweeper on pilgrimage paths. Perhaps influential religious leaders to get behind this plan and publicize it and work with the media • Look into developing a Green logo/ certification of businesses in/near pilgrimage sites • Regulate light, sound, vehicles, pilgrim movement in parks, shut temples at certain hours/ on certain days • Temples can plant trees around the park boundary, which can act as a curtain for light • Ashrams can look into providing cheap places to stay such as dorms and night centres • See if some of the festivities can be shifted part of the year outside the park • Greening festivals: Mr. Basu gave a presentation on the annual Green Durga

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Puja Festival in Calcutta, where tiger pujas have been organized. We discussed outlining a step by step summary of “how to create your own tiger puja” during Navaratri for temples to raise awareness about tiger conservation if in line with the tradition of the temple • For translocation of tigers into the park or other conservation events, spiritual leaders could be invited to bless the animals and raise awareness among pilgrims and local communities about the sacred nature of animals • The same is true for relocation of villagers outside the park. Religious leaders could be present to bless their new homes and remind them that moving from the park was a part of their seva to the Earth

3. Highlight the importance of involving religious leaders who can help spread spiritual messages related to conservation, to help awaken people on a mass scale:

• To do this we can ask Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Chaturvedi Swami and others with this awareness to help raise this consciousness among other religious leaders linked with tiger reserves. • In turn these religious leaders can help bring about awareness among pilgrims and local communities about Hindu theology and nature protection, honouring of the forest and all life within it, and the responsibility of Hindus to care for nature. They can reinvoke the stories of sages going to the forest to seek enlightenment, and of sacred species • They can help put the sanctity back into pilgrimage by cultivating the former ethos of pilgrimage as something deeply spiritual. They can remind pilgrims of the importance of taking part in all aspects of pilgrimage from a place of sacred intention and how everything on the path is holy – the trees, the animals, the grass – not just the destination. The forest is not just a space to pass through to get to the temple. It is the temple • They can help infuse all of the pilgrimage process with the intention of seva from start to finish

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• Swami Chidanand Saraswati called on the meeting participants to form the foundation of a new movement to preserve the sanctity of Hindu holy places and later in the meeting pledged to make Parmarth a model green ashram • In his speech, Chaturvedi Swami spoke about mantras that ask for permission to nature for ‘right usage’ of plants and animals, acknowledging that we don’t have superiority. He said that in Vedic culture we bow down and pray for permission and apologize for having to use animals or plants. Usage should be courteous, and never painful. We will obtain from Chaturvedi Swami the source and details of these mantras and share them with temple authorities and spiritual leaders.

4. Next Steps:

• We agreed a good next step would be to follow the Rishikesh meeting with smaller meetings in tiger reserves in the coming year, to include spiritual leaders, city officials, temple authorities and Forest Department representatives. • As the Rishikesh meeting consisted mainly of conservationists, it is important that the next step focus on gaining the support of the temple authorities and spiritual leaders living in and around the tiger reserves. Swamiji could perhaps call together influential religious leaders who can discuss the links between Hinduism and nature protection, and the benefits of greening temples and pilgrimage sites. This will involve collecting information on how many temples lie within and near the park, which traditions the temples belong to, which deities are worshipped, whether there are any local bodies that represent the temples in the park, and identifying gurus or spiritual leaders associated with the temples as well as the names of key representatives in the temple authorities. • After this crucial step, another meeting can be called with all stakeholders to discuss ideas that came up at Rishikesh and to agree on the importance of working together to develop a plan to green pilgrimage sites inside tiger reserves. The meeting could also focus on launching one or two concrete projects to reduce waste, noise, traffic or another threat to the park by the next major pilgrimage event, and on how to create awareness about this before the event if possible

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• A small network can be created between these sites to encourage each other and share ideas and lessons learned so that India’s sacred wildlife and forests can be protected during pilgrimage • Determine timeline of pilgrimages so we have something to work towards • Begin to document examples of faith and conservation successes: such as the saint near Ranthambore who encouraged a hunting community to cease their hunting activities in the park • Identify donors who could help support the program (ex. Gates Foundation to support toilets for the 4 reserves) • Start a discussion/ sharing group like a Facebook group or other internet group to begin a network and share ideas • Develop sensitization training for conservationists about working with religious authorities and communities so that the Hindu view of conservation can be incorporated into modern conservation practice

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MOVING FORWARD Kumbh Mela The Kumbh Mela presents a good opportunity to showcase the GPN to an international audience. Chantal Elkin and Gopal Patel of ARC and the Bhumi Project will be at the Kumbh from January 12th - 20th to meet with religious leaders and publicise the GPN. At the Kumbh Mela Pujya Swamiji will announce his intention to develop a 12-year plan for his ashram in Rishikesh and all his environmental work. We hope other religious leaders will follow his lead. In 12 years time, when these plans have been implemented, we hope the next Maha Kumbh is green in every sense. And that the millions of pilgrims all go home understanding a little better what the links are between being Hindu and preserving this world. Structure and staffing The GPN is a concept that welcomes all who want to join it. There is no strong central management structure. Its strength depends on the willingness of the members to engage with each other, sharing and implementing best practice. From the great success of this meeting, the Bhumi Project is now working to establish an office in India to facilitate the GPN and its other programmes. It is hoped this office will be operational by April 2013. Next meeting(s) It was agreed that more than regular meetings, practical action and networking between member cities was more important. It was also suggested regional or statewide meetings could take place in the interim period of the next national meeting. If another meeting were deemed appropriate it should be held, probably, in around February/March 2014.

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Compiled by Victoria Finlay, Chantal Elkin and Gopal Patel ARC The House Kelston Park Bath BA1 9AE United Kingdom +44 1225 758004 www.arcworld.org arcworld@arcworld.org

The Bhumi Project Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies 13-15 Magdalen Street Oxford OX1 3AE United Kingdom +44 1865 304300 www.bhumiproject.org info@bhumiproject.org

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GPN India - report November 2012  

Summary of Green Pilgrimage Network meeting Rishikesh, November 2012