South Asian heritage tourism: Conflict, colonialism, and cooperation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter focuses on heritage and tourism in South Asia, a region also known as the Indian subcontinent. Some scholars use the term “greater India” to describe the region. While this might be appropriate from an historical point of view, for political reasons, South Asia is the more accepted nomenclature among other South Asian countries (Mittal and Thursby 2006). Owing to the lack of consensus regarding the definition of South Asia, it is important to state which countries are being considered in this chapter. Several scholars and institutions define the region differently. For example, Myanmar and Iran are sometimes considered part of South Asia. This confusion exists because there is no clear geographical boundary between South Asia and other Asian regions, including Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Rather, only a geographical basis seems more appropriate by which to define the region from geopolitical, socio-political, and historical perspectives. For the purpose of this chapter, we refer to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) definition. SAARC is an economic and political organization that provides a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust, and understanding (SAARC 2008b). According to SAARC, South Asia encompasses Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Religion and politics have shaped the region in substantial ways. For example, two of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, are rooted here. Although there is no exact date regarding when Hinduism, the world’s oldest and third largest religion, was first practiced, its history can be traced back to approximately 5000 BCE when the Indus Valley/Harappa civilization flourished in the region (Singh 2006). Like Hinduism, Buddhism was founded more than 2,500 years ago and exported to other parts of the world, particularly Southeast and East Asia. Beyond religious influences, the region has been home to indigenous empires, as well as influences and threats from external forces (Najam 2003). Colonialism is one such force that has shaped South Asia. British, Portuguese, French, and Dutch colonial rule has left behind a cultural and historical legacy that is apparent even today in the architecture, food, celebrations, politics, educational, and judicial systems of these countries. As such, the region has a rich and varied cultural heritage that includes a large variety of tourist attractions such as temples, monasteries, monuments, forts, tombs, palaces, and a thriving and ever-changing, living culture. The region is also home to forty-nine of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites (WHS) (see Figure 8.1), most of which are located in India (27), followed by Sri Lanka (7), Pakistan (6), Nepal (4), Bangladesh (3), and Afghanistan (2). There are no WHS inscribed in Bhutan or the Maldives-the two smallest countries of the region. Of the forty-six sites, thirty-six are classified as cultural heritage and the rest are natural. The diversity of cultures, climates, and topographies makes the region potentially important for economic development through tourism. Nonetheless, South Asia remains one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in the world. According to the 2006 Human Development Report (UNDP 2006), South Asia is described as the world’s second poorest region, following subSaharan Africa, in terms of per capita gross national product (GNP). Furthermore, almost half the world’s poor (500 million) live in South Asia (UNDP 2006). The same report also declared South Asia the world’s most illiterate realm, being home to some 50 percent of the globe’s illiterate population. South Asia accounts for nearly a quarter of the earth’s population (1.42 billion), but the region’s combined gross national income (GNI) was only 2.14 percent of the global total (SAARC 2005). World Bank (2000) data on adult literacy, life expectancy, and population growth rates indicate that the South Asian states as a group lag behind the world in general, and other developing countries in particular. South Asia is also one of the fastest growing regions of the world, experiencing a population growth rate of some 1.7 percent annually, compared with the 1.2 percent growth rate the world over (SAARC 2005).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World
Subtitle of host publicationA Regional Perspective
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781134002283
ISBN (Print)041577621X, 9780415776219
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Social Sciences


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