Sacred Journeys and Profane Travellers: Representation and Spatial Practice in Varanasi (India)

Cristiana Zara

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is concerned with tourist representations and practices in India. Orientalist aesthetics have often associated this country with notions of spirituality and mysticism; tourist narratives sustain and reinforce such representations by describing India as a land of ancient rituals and timeless traditions. The visual construction of India’s ‘spiritual landscapes’ has been largely deployed as a powerful tool for subduing the unfamiliar Other within reassuring epistemological categories. However, tourism research has recently become interested in exploring the role of tourist practices in landscape production. Not only do tourists ‘gaze upon’ landscapes, they also script landscapes through practices and performances. By focusing on the case of Varanasi, the Indian pilgrimage city on the banks of the Ganges, this thesis shows how tourist practices (re)produce and make sense of the city’s ‘sacredscape’. Special attention is paid to the riverfront, which epitomizes the cultural and spiritual significance ascribed to the city. Both Hindu and tourist narratives depict the riverfront as embodying a special power, a unique meaning, whether this uniqueness is held to be a ‘spiritual’ or a ‘picturesque’ one. The thesis analyses the city’s riverfront as the place where tourist, ritual, and day-to-day activities are played out and negotiated, and where the aesthetics of landscape is confronted with the materialities and the practices inherent to this place. The research has adopted an ethnographic approach, combining participant observation, interviews and questionnaires, visual methods, and textual analysis of popular tourist literature.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Minca, Claudio, Supervisor
  • Willis, Katie, Advisor
Award date1 Jan 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Varanasi India
  • Tourism
  • Representation
  • Practice
  • Tourist landscape
  • Spirituality

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