More than 300 million people travel every year for religious purposes. Many are making pilgrimages to holy cities and sacred sites. But when so many people travel, they can endanger the very places they love. Authorities of some pilgrimage destinations want to reduce the pollution and environmental damage caused by so many people. They're joining what's called the Green Pilgrimage Movement. That includes the Indian holy city of Amritsar, where we found NPR's Corey Flintoff.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: It's 4:00 in the morning and the courtyard of the Golden Temple is already pulsing with life.


FLINTOFF: Thousands of Sikh pilgrims pray and sing as they wait for the daily ritual in which the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is carried to the sanctuary.


FLINTOFF: The gold-sheathed temple is strung with lights, so it gleams like a jewel box in the midst of a mirror-like pond.


FLINTOFF: The book, covered in rich cloth, is placed in a litter under a golden canopy and carried across a causeway, followed by devotees.


FLINTOFF: Most of the men wear the carefully wrapped turbans and the uncut beards that are the most familiar marks of their religion. Sikhs from all over India and the world stay in touch with their faith by visiting this and other holy sites as often as they can.

RAVNEET PAL SINGH: Everyone has to be here, like, once a year, twice a year. Like, people come from all over the world, wherever we have Sikh communities. They come back to India, and the one place that they surely will go to is the Golden Temple.

FLINTOFF: This is Ravneet Pal Singh, who works for the environmental group EcoSikh. He says the city of Amritsar gets around 100,000 visitors a day - pilgrims and tourists, and three times that many on holidays.

SINGH: They come here, drink a lot of water and use public transport and all those facilities that you have to use while you're in a travel to such a place. So we can change many things and reduce carbon footprint a lot.

FLINTOFF: Singh is particularly fired up because he's just returned from a meeting of other representatives of the Green Pilgrim Cities Network in Assisi, Italy. He was part of a small delegation of city and temple officials who pledged to try to incorporate environmentally friendly practices in Amritsar. Singh says the ideas for Amritsar include solar panels for the lighting system that keeps the temple gleaming throughout the night. Other plans revolve around a core tenet of the Sikh religion, that believers provide food for anyone who wants it. At the Golden Temple's communal kitchen, volunteers prepare and serve around 85,000 meals each day. Singh is proud that the meals are served on stainless steel plates and bowls, so there's no plastic waste, but he says the temple wants to extend green practices to the cooking and cleaning.

He says the temple wants to install solar water heaters for this area, where steel dishes clash like cymbals as hundreds of volunteers wash up. Temple authorities also want to make better use of the water.

SINGH: All the temples here, whether they're Hindu temples or Sikh temples or Muslim mosques or a church, they should have green water harvesting, and as far as possible they should have solar panels.

INSKEEP: Singh says the organizers hope to educate pilgrims by reminding them of the Earth-friendly messages that are already part of Sikh theology.

SINGH: The air is our master, water is our father, and this Earth is our great, great mother. So this is direct relation that the masters, Sikh masters have given to us, and we should now reflect the way they taught us.

FLINTOFF: Singh says the Green Pilgrim Cities Network estimates that around 40 percent of the world's people make religious pilgrimages at some time in their lives. Singh says that's a lot of people who are potentially ripe for Earth-friendly messages. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.

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