Fine. The Diwali weekend may not have been the best time to set out for a visit to the Statue of Unity. We left Baroda on a Saturday morning, naively calculating that we’d drive two hours to the statue, spend an hour or two there and head to Surat. The roads were lined with congratulatory signboards—‘the world’s tallest statue, built by L&T in just 33 months, a world record’. Comparative posters showed how other iconic statues measured up… or didn’t. Christ the Redeemer in Brazil (38m), Statue of Liberty in New York City (93m), Ushiku Daibutsu in Japan (120m), Spring Temple Buddha in China (153m); the 182m-tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel dwarfed them all.
Thinking we had left early, we turned off the highway into Dabhoi to check out its old southern gateway Nandodi Gate. The once-fortified town had four gateways and the Hira Bhagol (gate) was suffused with intricate carvings and pillared arches. Local legends recount how Hiradhar, the architect, was buried here alive. Some claim it was because the king did not want him to replicate a similar masterpiece for anyone else. Others say Hira ran short of stones as he pilfered them to create a tank for his lover, thereby incurring the king’s wrath. Whatever the story, death was a heavy price to pay for a skilled architect. Yet, Hira’s name lives on.
Soon, we were back on the highway towards Kevadiya. We had a sinking feeling as every vehicle seemed headed that way, but it was too late to turn back. After an eternity, we were directed to a massive makeshift parking lot. It seemed like we were trapped in the Kumbh Mela or the mass migration of wildebeests.
Ten minutes later, we noticed people cross to the left and join a serpentine queue leading to the ticket area. To our horror, the counter was like an octopus with multiple queues. Further away, a long line of buses trailed with more queues. Every face was writ with grim determination—“I am going to see this statue today, no matter what!” Ashen, we approached some security personnel who directed us to an office. We were told, “It is an impossible situation. Such crowds had not been anticipated. Those waiting might get a chance in a few hours, maybe evening…” There was no shame in cutting losses; we would live to fight another day.
After a week-long south Gujarat tour, we returned for another attempt. It was now or never. How could we possibly go back not having seen “The Statue”? We imagined the incredulous inquisition that would follow. “You couldn’t see it?” “What do you mean there was a crowd?” Fearing public ridicule, we drove into Kevadiya by late afternoon with an iron will and steely resolve to meet India’s Iron Man.
It wasn’t as bad as it was on Diwali, but crowds were still lining up. Luckily, a chance to check out the new Tent Cities on the banks of the Sardar Sarovar Dam gave us back-route access in our own vehicle. Along the Narmada, the tents stretched out like a mini city. Gujarat Tourism offered all-inclusive multi-day packages with excursions to the dam site, Valley of Flowers, Shoolpaneshwar Temple and Rajvant Palace.
Our heart skipped a beat when we finally saw the statue outlined in the afternoon haze. Constructed on Sadhu Bet, a river island, it was accessible by a wide walkway lined with travelators on either side. On the opposite side of the river, the words ‘Statue of Unity’ screamed from the hillside in Hollywood-esque fashion. Looming high, Sardar seemed to watch the people scurrying below. A series of escalators transported visitors up to his feet. We seemed like two stitches in his sandal strap. Built out of steel framing, reinforced concrete and bronze cladding (incidentally, made in China), the statue was designed to withstand earthquakes and wind velocities of 60 m/s.
After the mandatory selfie, we ambled down to the hi-tech Exhibition Hall and Gallery below. Dominating the hall was the face of Sardar Patel, an exact replica of the main statue in a proportion of 1:5. It was designed by Padma Bhushan-awardee Shri Ram V Sutar. The museum catalogued his life and contribution while an adjoining audiovisual gallery screened a 15-minute show on Patel and the state’s tribal culture.
Two high-speed elevators zipped up and down the concrete towers that form the statue’s legs. In just 30 seconds, 26 visitors are transported to the 153m (502ft) high viewing gallery, which can accommodate 200 people at a time. As luck would have it, one of the lifts had conked. The security guys looked like dazed club bouncers at dawn after a Saturday night party. Irate people hung around the elevator doors in uncertainty, as we wondered if the maintenance guy would suffer the fate of Hira the architect at the hands of the king.
Surely, logistics and infrastructure issues will be smoothened out. Meanwhile, the food court is being populated, the sound and light show is getting its final touches and the road to Kevadiya has been made into a four-lane highway. With direct flights to Baroda and Surat, tourism is all set to prosper in a quiet nook that was not even a destination. Ironically (no pun intended), the Sardar Patel statue has been as controversial as the Sardar Sarovar Dam it calmly surveys. But TV debates aside, by sheer numbers, it was turning out to be the hottest tourist attraction of the year.
- You can drive down to the Statue of Unity, Kevadiya from Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad. Visitors must leave all private vehicles at the parking lot from where buses ferry you to the world’s tallest statue.
- You can book a 2hr slot online at soutickets.in. The statue is open on all days except Mondays from 9am–5pm and tickets cost INR 350 for adults and INR 200 for children, and an additional INR 30 is charged for the bus.
WHERE TO STAY
- Stay at Narmada Tent City 1 & 2 at the dam site in luxurious tents with views of the Statue of Unity and Sardar Sarovar Dam (from INR 3,000; tentcitynarmada.com).
- At Rajvant Palace Resort, Rajpipla, there are well-appointed rooms with a swimming pool and a museum in the premises (INR 4,100, rajvantpalace.com).
- Four Points by Sheraton Vadodara offers 102 room with modern amenities (INR 4,500, marriott.com).