In Kevadia, the mighty Narmada flows between the Satpura and Vindhayachal, slyly giving way to a smooth four-lane highway that leads to two remarkable structures: the Statue of Unity and the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Twice, it seems, the country has looked at Kevadia and both times in scale, the result has been quite remarkable. Driving up the highway, one can certainly rejoice in the fact that the Statue of Unity is far removed from the bustle of the cities. After all, the charm of concrete skylines would fade rather quickly. Erecting the statue in a nondescript town not only puts it on the tourist map but also creates a playground of opportunities, one that the state government has been efficient to act upon.
However shrouded in controversy it may be, our first glance at the Statue of Unity was enough to make us gasp quite audibly. There was nothing quite like it. The sheer size of it seemed unfathomable, my whole self as tall as Sardar Patel’s tiniest toe.
Standing on the river island of Sadhu Bet, the Statue of Unity is built to last a hundred years, braving earthquakes and other natural disasters. Made up of different metals, the iron in the statue was crowdsourced under the Loha campaign, collecting scraps from every state in the country. The outer façade in bronze, will slowly turn to a dull teal, similar to the Statue of Liberty in New York.
As we rode the many travelators, escalators and elevators to the viewing gallery at 135 metres above ground, our guide was quick to churn out facts, and quicker in pointing out the many selfie points. For instance, the viewing gallery is located where the statue’s heart would be. That the statue stands at a height of 182 metres, also the number of constituencies in Gujarat. That it faces the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Patel’s lifelong dream. Or that, the sculptor, Padma Bhushan Ram V Sutar, has incorporated deliberate imperfections into the statue to reflect Sardar’s personality, like the stitches on his sandals, all different in size. From the viewing gallery, we could not only look at the view outside, but also another window that allowed us take a peak at the inside of the structure.
At night, we made our way to the Statue of Unity again. I had heard nothing about a light and sound show and was taken aback by how spectacular it truly was. Lit up in a plethora of colours and effects, a gripping narrative wove the life of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, his contribution to the newly independent India, and finally, the conception and construction of the statue. If nothing, the noise from the audience was enough to speak of its success. Since it opened in October 2018, the Statue of Unity has pulled crowds like no other. Officials estimate that the statue witnesses a footfall of 7,000 visitors a day, going up to 20,000 during the holiday season. If managing the number of visitors was a challenge, another was to hold them in Kevadia long enough to invest in it. The birth of the Statue of Unity circuit has been handled with an iron will.
Within months, more than 20 different attractions have cropped up, to enthrall visitors for atleast two to three days. There is scope as there is variety; from the statue, one can take a bus (no private vehicles are allowed inside) to the many gardens in the vicinity. We started at the Valley of Flowers, spread across 600 acres with more than two million plants, and then later to Butterfly Garden, Cactus Garden and Arogya Van; each prettier than the last. At Arogya Van, the three-dimensional layout of the Aushadh Manav made for an interesting sight. An installation and a trail wrapped in one, we walked through the many organs, arteries and veins, each bit growing ayurvedic plants beneficial to that particular part of the human body. If there were gardens for some to enjoy, others would be surprised to find the adventure that lies in Kevadia— hiking, zip-lining and camping among many others. We were pulled in for river rafting the next day, going through the narrow rivulet and excitedly tackling grade four rapids; the experience of it, akin to the one in Rishikesh. Our last hour in Kevadia was spent boating, with crocodiles bobbing up and down, some more camera-shy than the others. We heard that nearby villages will soon open their doors for local walks and homestays.
The newly-launched mall, open-air zoo and the Children Nutrition Park would keep the young ones occupied. There are also talks of an auditorium, a mirror maze, and a digital forest world. Who knows, maybe in the future, Kevadia will draw more tourists than all other attractions in the country combined.
Kevadia is well-connected to Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Surat. Vadodara is a two-hour drive from Kevadia, with Air India and Indigo offering flights from most major cities in India. No private vehicles are allowed after a point, but buses at half-hour intervals are available at every attraction. Tickets for the statue and other attractions can be booked at soutickets.in
WHERE TO STAY
>Choose the BRG Budget Stay (from Rs 470 per night; brgbudgetstay.com) for a simple, no-frills experience. The property has AC and non-AC rooms, a restaurant and several new facilities coming up.
>Narmada Tent City I & II (packages from Rs 6,000; narmadatentcity.info) offer a luxurious stay near the dam site.
>With views of the Statue of Unity, Ramada Encore (from Rs 3,000; wyndhamhotels.com) is the most popular option with a swimming pool and a gym.