Memos from Asia

Tallest Statue in the World: Statue of Unity, India

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Did you know what the world’s tallest statue is? BEFORE reading the headline?

“Umm. Statue of Liberty?”

Possibly the most famous, definitely not the tallest. Don’t beat yourself up, though. That’s a common guess, but in reality, it wasn’t the tallest even before 2018, when India’s PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the 597 feet (182 meters for the metric folks) tall Statue of Unity in his native state Gujarat. If you want to know, China’s Spring Temple Buddha was the tallest statue until then.

A tribute to the unifier of India

Statue of Unity is the statue of Vallabhbhai Patel, aka Sardar, meaning leader, in India’s western state of Gujarat. Sardar was a freedom fighter and disciple of Gandhi. He followed Gandhi’s word and stood against the British Rule in India, demanding self-rule and independence.

Why is he called the unifier? Well, after independence, if you didn’t guess it already, Britishers weren’t too keen on spending time on making the transition a peaceful one. Patel was given the responsibility of uniting 562 princely states. He is also known as India’s Bismarck, and Iron Man of India for his balanced use of power and diplomacy to bring vastly different people around the subcontinent under the union of India.

Vallabhbhai, like Gandhi, was born in Gujarat, and in 2013, then Gujarati Chief Minister Modi performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the statue near the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is built over the river Narmada.

Why visit this huge statue?

To reach the Statue of Unity, you can hit the road after landing at Vadodara Airport and enjoy the valley of flowers along the banks of river Narmada. The Statue of Unity is huge; you can see it from more than 4 miles away on your way. You can stay in the scenic tent city nearby and enjoy the views of the wilderness and mountains around before you leave for the statue tour.

The hugeness of the statue is unimaginable and only realized once you’re next to it but if even that doesn’t interest you enough, the statue is filled with amazing features, too. Since it was created as a tourist destination from the start, there’s something for everyone.
The gigantic structure itself houses five sections, of which three are open to visitors. The first zone reaching to the shins has an exhibition area and museum. You can learn about the life of Sardar, his fight against the British Rule, and work on the unification of India. The statue is in a historically tribal land in the forests, and the museum educates about their culture, including the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary closeby. The exhibition also has audio and visuals on these subjects, which don’t let the tour feel dull at any point.

The second section reaches the thighs, and the third one has a capacity viewing gallery with 200 visitors capacity at 500 feet height. The viewing gallery can be reached in just half a minute through either of the two elevators that run through the statue’s legs and carry 26 people each. The panoramic view of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which itself is big at 530 feet height and the Satpuda and vindhyachal mountain ranges, is thrilling, to say the least, from this height.

Once you’ve been to the gallery, you can try the delicious cuisine at the food court with a view of the dam. Don’t forget to stay for the evening to enjoy a colorful laser show with narration about the man who unified India we know today. There are a lot more activities and places like adventure sports, jungle safari, boating, eco-tourism, gardens, and park that you can try and visit.

Tribal people and ecological concerns

The statue has faced opposition from many activists and tribal people who live in the area. The statue’s high cost of $540 million was also questioned by opposers. When the dam was built and later developed further, a large number of tribal people had to relocate themselves. The planned developments for tourism might also affect the wildlife and ecosystem of the region.

The Statue of Unity is seen by tribals as a way of planning large land grab from the tribal lands in the name of tourism and development. 72 villages affected by the development of the statue protested and didn’t cook food on the day of inauguration.(India Today)

The government has defended the statue saying tourism will help the people by creating jobs, but the history of such promises hasn’t been anything to brag about for Indian governments. It also said that the statue of the cost would soon be earned back through the tourism boost.

The Statue of Unity is a wonder due to its size and worthy of a visit, but it also raises questions about the kind of tourism development that affects the way of life of people whose lands the urban civilization uses. What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments.

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