From the rustic rural charm of ‘Kutch’, once a sprawling shallow of the Arabian Sea and now a crunchy bed of white salt-land to the first-of-its-kind and most modern ‘Kevadiya’, site of the world’s tallest ‘Statue of Unity’, Gujarat’s tourism offerings have myriad hues.
TravelScapes takes its readers on a touristic trail of two very distinct destinations in the state. A surreal backdrop and part of the country’s largest district, Kutch hides behind its arid surroundings a once-in-a-lifetime experience of landscapes, palaces, wildlife, temples, beach and above all, villages, its people and their crafts, and so much more. Kevadiya on the other hand is India’s and Gujarat’s most modern ensemble of a wholesome tourist destination that stands unrivalled. Since the unveiling of the Statue of Unity, standing tall at a world record 182 meters (Almost 600 feet), on October 31st, 2018, Kevadiya has been ever developing with activities and attractions surrounding the Statue of Liberty. Valley of Flowers, Eco Park, Cactus Garden, Dino Park, River Cruise on Narmada, boating, Light & Sound show, the destination has as many as 33 sites of touristic interests.
STATUE OF UNITY
The 182-metre statue is dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the architect of independent India. The SoU overlooks the vast surroundings and the river basin of the Narmada River and the sprawling Sardar Sarovar dam. It stands on the Sadhu Bet hillock, connected by a 300 metre bridge, which offers access from the mainland to the statue. More than 50 lakh visitors have come to see the SoU after it was dedicated to the nation and it is catching on after staying closed during the Corona months. It is estimated, as the connectivity improves, about one lakh visitors per day are expected in Kevadiya.
Once a famous port and now a famous tourist attraction in Kutch, Mandvi, famous for its beach and a centuries-old shipbuilding yard, is an ideal place where one gets to see the perfect amalgamation of sand, sun and sea. While the welcoming waters, white sandy shores and bustle of snack stalls make the beaches of Mandvi a must-visit, watching the sunset from here and walking barefoot on the golden sand, is a simple pleasure that one should not miss. Not just a serene place, Mandvi Beach is also known for its various avenues of adventure activities some of which include water sports like surfing, skiing, speed boating, water scooting, parasailing as well as camping adventures or simply relaxing ease with family or friends. Bollywood buffs and architecture lovers are sure to be enthralled by a visit to the nearby Vijay Vilas Palace that was built in 1929 by Rao Vijayrajji. You may also choose to head out to the nearby local markets that are known to sell rich handicrafts. End your day with a leisurely walk around the areas of the palace that are open to the public and marvel at the magnificently opulent architectural style.
One of the holiest lakes in Hinduism, Narayan Sarovar, is sacred to Lord Narayan, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Located 100 km away from Bhuj and near the Lakhpat Taluka in Kutch, the lake is an agglomeration of five lakes (collectively called Panch-Sarovar; Mansarovar, Bindu Sarovar, Narayan Sarovar, Pampa Sarovar and Pushkar Sarovar) and is considered a sacred pilgrimage destination for the orthodox Hindus. The origin of Narayan Sarovar dates back to the Puranas. According to Hindu mythology, it is said that there was a drought in the region and Lord Vishnu appeared in response to ardent prayers by sages. When he touched the land with his toe, a lake was immediately created, alleviating the locals from their misery and that’s the key reason why the lake has a great spiritual significance. A large number of temples like Shri Trikamraiji, Govardhannathji, Dwarkanath, Laxminarayan, Adinarayan, Ranchodraiji and Laxmiji surround the lake. Narayan Sarovar has a Wildlife Sanctuary, the Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary. You can find some quiet time to witness the rare Chinkaras, Red Antelopes here.
Dholavira is the larger of the two most remarkable excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan culture, dating back to 4500 years ago. Known locally as Kotada (which means large fort), Dholavira sprawls over 100 hectares of semi-arid land at the north-west corner of the island of Khadir, one of the islands in the Great Rann of Kutch that remain above the flood-plains in months when the rest of the desert is submerged by the monsoon. Placed on an island encompassed by the Greater Rann of Kutch, the remaining parts of Dholavira are a sample of the wonders of hydro-designing aced by the antiquated. Interestingly, the city was, perhaps, configured like a large parallelogram boldly outlined by massive walls with their longer axis being from the east to west. A journey to this stunning trip to the past is worth every minute of your trip as it sails you through the saline desert plains of the Great Rann, where you can also spot wildlife such as Chinkara (Indian gazelle), Nilgai and Flamingos. Around 250 km from Bhuj, Dholavira is reached via Bhachau and Rapar and the nearest airport is Bhuj.
LITTLE RANN OF KUTCH
The Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), a salt marsh in Gujarat, is a pristine, vast plain that stretches into the horizon. Sprawled over 3,570 sq. km, LRK is a unique landscape with characteristics of both wetlands as well as desert. This biodiversity of the landscape is due to seasonal rivers flowing through the area which goes on to meet the sea from the Gulf of Kutch. . Though a seemingly stark landscape, it is rich in biodiversity and is an ecologically important area for wildlife and many local and migratory waterbirds. It is known to be the world’s last refuge of the Indian Wild Asses and acts as a major nesting ground for the gorgeous Lesser Flamingos–the only place outside Africa to serve as a conducive environment for the breeding of these magnificent birds. Additionally, LRK is famous as the last habitat for Asiatic wild ass apart from which, spotting of the desert and Indian fox, Jackal, Striped Hyena, Desert Cat and Indian Wolf is an added attraction in this area.
HANDICRAFTS OF KUTCH
Carried on from generation to generation, the Kutch region is renowned for its handicrafts, produced by the very talented artisans in its villages who have played a crucial role in sustaining the traditional arts due to the authentic, local production. Many of the famous arts, such as bandhani tie-die and ajrakh block printing, originate from Pakistan. Migrants brought these arts with them when they came to Kutch more than 350 years ago. Also, ethnic style arts such as embroidery, weaving, pottery, lacquer work, leatherwork, mud and mirror work and Rogan art, patchwork, terracotta, wood carvings, pen knives and nutcrackers are prevalent in the region. It is also possible to drop into the villages and visit the artisans individually. Many villages have their styles and specialties; the best solution is to explore the area at your own pace and see what you find! Buying directly from the artisans here is a great way of endorsing the aspects of both rural tourism and travel benefiting the locals.
VALLEY OF FLOWERS
The Valley of Flowers also known as Bharat Van, is spread across 24 acres of land and is a haven for colorful flowering plants along the bank of river Narmada. The Valley of Flower began with 48,000 plants in 2016 and has now reached up to 22,00,000 plants. Besides the parks, several photo booths and selfie points have been developed to take back fond memories of the visit. The spot resembles a rainbow of flowers setup on earth. More than 300 types of flowers are grown in this garden. A right blend of ornamental flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and creepers are planted along with various shades of foliage, which forms the green cover in this area.
MATA NO MADH
Dedicated to Maa Ashapura and located 138 kilometres from the city of Bhuj, Mata no Madh is a temple and one of the most sacred shrines of Gujarat. Ashapura Ma is believed to be the chief deity of Jadeja, the rulers of Kutch state and now well known as Mata No Madh. The original 1200-year-old temple was demolished twice due to earthquakes. This structure has now been constructed with more grandeur and better dimensions. The main temple stands out in the skyline of Bhuj and creates a breath-taking view for visitors. The temple that stands strong today has been built by Sunderji Saudagar. With great faith in goddess Ashapura, thousands of devotees and tourists visit Mata no Madh round the year. Several important religious activities are carried out at Mata No Madh and several Hindu festivals like Diwali and Navratri are celebrated with great fervour.
LASER LIGHT & SOUND SHOW
A Light and Sound show using laser technology projected on the SoU takes place every evening except Monday. The colourful laser lighting system is accompanied by an excellent narration of the history and life of Sardar Patel, his contribution to the Independence Movement and the unification of India as one nation.
SARDAR SAROVAR DAM
The Sardar Sarovar Dam is the third highest concrete dam (163 metres) in India after Bhakra (226 metres) in Himachal Pradesh and Lakhwar (192 metres) in Uttar Pradesh. In terms of volume of concrete involved for gravity dams, this dam is ranked as the second-largest in the world with an aggregate volume of 6.82 million cubic metre; only after Grand Coulee Dam in the USA with a total volume of 8.0 million cubic metre being the largest.
Gujarat State Forest Development Corporation has initiated boat ride in Dyke-3 known as Panchmuli Lake in Kevadiya as a part of eco-tourism activity. Boating facility has been developed with the help of an external professional entity. Tourists coming to Kevadiya are also enjoying the pristine nature with this boat ride. Total duration of each ride is for 45 minutes and in a day eight rides are operationalised by the operator.
This ride takes to dyke-4 as well as the entire water body is surrounded by lush green forests. Ecosystem around the lake is very rich in flora and fauna.
The Cactus Garden is a unique botanical garden at the SoU site, created to exhibit a huge variety of Cacti and succulents, the true miracles of adaptation. The thought behind the development of the cactus garden is to provide an experience of the desert ecosystem in the midst of a landmass well entrenched in an aquatic surrounding. There are 6 lakh plants of 450 species spread across 25 acres of open land and inside the dome having an area of 836 square metres.
Ekta Nursery is being developed in the vicinity of the SoU, in line with the Prime Minister’s vision that visitors, when they return, should take back with them seedlings as a plant of unity. Out of the one million plants targeted, 0.3 million plants are in ‘ready to sell’ stage and the other 0.7 million are likely to be ready soon.
CHILDREN NUTRITION PARK
Children Nutrition Park is unique which has been developed as a part of Kevadiya Integrated Development. It provides a high-quality entertainment and vital knowledge to the children on healthy eating habits and nutritional values based on the theme of ‘Sahi Poshan Desh Roshan’. Entire park is designed and implemented for the benefit of the children and extensive use of state-of-the-art technology is being made, which gives a fascinating experience to the children visiting the park.
Recent excavations in the Narmada Valley have revealed that Rajasaurus Narmadensis, an endemic species of dinosaur, was existing in the Narmada valley during Cretaceous period. A replica of the endemic dinosaur with the distinctive horn is created and exhibited for the visitors. The replica is about three times the estimated–original size; it measures 75 feet in length and 25 feet in height. This offers the visitors a glimpse into the evolution of the planet and mankind and is an attempt to create public awareness regarding the wealth of ancient flora and fauna of this area.
Vishwa Van is a Global Forest and offers natural aesthetic beauty. Vishwa Van is home to herbs, shrubs and trees native to all seven continents signifying the underlying theme of ‘Unity in Bio-diversity’ in global context as well. Vishwa Van symbolises the life-sustaining potion of forests in the context of all life forms on the planet. Vishwa Van has a diverse assemblage of flora representing every continent of the world. The vegetation is arranged in a way to resemble the natural forest of a particular zone.