Kerala, located towards the end of the Western Ghats and famed to be ‘God’s Own Country, will unfurl a new-born destination to the world. And, a giant bird sculpture — Jatayu — will be at the centre of attraction.
That’s not all. It is slated to be the world’s largest bird sculpture.
The centre, named Jatayu Earth’s Center, has been built on a mighty rock named Jatayupara in Chadayamangalam, Kollam district. It is a multi-terrain tourism destination with four different hills — a first-of-its-kind trying to pave the way for international acclaim for a village in the hinterlands.
The colossal statue stands at 200 feet long, 150 feet wide and 70 feet tall. The project is the result of a decade of hard work and perseverance of filmmaker, art director, and sculptor Rajiv Anchal. Anchal is known for his epoch-making Malayalam film Guru, India's official entry to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film category in 1997.
But why select Jatayu? Mythology presents the answer. The bird epitomises the valour and bravery of a bird that once saved a woman’s honour. Jatayu, a mythic bird from the Ramayana, fought against the demon King Ravana when he kidnapped Sita. Tracing the tale, one finds the horrific battle in which Ravana snapped one of Jatayu’s wings with his blessed sword Chandrahasam. Left helpless in his flight, it is believed, Jatayu fell on the rock in Chadayamangalam.
Anchal, just like many Indian kids, heard the story in his childhood. It left an indelible impression on him. Right from his student days in a fine arts college, he dreamt of building a statue on the rock.
Things turned in his way when the Kerala government approached him to take part in a competition to build a statue on top of the rock. But, the rock was under the threat of the quarry mafia.
He made a model with a functional space in the interiors that proved his merit. Consequently, he was selected by the state government.
Anchal believes it was his destiny to build the sculpture. “Since my childhood, I have heard about the courage and bravery of Jatayu. I deeply idolised the bird that sacrificed its life to save a woman. Jatayu becomes even more significant in this age of #MeToo”, he said.
Anchal, a busy filmmaker, dedicated 10 years of his life giving flesh and spirit to Jatayu.
“It was not an easy task to build a statue on top of a 1,000-feet high rock. Apart from financial constraint, transporting materials to the top of the rock was a herculean task. My mental strength, along with the help of a hundred others, helped me pull it through,” he reminisces.
The destination, 1,000 feet above sea level, has diverse geographic features ranging from hills, valleys, rugged rocks, caves to cultivable land.
The sculpture can be accessed by a state-of-the-art cable car service, which also gives a 360-degree view of the surroundings. They include the Western Ghats on the far East. This is also the first time a fully-imported cable car from Switzerland is being used as a tourism destination in the country.
A ride in the cable car offers an impeccable view of nature draped in lush greenery. In such hill-top destinations, where access in itself is an adventure, ropeways play a vital role. They are the most suitable mode of transport in multi-terrain landscapes such as Jatayupara, where there is no such access to roads.
According to Anchal, the ropeway is also to impart a social message. “The ropeway is a great alternative for an arduous walk up the hill. The cable car is environment-friendly. Birds are safe, too, as there is no power in the lines. Moreover, it can also be used as a viable mode of transport in Kerala in the coming years,” he added.
The Jatayu sculpture has 15,000 sq ft of utility space with a three-dimensional museum (3-D) and six-dimensional (6-D) theatre; both nearing completion. The audio-visual museum, spanning over five levels, depicts life from the Tretha Yuga, the period in which Ramayana is believed to have taken place. The 6-D theatre can occupy 32 people.
The adventure park offers world-class adventure experience in the natural setting of rocks and is expected to draw adventure enthusiasts and tourists.
Kitchen Rock Hill is another hill situated in Jatayupara. It has nature-made caves equipped with modern amenities to provide Siddha medical rejuvenation — one of the earliest traditional medicine originated in South India. Travellers can take a stroll down the herbal garden, and feel one with nature. A package of sightseeing across Kerala for four days on a helicopter awaits those who choose this hill for rejuvenation. However, the facilities are yet to commence.
The Earth's Centre is also an example of sustainable tourism. The construction does not disrupt the natural melancholy of the pristine environment.
Interestingly, Eco Guard Society, a planned agricultural society, has been formed to promote organic farming in and around the centre. So, visitors can even buy fresh products from these farms.
The centre sprawls across 65 acres and is also the first BOT (build, operate, transfer) undertaking of Kerala Tourism. The venture has been funded by Anchal's Guruchandrika Builders and Properties, and around 150 non-resident Indians.
Private investors have invested around Rs 100 crore in different phases. The state spent Rs1.75 crore to set up the ABC line for implementation of the project.From ticketing to all activities, including buying eatables are digital here. The RFID (radio-frequency identification) wrist band enables it. Tourists can get entry into the centre only through online booking.