Appu Ghar was named after the mascot of the 1982 Asian Games, a live elephant called Appu. After the games, the government ordered the building of the park, which was opened in 1984 by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Appu’s “home” was the first amusement park in India, and for almost 25 years, it was a place of entertainment for children and their parents alike, located in the heart of the Capital, across the road from the Supreme Court.
It was a wonderful getaway from the city’s din until it closed in 2008 to make way for the Delhi Metro. Those who tried the rides, from the Columbus and Giant Wheel to My Fair Lady and the Bumper Cars, are probably nodding their heads, remembering their favourite moments from the park right now.
It had 20 rides; a water park, Oysters, was added in 1998. According to a company official, the park saw an average of 1.4 million visitors every year, although the numbers stopped growing near the end as the park’s annexation by the Delhi Metro and Supreme Court took place over several stages, preventing the management from introducing new rides and attractions.
Au revoir: Children take a joy ride on 17 February 2008, the last day before Appu Ghar closed down. Photo by Manpreet Romana/AFP.
Now Appu Ghar is gearing up for a second coming as International Amusement Ltd (IAL), the company that built and operated Appu Ghar, has announced that it is building a new amusement park in Gurgaon that will open in 2013, and will also be called by the same name.
IAL was founded in 1984 by Gian Vijeshwar, a non-resident Indian (NRI) originally based in Sweden, who moved to India to set up Appu Ghar. In 2004, in a joint venture with Unitech, the company created two more parks—World of Wonder in Noida and Adventure Island in Rithala, Delhi.
Appu Ghar aged a lot over 24 years—from 1984 to 2008—losing its sheen over time.
Theatre personality Lushin Dubey has lived her life oscillating between the US and India, but whenever she and her children were here, she recalls, trips to Appu Ghar were mandatory. “My kids had been to Disneyland and to the biggest amusement parks in Europe, but they really loved Appu Ghar. There was something very intimate about the place, and I remember going there every weekend with my sister, my cousin and my children,” Dubey says.
“It was not as big or as impressive as the other places, but it made you feel very proud of our country and the children really loved it. My daughter particularly loved the Bumper Cars and the little train because these were rides they could go on without us, so they would feel very independent. And there was a little roller-coaster that I would go on with the children that we all loved,” she adds.
Through the years though, the park ceased to be the wonder of Delhi, and according to Dubey, she and her family stopped visiting the park well before it closed, because of the sad state it had fallen into.
Dubey says, “There is no civic sense. We take great pride in making something world-class, but then don’t work to maintain it. You would see litter everywhere, and spit on the rides, and it started to feel dirty and unsafe. Over the years, it became a place where you didn’t want to take your children any more.”
Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan recalls taking her niece and nephew there in the 1980s. “When it closed though, it didn’t strike a chord, and I didn’t really notice that it had happened.”
While Appu Ghar was financially successful, the land lease, which had earlier been renewed every three years, was not renewed again as negotiations broke down and instead, some land first went to the Delhi Metro, and then later, in a move that led to the closure of the park, the land was used to build an annex to the Supreme Court. After eight years of legal wrangling, India’s oldest amusement park was closed.
By that point in time, Appu Ghar was already outdated—the number of rides was really low compared with new parks that had opened in 2004 and 2005, and most of them were showing their age. The Giant Wheel had started to look like a dwarf, and the Columbus creaked and groaned in a manner that did not seem all too simulated. Unlike the new parks, which had a lot of space to build on, Appu Ghar’s 18-acre park could barely contain the 18 rides in the park. Every ride was pushed up against the next, and the lanes leading from one to the next were narrow. The My Fair Lady, a carousel designed like a spinning woman, her skirt forming its roof, was a frightful design that would never be seen today.
The idea of the new 58-acre Appu Ghar, almost four times the size of the original one, and brand new rides that are being imported from around the world, a shopping mall and a video-game arcade, and possibly even a full-size roller-coaster, is both exciting and a little disorienting. The notion of fat little Appu in a place like that is hard to reconcile. But as Benu Sehgal, director, IAL, points out, this is an evolution of Appu Ghar. “The city has been growing with time and evolving, and so Appu Ghar is also evolving. Everything will be completely new and of the highest quality, with international consultants to ensure a world-class experience.”
In the plans is a wax museum modelled along the lines of Madame Tussauds in London and a giant wheel along the lines of the London Eye.
The proposed giant wheel is set to be the largest in the country—with a diameter of 60m. For reference, 20 elephants stacked one on top of the other would be around the same height. The wheel will be segmented into air-conditioned pods from which people will get an “unrivalled view of the Gurgaon skyline”.
Marketing consultant and author Suhel Seth, however, feels it won’t be enough. He says, “In an age of instant gratification, of television and the Internet, Appu Ghar won’t have the same impact.”
The complex will also have a racetrack for go-karting and a water park. Stunt shows are also being planned as unique attractions.
Some of the old Appu Ghar will also continue in the new location. Sehgal says IAL will incorporate new versions of some of the iconic rides, and there are also plans for a photo gallery displaying images of the old Appu Ghar. For people who grew up visiting the park, this should be a nice enough perk to return.
But it’s unlikely that the new Appu Ghar will be able to evoke the same feeling as the original. It might, however, finally arrive on an international stage, the way it was always meant to, and the way it did, in 1984.