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Appu Ghar, India’s first amusement park, was all about the thrill of something new

From bumper cars to the bhoot bangla, Appu Ghar's rides may not seem like much today, but for children in the '80s, it was wonderland.

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An elephant for a mascot, popular rides like Columbus Jhoola and a Giant Wheel that gave riders a bird’s-eye view of the best of Central Delhi — for a child growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, there really was no place like Appu Ghar.

Located in Pragati Maidan, not far from historic sites like India Gate, the country’s first amusement park was opened in 1984. It had been commissioned by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but she did not live to see it come to life, and the park was inaugurated by her son, Rajiv Gandhi, who had become PM just a few weeks earlier.

Indira Gandhi had assigned the task of setting up the project to Sweden-based NRI Gian Vijeshwar, who moved to India to set up the park, which was built on land leased from India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO).

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Riding through Wonderland

Even to this day, say the word Appu and Indians of a certain generation won’t think of the Simpsons character, but of the elephant mascot of the park, which itself was a nod to the Games that Delhi had hosted in 1982. “If I see the pink Appu now, I will cry,” advertising professional Jaspal Singh says of the spinning installation of the mascot that welcomed guests at the ticket counter.

And the fun began right from there. From bumper cars to the bhoot bangla, Appu Ghar’s rides may not seem like much today, but for children in the ’80s, it was wonderland. Jaspal Singh recalls a “pool with artificial waves that simply drove me crazy. I have over-soaked myself in those pools like a raisin.”

Another popular ride was My Fair Lady, “a giant lady with an outward-flowing frock,” explains Singh. “People would sit on the edge of the frock, and it would lift up and start spinning really fast.”

Mumbai-based Samudraneel Roy recalls that summer holidays at his maternal grandparent’s house in Delhi meant gallivanting in Appu Ghar. “I think it was the sheer scale of everything around me that really enchanted me. Everything around you looks really big when you’re a kid, so the rides at Appu Ghar looked out of this world,” he tells ThePrint. “Visiting Appu Ghar was a pure adrenaline rush. Not only sitting on the rides, but waiting in long lines for your turn, hearing people’s laughter, looking at their contagious smiles when they got off the rides was equally fun,” he reminisces.

It was also the go-to for school picnics. Delhi-based research intern Niharika Tarneja says, “On school trips, we had so much fun! My friends and I used to sneak around and get ice cream, we used to always stay at the back of the lines and talk and laugh about anything and everything! It was the best time.”

And while many kids grew up on Appu Ghar’s rides (literally, they’d wait to be that one inch taller so that they would be allowed on certain rides next time), for some, it was a place to grow emotionally.

Jaipur-based lawyer Kushangi Sewani says Appu Ghar will, for her, always be the place where she conquered ghosts. “It was my first experience in a ‘horror ride’ — a train that went through a scary alley with ghostly sound effects and life-size cutouts of witches, trolls and ghosts. It gave me such an adrenaline rush! I felt so immensely proud back then of conquering ghosts and living to tell the tale,” she tells ThePrint

What also made Appu Ghar a big draw, with locals and tourists, was its reasonable affordability. In the beginning, rides cost between Re 1 and Rs 3. Roy recalls that the park gave you options to buy tickets in various ranges. You could pay per ride, or even choose to buy just an entry ticket, should you choose not to ride any swing.

“We had Essel World in Mumbai, but it was way too expensive and out of reach for an average middle-class family,” he says, adding, that the Appu Ghar’s central location was also a factor.

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Appu moved to Gurugram

The land was assigned to Indian Amusement Limited by ITPO until 1999. Once the lease expired, ITPO demanded the land back, IAL sought legal help to let Appu Ghar’s operations continue. 

But in 2008, Appu Ghar closed down when the Supreme Court ruled that IAL give up the land, which was later allotted to the top court for expansion of its own offices to build a complex and to DMRC for expansion of Delhi Metro. It is here that the Supreme Court Metro Station (earlier Pragati Maidan) stands.

IAL built another Appu Ghar, a sprawling, and much swankier, theme park in Gurugram. But for a certain generation, fancy rides and slick arcades was never what it was about. For them, it was about the thrill of something new — for them, for India.

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