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Address for winter amusement

Banabitan, in Central Park is all set to reinvent itself. The park is introducing new facilities and user-friendly amenities this winter in an attempt to become more than just a morning walk or a dating destination.

For starters, boating has resumed in the lake inside after six years. Additional chief secretary, forest department, Subesh Das flagged off the facility on November 30. “We had stopped the service as demand had dwindled earlier. But with a surge in the population of Salt Lake and New Town we anticipate fresh demand for water sports here,” he said.

So three new paddle boats have been acquired, two of these being two-seaters and one four-seater, while another three boats will be coming soon. For the two-seaters, a half-hour ride will cost Rs 60 and an hour-long ride Rs 100. For the four seater, a half-hour ride is Rs 80 and an hour-long one Rs 120. Tickets will be available on the spot and the facility will be open throughout the year, from 8am to 5pm.

Go fish

A portion of the lake in the park was also opened for angling on November 30 and anglers fell for it hook, line and sinker right from Day One.

Such is the demand that the tickets are booked a week in advanced, that too by lottery. “Since we cannot allow excessive fishing we sell a maximum of 101 tickets per day,” says deputy conservator of the forest department, Kalyan Das. Two fishing lines are allowed per ticket and the rate is Rs 300 per day, provided one catches fish weighing up to 10kg. If one catches more fish, then one must pay another Rs 300.

Subesh Das informed that last year the park had earned Rs 9 lakh from angling. “Usually we allow angling for a longer period but this year we will close the season on January 15. This is because rainfall was below average this year and too much fishing will harm the under-water ecosystem,” said Kalyan Das.

But the reduced days has increased demand manifold and anglers admitted to having purchased the Rs 300 tickets for Rs 1,200 or even Rs 1,900 in black.

The deputy conservator says they have heard of such experiences but the department does not have immediate plans to raise the fares. “We want angling to remain an affordable hobby. If we raise our prices it will become inaccessible to many,” he said.

Indeed, people from all strata of society — from businessmen to drivers — had come to fish. “My wife has stopped speaking to me ever since I told her of this trip. She thinks it is expensive and a waste of time,” said Mansur Ali Gaji, a fish trader from Basanti Highway who was yet to hook a catch after five hours of wait on Friday. “And if I don’t catch anything I’ll get the silent treatment at home for two more days.”

Veterans say angling is a test of patience, where you could land a 10kg catch on a single day or not catch a single fish in 10 days. Anglers camp at designated spots on the banks of the lake and rejoice whenever there is a ripple in the water to indicate that someone’s line has hooked a fish. “The wait for a fish is relaxing and the satisfaction is immense when you take home a plump Katla,” smiled Niladri Saha, who had caught a few small fish.

The most common breeds in the lake are Katla, Rohu and Mrigal. Though there are also turtles and small fish, catching them is not allowed. The park also bans anglers from using any chemicals in the water and only allows organic feed for the fish.

New treats

Banabitan occupies around 56 acres of the 70-acre Central Park. It was opened around 23 years ago and is easily the lungs of the township. Besides greenery, there is a 15-acre water body in the park which is divided into four sections using landscapes or water hyacinths.

The lake nearest to the Bikash Bhavan side gate of the park has been cordoned off for boating. The next two are for angling and the last, near the Netaji statue side gate, has been left undisturbed for migratory birds.

“We have allowed some vegetation in this area as the birds need to build nests among them. We have also created a floating island for them,” said Kalyan Das. The park is a favourite site for bird watchers and they plan to put up posters educating visitors about the birds found here.

Another educational zone is the butterfly park and laboratory, run by Nature Mates, an NGO. There are 32 types of butterflies here and new posters have been put up teaching kids about the life cycle of butterflies.

There is a children’s park towards the Netaji statue side entrance to Banabitan, for which the authorities plan to get new play equipment this season. There is an Orchid house, Rose garden, Hibiscus garden besides a pagoda, a tree house and lots of cafeterias.

The park is open from 6am to 5pm but only senior citizens are granted free entry up to 8am. Thereafter adults pay Rs 25 and children Rs 10 for entry. Seating arrangement for 20 people has recently been added, taking the total number of seats to more than 100 in the park. “The seats are especially for senior citizens, who wish to take a break during their morning walks,” said Das.

Three new toilet complexes and drinking water facilities have come up. The park has been using solar lights after 5pm and CCTVs have been installed at the two gates that should be operational from this weekend.

“We have been working for months to make our visitors’ stay at the park more enjoyable. As a result our April to September revenue this year was 20 to 30 per cent higher than that of last year,” he said.

Coming soon

While the park is a favourite haunt of couples, the management wants to make it as popular a destination for visitors of other ages. “We are now trying to create a family corner. Couples would prefer to sit elsewhere if we can create the right atmosphere in such a zone,” says Das.

For this, they have zeroed in on a two-acre patch of unutilised land, right outside the Bikash Bhavan side gate. This will be developed into a picnic spot, with sheds, seating arrangements, drinking water facilities and toilets. This area would be opened this season.

The park also plans to upgrade facilities for those who come here to shoot films and TV serials. “There is a long-standing demand from this sector for a room where they can store their equipment, rest or turn into a film set. We shall ready such a room by March,” he said.

The park will also introduce a public address system and play soft music for visitors. “We have units installed all over the park that have bulbs and speakers but they are out of order. We shall renovate them soon,” he said.