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What a crowdpuller, this Christmas!

Calcutta celebrated Christmas with the manic energy of a carnival, notching up footfall records at holiday hangouts here, there and everywhere.

Metro went around town to record the reveller rush that would have easily outnumbered the largest political rally.

Alipore zoo

If Park Street was the place to be for the party crowd, Alipore zoo was the destination of choice for thousands of others. Wednesday’s footfall at the end of a tiring day for the people manning the ticket counters was 81,417, a record.

The previous highest daily footfall was 78,000-plus last winter. To put it in perspective, the strength of the Christmas Day crowd at the zoo was equal to the population of two-and-a-half wards of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation!

The average population of each civic ward is a little above 33,000.

“We have never before had so many people at the zoo on a single day,” exclaimed Kanai Lal Ghosh, the director of Alipore zoo.

The queues for tickets were so long that they spilled into the carriageway. Many had to wait over an hour just to enter the complex. Once inside, watching the animals wasn’t the only preferred activity. Some were busy picnicking and quite a few even managed to enjoy a siesta under the afternoon sun despite the commotion all around.

“There was not an inch of free space in front of the elephant enclosure. I had never seen anything like this,” a zookeeper said.

Footfall usually picks up in the first week of December and peaks during the Christmas-New Year week.

Apart from the jumbos, the big cats attracted the most number of eyeballs. Babu the chimpanzee was also a hit.

The space outside the new glass enclosure for the Royal Bengal Tiger was teeming with people throughout the day. “The enclosure has completely changed the experience of watching the tiger. It is almost like spotting one in the wild,” said Srijita Roy, a third-year college student out with her friends.

For the animals, it wasn’t a good day in office, though. A section of the visitors hurled oranges and bananas at the elephants and popcorn packets for Babu the chimpanzee.

A man who had tried to clamber up one of the old tiger cages with a bottle in hand — probably to splash some water on the animal — was detained for questioning.

“Many animals went into a shell because of the noise all around,” a zoo official said.

Eco Park, New Town

inside eco park

Eco Park in Rajarhat made its debut as a Christmas hotspot.

The park opened on December 29, 2012, but is still a work in progress. That did not deter more than 16,000 people from swarming the park to spend Christmas Day in its landscaped environment.

The entry fee of Rs 10, a fraction of what you would pay for car parking at many places, seemed to be an added attraction for many.

The Family Adda Winter Carnival 2013 in association with t2, the still-to-be inaugurated butterfly park, the wildflower meadows and boating on the lake were the main attractions. “We hadn’t expected such a rush today. We will, of course, be better equipped to host such a crowd next Christmas,” a park official said.

Ayon Hazra, who takes his 21-month-old daughter Asmi to the park on weekends and holidays, was taken aback by the queue of cars outside the New Town attraction on Christmas.

outside eco park

“It took me more than 45 minutes to reach Eco Park from City Centre New Town. I have never seen such traffic congestion on this road,” said the 32-year-old techie, who drives through Rajarhat Main Road to reach his Sector V office.

Many first-time visitors to Eco Park were pleasantly surprised by its ambience despite the rush. “We had planned to enter Nicco Park but it was so crowded that we decided to visit Eco Park instead. We had heard about it but never gone there. It was crowded but the open spaces and the carpet of green grass made for a lovely sight. Our son had a nice time,” said Subhamoy Ganguly, a resident of Jadavpur.

The available parking space was filled quickly, forcing visitors to park their cars on the service road and then the carriageway itself. Some parked on the vacant plots between under-construction buildings, a sight never before seen in New Town.

Riverfront

Close to 50,000 people visited the riverfront at Prinsep Ghat and Millennium Park on Christmas.

“A strong breeze and a view of the sun setting over the Hooghly. This is bliss,” remarked Anjan Bera, a retired government official visiting Prinsep Ghat with his grandchildren.

Until a few years ago, most Calcuttans wouldn’t consider spending an afternoon with their families by the riverfront because of security concerns. Upkeep of the area wasn’t good either. But things have improved. The Prinsep Ghat monument has been renovated and the riverfront is a darned sight better.

“There is adequate police deployment in the area and that makes me feel safe,” said Fiona Mendes, who chose Prinsep Ghat over a crowded Victoria Memorial for her day out on Christmas.

Millennium Park alone registered a footfall of over 25,000 people. “It was difficult to manage the crowd. There were frequent traffic snarls on Strand Road because people were walking on the carriageway,” said a sergeant managing traffic in front of Millennium Park.

Inside the park, the narrow walkways looked smaller still because of the crowd.

“Millennium Park is a good family getaway, especially in winter. The river looks awesome with the setting sun in the background,” said Lalit Murarka of Burrabazar, who was there with his family.

Nicco Park

Good ol’ Nicco Park again stood out as one of the crowd-pullers on Christmas, recording a footfall of over 18,000 visitors.

Officials said people entered the amusement park as late as 7pm, an hour before the park lights go off.

“We usually open our counters at 10.30am but on Wednesday people had started queuing up at 9am. So we opened the counters at 9.45am,” a senior official of the park said.

While the roller-coaster Cyclone and the boat ride through the River Cave were the biggest draws, new attractions like Ice Land and Wild Western Stunt Show were also popular with the Christmas Day crowd.

“I decided to come early to avoid the rush and reached the park at 11am, only to find at least 100 people queuing up ahead of me. Once inside, we had to wait for between 45 minutes to an hour for any of the rides. It was frustrating but our kids enjoyed it nevertheless,” said Snehasis Mukherjee, a bank employee from Lake Town who was there with his wife, parents and two sons aged 6 and 8.

As the day progressed, some visitors spread out bed sheets and newspapers on the concrete outside the park gates to enjoy a picnic!

The crowd crush choked traffic along the road in front of Nicco Park that leads to the EM Bypass at one end and Rajarhat in the opposite direction.

“We had deployed 35 police personnel more than usual just to man the stretch from Sukanta Nagar till Nicco Park,” a senior traffic officer of Bidhannagar City Police said.

The parking problem was eased by throwing open the vacant space in front of the now closed water park Wet-o-Wild for around 35 cars. Those who did not find a place there parked their cars in the lanes of Salt Lake and walked up to 500 metres to reach the park.

“I did not find a parking spot even after hanging around for over an hour. I finally entered Salt Lake and parked my car in a lane in KC Block,” said Soumyadeep Ganguly, a resident of Tiljala.

Victoria Memorial

Victoria memorial

At 3pm, the queue along Queen’s Way to enter Victoria Memorial was 200 metres long. By 5pm, when the gates were shut, more than 35,000 people had entered one of the city’s most recognisable British-era landmarks.

“It was very nice spending the day there,” said Firdausi Begum, a resident of Sonarpur.

The mother of two had come for a “picnic” with her children and visited the zoo before reaching Victoria Memorial. “I liked Victoria the best. I have come here before but never on Christmas. There are so many people in here and the atmosphere is one of celebration,” she said.

The authorities had a tough time controlling the crowd, though. “Many people were climbing the fences. Some entered the landscaped areas,” an official said.

Malls

south city mall

Malls reported a rise in footfall, too. About 1.2 lakh people visited City Centre Salt Lake till 7.30pm, over 4,500 of them to watch films at INOX.

South City notched up a footfall of 3.25 lakh till 7.30pm. At Forum too, the multiplex crowd added to the rush. Shows of Dhoom: 3, Chander Pahar and The Hobbit ran houseful across the plexes.

What’s special about Christmas in Calcutta? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com