Twenty-six-year-old Manish Gosain, a civil services aspirant never misses his morning routine at the Talkatora Garden near his home. Aspiring for six-pack abs, high gym fees were a deterrent until the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) made his dream come true by setting up an open gym in the sprawling gardens - absolutely free.
"I am a fitness freak but my workout was limited to walking and jogging. I always wanted to add strength training to my regimen and this is a great step," said an elated Gosain, who resides in Old Rajendra Nagar in central Delhi and studies in a coaching institute to prepare for his civil services exam.
"Being a student away from home, I cannot afford the high gym fees. These gyms are a blessing not only for me but many other students who live and study in my neighbourhood," said Advait Singh, who hails from Bihar.
Built over an area of 1,000 square metres, the gyms have been set up in 30 parks, including the popular Talkatora Garden, Lodhi Garden, and Nehru Park by the NDMC under its "Go Green, Open Gym" project. Painted in bright shades of yellow, green, red and blue, each gym has 12 apparatuses. They do not require electricity and include a cross trainer, abs and leg shapers. Each gym has been set up at a cost of Rs.6 lakh.
Remarkably, middle-aged men and women as well as senior citizens are equally enthusiastic as the youngsters. According to Kamla Negi, 52, who has been coming to Nehru Park for her walks since a decade, the gyms are a boon for the elderly as not everybody is comfortable in the closed confines of a gymnasium.
"The majority of the gyms in our neighbourhood are usually in basements and play loud music which is not comfortable for older people like me. Here, we can exercise in the open air without any distractions," Negi said.
Negi's friend Binita Mehta further added that the gyms are the icing on the cake for the park, which boasts of many yoga, aerobics and meditation groups.
"We have many informal groups here that meet every morning and people do yoga, aerobics and meditation apart from the usual walking and jogging. This new gym is a welcome addition," the 50-year-old Mehta said.
Meanwhile, young visitors are contemplating steps to ensure that people are aware of the basic etiquette while working out. A group of regulars at Lodhi Garden is thinking about putting up posters around the gym, requesting people to not hog the machines and to wipe the sweat off the machines after finishing their exercises.
"With permission from the authorities, we are planning to put up a couple of posters around the gym," said Shahwar Ali, 16, who comes to the park along with his cousins and friends almost daily.
"As there are no coaches or management here, I guess someone will have to take the responsibility of making sure that people are courteous towards each other," added his friend Tarun Shroff, also 16.
Buoyed by the positive feedback, the civic agency, which started the project to promote a healthy lifestyle among Delhiites, is now planning to expand it further.
"The gyms have received terrific response from the people. Therefore, we are doubling the machines at Lodhi Garden and Nehru Park and are also adding ten more parks soon," said NDMC chairperson Jalaj Shrivastava.
Taking a cue from the NDMC, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) too has decided to join the bandwagon and passed a resolution in its standing committee meeting held last month to establish open gyms in every ward as a pilot project.