16,830 visitors at Istana’s Deepavali open house a post-pandemic record, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

16,830 visitors at Istana’s Deepavali open house a post-pandemic record

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About 16,830 people visited the Istana on Monday when it opened to the public to mark Deepavali.

This is the biggest turnout for an open house since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The heritage site was closed to the public during the pandemic from February 2020. It was opened only in late August 2021 for National Day.

Between August 2021 and May 2022, visitors needed to book tickets and visiting slots due to safe distancing measures for open houses. Only the Istana’s outdoor gardens were open to the public then.

The 2021 Deepavali open house on Nov 4, which also had a cap on the number of visitors, drew about 2,000 people.

It was only on the joint open house marking Labour Day and Hari Raya Puasa on May 7 that the Istana did away with ticket applications. That was also the first time since the pandemic that visitors could enter the Istana’s main building. That open house saw 8,146 visitors, fewer than half of Monday’s turnout.

Ms Grace Chen, 33, and her family moved to Singapore from the United States two months ago, and their visit to the Istana on Monday was one of the few they have made to heritage sites on their days off.

Ms Chen and her husband, who were there with their three-year-old daughter, were intrigued by the collection of state gifts to Singapore from other nations on display in the Istana’s main building.

The official residence of the President was open to the public from 8.30am to 6pm on Monday.

By 11am, long queues had formed outside the Istana entrance, and visitors had to wait for about 30 minutes before they could reach the registration counters. At 2pm, most of the guided tours for the main building and the nature walk were fully booked.

Visitors took pictures of the grounds and picnicked on the lawn, the Japanese garden and by the swan pond. Many lined up to see the Istana’s main building and go on guided nature walks in green spaces.

Visitors at the Istana open house on Oct 24. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Mr Zhang, a researcher who went on a nature walk with his partner, said: “The guide was very knowledgeable and introduced to us lots of interesting facts about the flora in the Istana, and the bird species.”

Mr Zhang, 35, who declined to reveal his full name, last visited the heritage site when he was a student.

Monday’s open house is the second time since the Covid-19 pandemic that the Istana grounds hosted live performances, merchandise sales, food trucks and booths for craft activities such as candle making. The first time was on July 17, in celebration of National Day.

Visitors watched dance and music performances by various schools, including CHIJ Katong Convent and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Young Talents.

Tour fees and proceeds from the sale of Istana merchandise will go to charities supported by the President’s Challenge.

Some families who were celebrating Deepavali made time to visit the Istana before their festivities later in the day.

Ms Shilpa Mahi, 39, and her family dropped by in the afternoon to take pictures before returning to their home for a pooja, or worship ritual, in the evening.

At 4pm, President Halimah Yacob and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, greeted visitors at the Istana’s ceremonial plaza in front of the main building, and later in the garden.

Online candle store Anaya Soul Retreat held candle-making workshops at the open house. Its founder, Ms Annie Lin, said: “The Merlion-shaped candles were specially made for this open house. The workshop was $25 per person, but when we told visitors the proceeds will go to charity, many happily signed up for the activity.”

President Halimah Yacob giving a Merlion candle she made to a girl after participating in a candle-making session. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Restaurant manager Cris Reano, 31, took his family and his mother, who is visiting from the Philippines, to the open house.

“The Istana is not open to the public every day. It is a well-respected site and foreign dignitaries come here,” he added.

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