Alappuzha, Aug 11: There was not an inch of space on either bank of the Punnamada lake as thousands watched the 60th edition of the Nehru Boat Race Saturday.
“This is something amazing. We have been planning this trip as early as February. It is simply superb and one of the most amazing sporting events we have watched,” said a young British couple on their first visit to India and Kerala.
Chief guest Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar watched the race with ministers Vayalar Ravi, K.C. Venugopal, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and a galaxy of political leaders from the state.
The event began at 3 p.m. to a rousing start with boats and scullers participating in the customary drill, moving their oars in symphony.
The history of this event, which has now become an important itinerary for global tourists, dates back to 1952 when the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state and a pageantry of boats accompanied him from Kottayam to Alappuzha.
An impromptu race conducted in Nehru’s honour. So thrilled Nehru was by the performance of the oarsmen, that he jumped into a snake boat.
On returning to Delhi, he donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat mounted on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This is the trophy that the winner of the snake boat race is awarded.
“I have seen other regattas but the beauty of this is the variety this race has in terms of size and shapes of the boats. I have been here a decade back but today the popularity of this race is so huge that it has now become an important itinerary for many tourists from Germany,” said Thomas Kulsen, an engineer who came just to watch this event.
The ‘race track’ on the 1-km long lake is 850 metres in length. This year there were more than 100 competing boats, with 16 in the snake boat race category.
The length of the snake boat varies between 120 feet and 140 feet and each has about 120 oarsmen. Tomy Pulikattil, one of the organisers of the race, told IANS that despite the rains, “we had more than 2,500 foreign tourists and more than 30,000 spectators”.
“The event was delayed a little because of a complaint raised by one of the participating snake boats in the heats,” said Pulikattil.
The winner of the snake boat race was the Sree Ganeshan snake boat.