All charged up for Kerala's snake boat race



Alappuzha: For the past few days a steady stream of foreign tourists has been arriving at the Punamada Lake here to watch snake boats, each rowed by over 100 oarsmen in quick unison, practise vigorously ahead of the grand competition on Aug 13.

Preparations are on full swing for the famed Nehru Boat Race at the Punamada Lake, an eagerly awaited event by tourists, including foreigners.

The event is billed as the curtain raiser for a fresh tourism season in Kerala.

This year, 16 snake boats and around 40 small boats are participating in the 59th edition of the race.

Speaking to reporters, organising committee member Tomy Pulikattil said the committee has been able to zero down on a single sponsor for the event this year.

"We are expected to close the deal with the sponsor for Rs.2.50 crore, which incidentally is the highest ever. This time, apart from the 16 snake boats in the competition event, three more would be there for the exhibition race," said Pulikattil, a well-known house boat entrepreneur in Alappuzha.

With Parliament in session, the organisers have almost given up hope of roping in big names for the event. They have zeroed in on three cabinet ministers whose names are being finalised.

The snake boat race is the main tourist attraction because the length of a snake boat varies from 120 feet to 140 feet with about 120 oarsmen.

Last year, President Prathiba Patil was chief guest and before that United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

The boat race, an important event for the global tourist, 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.

The race's origin was an impromptu race conducted in Nehru's honour.

Nehru, who was thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen, jumped into a snake boat.

On returning to Delhi, Nehru donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This is the trophy that the winner in the snake boat category is awarded.

"Unlike the previous years, the response this time has been very encouraging and the bookings for the houseboats before and after the race day have been good. We expect that this time it could be a sell-out crowd," said Pulikattil.

A highlight this time is that one of the snake boats, United Boat Club, Kainakary has included in its team of oarsmen a group of 51 soldiers from the Madras Engineering Group.

IANS