Alappuzha (Kerala), Aug 8 (IANS) Close to 40,000 people – young and old, domestic and international tourists – on Saturday witnessed the 63rd edition of the Nehru Boat Race at the Vembanad lake here.
For the first time, this edition of the race, one of Kerala’s most popular events, saw a change in its schedule as the heats of the various events was held in the forenoon session and the afternoon session began around 2.30 pm.
This season saw more than 60 boats of various shapes and sizes besides the 16 snake boats, which are probably the only one of its kind in the world, and hence their race is the most keenly-awaited.
Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari was the chief guest for the event while the special guest was Chinese Ambassador Le Yucheng.
“This is incredible and by far the best ever boat race that we have ever witnessed. We have travelled a bit across the world and this is our first visit to this event and it has floored us,” said a middle-aged German couple present at the event.
The snake boat race is the main tourist attraction with 120 oarsmen going flat out on the boats whose length stretches from 120 feet to 140 feet to win the coveted trophy.
The most keenly-awaited event were its finals, the last event of the evening. By then excitement had been steadily mounting and every inch of space on either side of the nearly one kilometre track race track on the banks of the river was overflowing.
The winner was Jawahar Thayengeri snake boat which finished the race in under five minutes and they lifted the Nehru trophy after a gap of five years.
The history of the event dates to 1952, when then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state and a small flotilla of decorated boats accompanied him from Kottayam to Alappuzha on the famed backwaters.
An impromptu race was conducted in Nehru’s honour and, thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen, Nehru jumped into a snake boat.
On returning to Delhi, he donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This trophy is awarded to the winner of the snake boat category.