Thousands gather to watch Kerala’s Nehru Boat Race

August 13th, 2011 - 9:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Bayern Munich Alappuzha (Kerala), Aug 13 (IANS) Kerala’s famed Nehru Boat Race got off to a colourful start at the Punnamada Lake here Saturday, watched by more than 30,000 people, including hundreds of foreigners.

The 59th edition of the prestigious boat race was inaugurated by Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

According to one of the organisers, Tomy Pulikattil, this edition appears to have become one of the best as far as the number of foreign tourists are concerned.

“But with regards to the local crowd, this time the numbers appear less than the previous edition because of the holy month of Ramazan,” Pulikattil said.

The crowd of over 30,000 gathered to watch the event included more than 2,500 foreign tourists, according to estimates.

“This is amazing. We have been to several parts of the globe but are witnessing this marvellous spectacle for the first time ever,” said a British tourist shouting out with his wife in support of one of the snake boats which was in number two position.

“We read a lot about the boat races of Kerala and have seen videos, but seeing it with our own eyes is an experience. We have decided that we will be back next year also,” he added.

The most keenly-watched event was the snake boat race event simply because of the architecture of the boat which varies in length between 120 feet and 140 feet and each has about 120 oarsmen.

“We are also impressed by the lovely display of the typical art and dance forms of Kerala that were showcased during the interval. There were around 140 artists performing and this is like the icing on the cake,” said a tourist belonging to a German group.

Over the years this race is the curtain raiser for the new tourism season in the state and also the first of a series of popular boat races in nearby districts of Kottayam and Kollam.

The boat race dates back to 1952 when then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state and a pageantry of boats accompanied him from Kottayam to Alappuzha.

Former bureaucrat and governor P.C. Alexander was the sub-collector of Alappuzha at that time and had sprung into action, organising an impromptu race 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, the replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This is the trophy that the winner of the snake boat category is awarded.

About 50 km from the venue, at a solemn function in a church at Mavelikara, Alexander was laid to rest with all honours. He died Wednesday at the age of 90.

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.

Also watching the event for the first time were the parents of FIFA World Cup 2010 golden boot-winning German midfielder Thomas Mueller.

Gerhard and Claudia Mueller, the young Bayern Munich star’s parents, have been in the state for the past few days.

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