Alappuzha (Kerala): Sixteen snake boats and around 40 small boats are all set to surge through the waters of Punnamada lake as the 59th Nehru Boat Race kicks off . And, by a curious coincidence, not far from the spot will proceed the burial of a man who was one of the prime movers and shakers of the event.
The excitement is mounting. Domestic as well as foreign tourists are heading for the famed race that is billed as a curtainraiser for the new tourism season in Kerala.
About 50 km from the venue, at a solemn function in a church, the body of former bureaucrat and governor P.C. Alexander would be lowered into a grave. He died Wednesday at the age of 90.
The boat race 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.
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.
It was Alexander who ensured that the boat race becomes an annual event.
Since then the event has become famed internationally. It’s a sight to behold as rowers, seated in their thin, long snake boats, plunge their oars into the otherwise placid lake waters, sending the excitement soaring.
The length of a snake boat varies from 120 feet to 140 feet and each has about 120 oarsmen.
“This time, unlike previous years, we have been witnessing a good number of foreign tourist arrivals and the 400 odd house boats are expected to get good business even after the event gets over,” said Tomy Pulikattil, a key member of the organising committee of the event.
For the past week, Punnamada lake has been witnessing hectic practice sessions with a large number of tourists watching the marvel, despite inclement weather.
Federal Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad would be the chief guest for the event.
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.
A couple from Germany would also be the cynosure of all eyes because they are 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 already arrived.
“We will be watching the boat race from a houseboat,” said the tall Gerhard, who is staying in Kumarakom.
Claudia and Gerhard have two sons, Thomas and Simon.
“Thomas started playing football when he was four years old,” Claudia recalled with pride. “He was one very active boy,” she added.
Thomas, who has visited India once before – it was a trip to Kolkata – “also wants to visit Kerala”, said Claudia.
“It is wonderful Thomas Mueller has expressed his desire to visit Kerala,” said Kerala Tourism Minister A.P. Anil Kumar. “It is a sign that Kerala is becoming a destination of choice among the top bracket of Germany,” he added. By Sanu George