Alappuzha: The annual Nehru boat race, a signature event of Kerala, was held here on Saturday evening in front of thousands of cheering spectators.
The 65th edition of the race, named after former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, took place in the Vembanad Lake. It was inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who said that even though there are several similar boat races held across the state, this one is the most prestigious. Even though it was earlier stated that 78 boats of various shapes and sizes will take part, the number crossed 100, of which 24 were snake boats. The grand finale of the snake boat race was won by Gabriel snake boat, edging out its nearest rival by a whisker. Gabriel finished the race in 4.22 minutes.
However, the final got delayed as some teams contested that one particular snake boat had employed the services of more than 25 per cent professional oarsmen. After 45 minutes of deliberations, State Finance Minister Thomas Issac resolved the issue and the race took place amid very little light. The snake boat race is the main tourist attraction because of the boats length, from 120 to 140 feet and with about 120 oarsmen. "The rains kept away and that was an added attraction. Without doubt there were more than 30,000 spectators and as in the past, the turnout of foreign tourists was also very good. This race has now become very high on the itinerary of many water sport lovers, both in and outside our country," Tomy Pulikattil, who is one of the organisers of the event said.
The history of the event dates to 1952 when Nehru visited the area and a small flotilla of decorated boats accompanied him from Kottayam to Alappuzha on the famed backwaters. An impromptu race was conducted in his honour. 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 every year.