Alappuzha, the Venice of the East, is all set for one of its biggest events - the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race. It is perhaps one of the most popular boat races.
Gone are the days when vallamkali or the boat race was a purely 'Kuttanadan' experience. From being a sporty water regatta to a very competitive battle over the waves, vallamkali has evolved. And Nehru Trophy Boat Race marked the transition.
Since its inception, a lot has changed, from the training schedules to the competition itself. If you are in town a couple of days ahead, you can watch the oarsmen train. But just in case you are dropping by only on the big day, it is still fun to see more than 70 boats and its rowers setting the waters on fire.
It is the sheer rush of adrenaline that will make you camp out between the starting and the finishing points of the race at the Punnamada Lake. This year, the main competition will feature 24 snake boats. There are other smaller boats known as the Iruttukuthi, Veppu and Thekkan Odi. Of these, Thekkan Odi is normally steered by women. Do keep an eye out, for last year there was a team of visitors who took part in the competition.
In 1952, during one of his visits, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru took a trip from Kottayam to Alappuzha in a boat. The locals went all out to make his visit special by organizing a water regatta. Nehru was so happy and excited that he is said to have actually jumped into the boat which came first. On returning to New Delhi, he donated a rolling trophy and said that the race should be an annual event.
The vanchipattu or the oarsmen's song is worth listening to, and the atmosphere will be charged up. There are tickets to the pavilions – but if you are early – you can squeeze into any of the places by the river to get a good view of the events. Keep your schedule free in the afternoon, for the boat race normally lasts hours. There will be traffic restrictions – so factor that in when you plan the trip.
How to get to the venue?
Alappuzha is easily accessible by road and rail. Reaching Punnamada Lake on the big day when traffic restriction is in place could be a bit difficult. Plan your trip accordingly.