Nehru Trophy: Alappuzha brims with excitement as fans, rowers get ready for adrenalin rush

Even as the organisers are rushing to finish the last-minute arrangements, the Alappuzha town is witnessing an influx of people to witness the spectacle. File Photo/Manorama

Alappuzha: The tranquil waters of Punnamada Lake have come alive with energy and excitement ahead of the 69th edition of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR).

The reigning champions Pallathuruthy Boat Club (PCB) is once again the favourite to lift the coveted silver cup on Saturday. But Unite Boat Club (UBC), Kainakary, Police Boat Club, and Punnamada Boat Club are giving them a tight competition, making the competition open.

“We’re very much confident of lifting the cup for the fourth time in a row. The team is well equipped and competes most competitively,” said Allen Moonnutaikkal, PCB Captain. This time the club is rowing Veeyapuram Chundan.

“We’re here to win. We have toiled hard in the practice sessions held at Karumadi South over the past month. There are 120 policemen in the team. Ninety-five of them, including 89 oarsmen, will give their all to steer the snake boat to victory,” said Suresh Kattil Thekkethil, the captain of the Police Boat Club (PCB). This time around, they will row Mahadevikadu Kattil Thekkethil Chundan, the snake boat that won the last time.

While the UBC Kainakary will paddle the Nadubhagam Chundan, the Punnamada Boat Club will compete in Devas Chundan. Nineteen snake boats are vying with each other for the trophy this time.

Even as the organisers are rushing to finish the last-minute arrangements, the Alappuzha town is witnessing an influx of people to witness the spectacle of oarsmen rowing in unison to the pulsating rhythm of boat songs. The boats, having undergone a final round of oiling and polishing to ensure speed, are ready to hit the water and race past the finishing line.

Manfred Anton from France shows his Gold ticket to watch the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Photo: Krishnakumar K E

Tourists from across the world are here to experience the gala event and soak in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are many, like Manfred Anton (62) from France, who have flown in to witness the world-famous snake boat race.

“I’ve come just to watch the unique snake boats in action with so many oarsmen synchronously steering them. I saw boats practising in the Punnamada during a tour last year but had to return early because of my trip schedule. Then I decided that I would be there in the stands this time around. And here I’m,” said Anton, who is on a three-day visit to the ‘Venice of the East’.

The event this year has witnessed an overwhelming response with the income from ticket sales clocking Rs 15 lakh, prompting a closure of the online sales.

Amidst all the excitement, the regulation disallowing oarsmen above 55 years has come as a major setback to the participating teams. Although a proposal in this regard had been under consideration for a few years now, the clubs were told to implement it strictly during a meeting of the boat club representatives and team captains on August 1.

However, the team members say they got a clear understanding of the proposal only when they reached the Revenue Divisional Office in Alappuzha on August 10 to collect the identity cards of their rowers. Much to their shock, several experienced crew, including rowers, failed to qualify due to the age limit.

A t-shirt stall at NTBR venue. Photo: Krishnakumar K E

While the clubs have managed to deal with the setback with reserve rowers, most teams will find it difficult to replace the skill and experience of seasoned rowers. 

The organisers, however, point to the ascending intensity of the race as a competitive event. “While earlier boat races were meant primarily for entertainment, it has turned into an intensely competitive sport over the years. So we have to strictly follow the rules and there cannot be any compromise,” said Suraj Shaji IAS, Alappuzha sub-collector and secretary of the NTBR Society. 

As the water level in the Punnamada race has hit a low, District Collector Haritha V Kumar has promised to regulate the discharge of water from the Thannermukkam Bund to facilitate the smooth conduct of the race. The step is being initiated because of a complaint raised by the boat clubs in this regard. The movement of speed boats along the race venue too will be strictly regulated. Steps will be also initiated against the vessels stationed between the Nehru Pavilion and Doc Chira without paying the stipulated fee.

The event venue, including the tracks, will be declared as a red zone from 8 am to 8 pm under the Drone rules to prevent the flying of drones for private purposes. Security has been beefed up in Alappuzha given the event. Around 2,000 police will be deployed by classifying the region into 15 sectors, besides traffic personnel. The entire Punnamada and nearby areas have been brought under CCTV surveillance. Police personnel will be deployed in 50 boats on the lake. Traffic will be restricted in Alappuzha town from Saturday morning.

Out of all the boat races that coincide with the tourism season in Kerala, the NTBR stands out for the sheer grandeur and thrill that it offers.

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