Alappuzha: With the Nehru Trophy Boat Race around the corner, coastal Alappuzha, with its enchanting network of lagoons, lakes and rivers, is already in a festive mood. Hundreds of tourists, including foreigners, are gathering at the Punnamada Finishing Point to see the oarsmen of giant snake boats (Chundan Vallams) in action.
For them, the sight of over 100 oarsman rowing 138-ft long-beaked boats in a synchronised fashion to the tune of the‘Vanchipattu’, the traditional boat songs of Kerala, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They have flocked to the city well in advance, ahead of the race day on August 12, to soak in the festive fervour and carry unforgettable memories back with them.
“Already the mood is upbeat. We’re thrilled to witness so many boat race enthusiasts flocking to the city well in advance. There are a lot many foreign tourists who have arrived from countries like the UK, Canada and France. No rooms are available even as we’re rushing with the last-minute arrangements,” said Vinod KG, a key member of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race Organising Committee.
The organisers are taking no chances; they are already making extra arrangements this time around to accommodate the large number of enthusiasts expected to stop by on the race day this Saturday.
“The pavilion at the Punnamada Finishing Point can accommodate nearly 10,000 people. We’re also making extra seating arrangements by lining up jhankars with ramps near the Nehru Pavillion and placing chairs on them,” the official told Onmanorama.
“It’s already an electrifying atmosphere here. We have a glimpse of the Chundan Vallams, as the people of the area call them affectionately, zipping past the lake water from a distance. The traditional dressing style, the oarsmen making the splash in unison and so forth are just amazing. We would like to see them up close, however," said Raphel and Chloe, a couple from France, even as they were immersed in the practice session of the Pallathuruthy Boat Club, the champions last time, in the Punnamada Lake.
The business has picked up in shops that line either side leading to the Finishing Point. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race Society (NTBRS) itself is opening a stall to sell T-shirts with prints of Chundan Vallams and Kathakali, that instantly connect with the state.
“The T-shirts are priced at Rs 350 (open-hands) and Rs 500. Right now, the demand is among domestic tourists. It seems foreign tourists are yet to learn about it. We’re opening a stall at Punnamada Finishing Point so that they too can buy them,” said another official of the NTBR Organising Committee.
The houseboats are in much demand, especially in the evenings, as the visitors prefer a ride through the majestic waters with Chundan Vallams practising at a distance.
“While the oarsmen practice both in the morning and the evening, the crowd begins to swell from 4 pm onwards. There was a heavy rush during the weekend. People are also coming in large numbers on the working days,” noted Joshith, a Tourism Police Officer posted at the venue.
Some of the enthusiasts even walk on foot the nearly 1.25 km from Punnamada Starting Point to Finishing Point, the course for the boat race, along the bank. All the snake boats will be withdrawn and a full day rest will be given to the oarsmen on Friday.
A huge posse of cops, around 2,000 in number, will be deployed at the venues to prevent any untoward incident on the day of the event. Also, dignitaries including the likes of the High Court Chief Justice and the Airforce Southern Commandant will attend the event on Saturday.
Teams start practice on tracks
While the practice sessions of the snake boats commenced a month ago, the clubs have started trials in the race tracks to get a feeling of the actual competition and to know various factors like wind, speed, paddle swing timing, and so on.
“We’re practising at the track in Punnamada Lake for the past four days in the evenings. This is very important for giving a good performance,” Sajimon B, secretary of UBC Kainakary Boat Club, which is rowing Nadubhagam Chundan this time, said.
While the month-long expense for the practice sessions alone will incur nearly Rs 80 lakh, the daily expense amount to Rs 80,000.
“We’re following a special diet routine for the oarsmen to improve their performance. For example, the day begins with them having chickpeas and peanuts. They will be then given oats, followed by cashew nuts, badam, and eggs (four each) besides milk. The lunch will be served with fish curry. Instead of tea, lemonade will be provided in the evening; dinner on most days consists of chapatti alongside chicken curry or beef. A sound sleep too is important,” Sajimon pointed out.
Cultural events kick-off
Various cultural activities, like the Boat Song competition, as part of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race are being held at the Municipal Stadium from today. The former Minister inaugurated the ‘Vanchippattu’ competition.
A grand cultural procession ahead of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which mainly featured students of various schools and colleges in and around Alappuzha dressed up as various characters besides playing the percussions, was held on Monday evening as the town got fully immersed in the boat race euphoria.