Alappuzha decked up as Kerala’s famed Nehru Trophy regatta ready to set sail

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race will start around 11 am on August 12. Photo: Manorama

Alappuzha: The stage is set for the famed Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NBTR) as preparations for the most competitive and popular regatta in the world enter the last leg.

With just over 24 hours left for the 69th Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR) to kick off, Alappuzha town, the gateway to the Punnamada Lake, is in the festive spirit. Entire streets have been decked up. The air is filled with the pulsating rhythms of the vanchipattu (boat songs), played loud in the neighbourhoods without a break.

A total of 72 boats, including 19 snake boats (chundan vallams), will vie in nine categories for the coveted silver trophy this time. The track length is approximately 1,400 metres; with four 10-metre wide tracks from the East. Of the categories, chundan vallam race enthralls the audience the most. There are five heats lined up in the snake boat category. The top four boats, based on timings recorded in heats, will qualify for the final. A maximum of 95 personnel can steer a snake boat.

Palluruthy Boat Club, Alappuzha, which registered a hat trick of victories, is the reigning champion. The club this time is rowing ‘Veeyapuram Chundan’, while the United Boat Club, Kainakary, is rowing ‘Nadubhagom’, the Police Boat Club ‘Mahadevikaad Kaatil Thekkethil’ and the Punnamada Boat Club ‘Devas Chundan’.

Efficient monitoring systems in place
The race will begin by 11 am on Saturday (August 12) with the heats round of smaller boats, and that of the snake boats will be held after the inaugural session. The final rounds will be held from 4 pm. The construction of the Nehru Pavilion and temporary galleries is in the final stages. A mechanised starting system and photo-finishing system too will be installed. Video cameras will be set up to check rules violations by the boat clubs.

For tourists, 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. Photo: Krishna Kumar K E

Special boats and buses have been arranged for the visitors to travel to the race venue and return. Those purchased passes for watching the race should report at 10 am.

Kerala High Court Chief Justice Ashish J Desai and Southern Air Command's commander-in-chief Air Marshal Balakrishnan Manikandan alongside five ministers of the state will be among the dignitaries attending the inaugural session.

Local vendors busy on the day of NTBR. Photo: Krishnakumar K E

Safety regulations
The bonus and maintenance grants for boat clubs have increased by 10 per cent. Taking serious note of the accident that took place during the Chambakkulam Moolam boat race, regulations have been imposed on speed boats and drones. Those venturing into the lake during the race will be arrested.

Also, starting this year, all oarswomen must wear a uniform tracksuit and jersey, and will not be permitted to take part in the race by wearing a sari, a decision welcomed by the boat clubs. “It augurs well for our safety. In case of accidents, the traditional 'set' sari will prove to be disadvantageous for swimming and all,” said Sindhu Vaikathukaranchira, captain of ‘Chellikadan’ to be paddled by ‘Nanma Samskarika Vedi’ said.

Water patrolling by cops on boats on the NTBR race day. Photo: Krishnakumar K E

“This time, there is an increase in the bonus amount. We’ve already received Rs 40,000 as advance besides another Rs 15,000 for the dress. They have provided the uniform for free,” said Sijo Varghese, the Club president.

An international audience
The organisers are thrilled over the huge response for the annual regatta this year: “The online tickets sale has collected Rs 15 lakh so far. A large number of foreigners are arriving to witness the unique water sport," said a senior official of the NTBR society.

The mascot for the 69th Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

A 60-member expatriate group from 16 countries, including Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, France, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand and Mauritius, is arriving at the coastal town to witness the snake boat race as part of the ‘Know India’ programme of the External Affairs ministry. Also, special seating arrangements will be extended to 50 differently-abled children.

A heavy posse of police personnel, 2,000-odd, is being deployed to ensure safety. Medical teams with ambulance facilities will be stationed at various points, including the Starting Point and the Finishing Point.

Meanwhile, the stall opened by the NTBR for the sale of merchandise at the Alappuzha Revenue Divisional Office and Punnamada Finishing Point is recording huge business. Articles including coffee mugs (Rs 120), hats (Rs 60), t-shirts (Rs 300, 350, 500), and snake boat miniatures (Rs 500) are on sale at the counters. The sale of race merchandise had fetched the organisers around Rs 1.25 lakh in the previous year.

A policeman on the way to NTBR. A heavy posse of copes are being deployed to ensure security at the venue. Photo: Krishnakumar K E

360-degree view of the race
Adding to the excitement, district collector Harita V Kumar flagged off a digital wall as well that will screen different scenes of the boat race at different locations across the district till Friday.

Using Virtual Reality technology, the screen offers a 360-degree view of the boat race. A special competition for school students too has been arranged in the vehicle.

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