Saturday, August 12, 2006

Payippad Snake Boat wins Kerala race

The Payippad Snake Boat Saturday won the Nehru Trophy for the third year in succession at Kerala's annual boat festival at the Punnamada lake.

Eighteen snake boats and 42 small boats took part in the various events, which climaxed in the famous snake boat race.

The Payippad Snake Boat from Kumarakom in Kottayam has been a regular participant in this annual event for several decades.

An added attraction this time was the participation of a 10-member multi-national women's team from Dubai - led by British national Julie Amer - that was part of the Alleppey Boat Club team, which finished first in the women's category.

Watching the race from a houseboat parked near the finishing point is Belia Klagers, a 60-year-old German, excitedly witnessing one of the most breathtaking water events.

'I have been to Kerala 16 times, but this is the first time I am watching the race. Believe me, I am yet to see a better sport than this. I feel sad that I was not able to see this race before,' said Klagers, who is a landscape consultant in Munich.

Tomy Pullikattil, one of the organisers, said: 'This year appears to be one of the best seasons for us. Close to 5,000 foreign tourists witnessed the race. From my experience of seeing close to three dozen Nehru boat races, this time there were nearly 300,000 spectators.'

The biggest cheer as always is reserved for the snake boat competition. The length of a snake boat varies from 120 to 140 feet. There are about 120 oarsmen, with the captain and his associates giving directions.

Christiana from Spain has been in Alappuzha for the past few days waiting to see 'one of the most exquisite sporting events'.

'No other place in the world has such a marvellous water-sporting event. I am happy to be here and enjoying every moment of the race,' she said.

The history of this race is associated with former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to the state in 1952 when a pageantry of boats accompanied him on his trip from Kottayam to Alappuzha.

An impromptu race conducted in Nehru's honour. Nehru, who was thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen, jumped into the 'Nadubhagam Chundan' (a snake boat) forgetting all security arrangements. The boat proceeded to the jetty with the then prime minister on board.

On returning to Delhi, Nehru donated a silver trophy, a replica of a snake boat placed on a wooden abacus with an inscription and his signature. This is the trophy that the winner in the snake boat category is awarded.


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