Alappuzha: Kerala is getting ready for the 63rd edition of the fiercely competitive Nehru Boat Race on August 8, an event that serves as the curtainraiser of the tourism season in the state.
The event takes place at Punnamada Lake and the chief guests for this year's edition include Vice President Hamid Ansari and Chinese Ambassador Le Yucheng.
The snake boat race is main tourist attraction because the length of the vessels vary from 120 feet to 140 feet, with about 120 oarsmen going flat out to lift the coveted trophy.
This time, 16 teams will participate in the snake boat category, with the race being held in the afternoon session. Around 60 boats will participate in the morning session of the event.
The history of the event dates to 1952, when then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state and a small flotilla of decorated boats accompanied him from Kottayam to Alappuzha on the famed backwaters.
An impromptu race was conducted in Nehru's honour and, thrilled by the performance of the oarsmen, Nehru jumped into a snake boat.
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 trophy is awarded to the winner of the snake boat category.
Over the years, the costs, both for the organisers and also for the participants, have gone up considerably, said CPI-M legislator C.K.Sadasivan, a former coach and
captain of the Kainankary Boat Club, which won a record 12 titles in the 1970s and 1980s.
"It was me in 1994 who sang in the assembly the traditional song of the rowers as they strike the water in unison with their oars. The house sat in rapt attention and the then chief minister, A.K.Antony, sanctioned Rs.300,000 ($4,700) for this event for the first time," Sadasivan told IANS.
The state government has given Rs. 55 lakh for the current edition.
"This is an expensive affair as every club or organisation which fields a team for the snake boat race has to shell out a minimum of Rs.40 lakh. This is to pay every oarsman a minimum of Rs.1,000 per day for around four weeks of practice and for other expenses," Sadasivan said.
"Today, most of the snake boats that are used by the various clubs and organisations are taken on hire and a very hefty rent has to be paid to its owner. Snake boats are built using anjali wood. They cost around Rs.40 lakh and have a life of around 10 years if properly maintained," Sadasivan added.
The organisers are hoping for good ticket sales.
"We expect the sale of tickets to fetch Rs.36 lakh. Besides, we are expecting money from sponsors too," Tomy Pulikattil, one of the organisers, told IANS.
There are around 30,000 tickets on offer, ranging from Rs.100 to Rs.2,000.
Pulikattil also said that for the first time, there has been a change in the schedule.
"This change has been made because of the increase in the number of participating boats. It gets very late if it is held in the afternoon only. So this time, the morning session starts from 11 a.m. and the afternoon session at 3 p.m. We expect to wind up around 5 p.m.," Pulikattil said.