Even as Kerala is on its way to a slow but sure recovery from the devastating floods that near submerged the state in August, the 'Nehru Boat Race' may serve as a catalyst to pull the state out of its morass. On November 10 this year, 25 traditional snake boats participated in a sporting event, which has traditionally attracted tourists, both Indian and foreign.
Organisers, worried about the impact the fatal floods, were naturally skeptical this year. As it turned out, thousands thronged the banks of the panoramic Punnamada Lake in Kerala’s Alapuzzha district to witness the unique cultural event, making it a success.
However, the event's success was the fruit of hard labour. Says Vinod K G, secretary of the Nehru Boat Race Committee: "Even after two months, the tourism sector continues to remain depressed and reel under the shadow of the crippling floods. We hoped the race would encourage people to visit the state, which we have achieved to a large extent, but not as much as anticipated. We have lost out on a total amount of Rs 80 lakh. Not just us, several clubs have suffered losses."
The 2018 floods were the worst in 100 years of Kerala's history. The total losses have been estimated at Rs 21,000 crore, though accounts vary. The UN has pegged the losses at approximately Rs 31,000 crore, along with massive damage to life and property.
The Nehru Trophy was instituted to commemorate the visit of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the area and his boat ride in the lake. The boat race, known as chundan vallam in local parlance, is also considered one of the biggest water sport events in the country.
Happily for the state, even the terrible floods have not lessened its attractions. It has not deterred the locals from either watching or participating in the boat race.
Points out K A Pramod, who participated in the race as part of the Pallathuruthy Boat Club team that emerged winners: “We felt very enthusiastic about participating in the race. We thought we got another chance at it after the original event was postponed. Also, such events would boost slacking tourism in the state recovering from floods.”
This race can be counted as one the many steps Kerala is taking to revive tourism in a state, which has always prided itself on being a prime destination, encapsulated in the popular slogan "God’s Own Country".
Explains RK Kuruppu, a participant of the winning team who was also involved in organizing the event, “I was deeply affected by the floods. My entire house was flooded and we had to vacate it for 3-4 weeks. It was difficult to tackle financial and various other issues needed for organizing the event. It was a big task to reconstruct after the event was postponed, with tourist footfall registering a slump. But we succeeded in giving out the message that Kerala was good enough to get tourists back into the state.” Good for the race and good for Kerala.