Come November and Kollam city becomes inundated with people who have travelled from far and near. It is that time of the year when the waters of the Ashtamudi Lake get thrashed by the enthusiastically pumping paddles of hundreds of oarsmen.
Yes, we are talking about the annual Presidents Trophy boat race, which was instituted by President Pratibha Patel in 2011. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the scenic Ashtamudi Lake at Asramam creek to witness this event with lots of frenzy and fervor for the sport. Adults and children alike cheer their teams with much laughter, drumming and clapping. The nerve-racking tension as the boats race through the 1.25km stretch over the lake creates equal moments of hushed silence as well as raucous shouting and cheering.
The sight of the amazingly long and slim snake boats all lined up at the starting point with each contesting team wearing a uniform color, sets the adrenaline thumping, even as the wait stretches on for the formalities to be over with. The sudden frenzy in the water as the race starts is a sight to behold and better not enjoyed through the screen of a mobile phone as you attempt to take memorable pictures; just enjoy the real moment of action! It’s an unbelievable sight to see so many huge black crafts slicing through the pristine waters in perfect unison to the fast-paced rhythm of the vanchipattu (the boatmen’s song). The crowds also sing the song to egg on the oarsmen.
Contesting teams are asked to register before the end of the month of October to help the organizers coordinate this socio-cultural event successfully. The boat races are held in five categories, which are the Chundan Vallam (snake boats), two levels of Veppu Vallam and two levels of Iruttukuthi Vallam. Sixteen snake boats compete in four heats with the final winning team receiving a gold-plated trophy as well as a cash award from the President of India. This is the only regatta in the country that’s named after the president, reflecting the cultural importance of this event.
Aside from the President’s trophy, an additional ever-rolling trophy was also instituted this year in the memory of Lance Naik B. Sudheesh who was killed in an avalanche at Siachen this February.The best part is that no one comes back empty-handed from the event, as all the teams are given a token cash award for their spectacular efforts. The Raviz hotel in Kollam is very much a part of these cultural events and helps in sponsoring and organizing this spectacular sport, much to the joy of its in-house guests who get top priority in witnessing the festive atmosphere.