Alapuzha, known as ‘Venice of the East,’ is all set to host the 58th Nehru Trophy boat race here tomorrow, which will be inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil. Sixty boats, 19 of them snake boats, would participate in the most colourful water sport in Kerala, on Punnamada lake.

Sixteen snake boats would participate in the knockout heats while three would take part in an exhibition race. All arrangements were in place for the prestigious event, which attracts visitors from India and abroad, District Collector P Venugopal, who heads the Boat Race Society, said.

The most popular event of the competition is the race of ’Chundan Valloms’ (snake boats). Other boats which participate are ‘churulan’, ‘Odi’, ‘Vepu’.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit to Kerala in 1952 was given a rousing reception by the people of Alapuzha, escorted by snake boats. He was so overwhelmed by the reception that he donated a rolling trophy to be awarded to the race winner. The trophy is a replica of a snake boat in silver, placed on a wooden abacus.

Nearly 100 feet long, the snake boats can accommodate 150 rowers. Intense practise is held for days prior to the race. A grand parade showcasing Kerala culture precedes the race.

The snake boats are smeared with sardine oil for their smooth passage through the waters.