ALAPPUZHA:Not all manufactured high-risers can surpass the sheer grandeur of nature as it is. Of the 29 venues for this installment of the National Games, few can exceed the rowing venue, set in the quaint Vembanad Lake, for its pure natural beauty.
It’s not the most ideal time to visit these intricate networks of lakes and lagoons — the humidity from forenoon till evening is sapping. The months of November and December are more advisable. The landscape, though, continues to stun, irrespective of the fickleness of weather.
The waters hold a mirror image of the sky so truthfully in its glassy surface that, save for the occasional insect skittering across the filmy skin, it’s hard to differentiate between reality and reflection. A delicate net of wispy clouds stretches across, reining in the hazy outline of coconut trees. At a distance, kettuvallams (house boats) waddle by. Chinese fishing nets, believed to have bought by Chinese explorers in the 15th century — stand like chroniclers of time.
Almost everyone — from rowers to officials — was bewitched, promising to return soon for a vacation. “I have visited some 20-30 countries and a lot of picturesque venues, especially across Europe, in my time. But this venue is one of the best I have seen. Every time I come here, I feel like buying a house,” says seasoned rower Bajrang Lal Thakkar.
But the venue is not just about natural beauty and nothing else. The equipment used for the National Games, imported from Italy and reckoned state of the art, bowled quite a few oarsmen and their coaches over. “This is on par with international standards. Even in the Olympics, one can’t ask for a better boat. Given that we train on such boats, we could start dreaming of an Olympic medal,” feels India coach Ismail Baig.
The organisers procured 31 boats (seven each for single sculls, double sculls, coxless pairs and coxless fours and three for coxed eight) from Italian manufacturers Filippi. The boats, spares including boat seats, rudders, rowlocks, stayrods and fins cost them around `3.24 crore. “It was neither too light nor too heavy, but was very sophisticated. It takes some getting used to, but after that it’s smooth,” reckons rower Manjeet Singh. For the first-time in India, a six-lane track too was introduced. “Take the humidity out the equation and this is a world-class venue. International-standard events can be conducted here and I heard the federation will bid for Asian Championship and World Junior Championship,” informs Baig.
Some of the boats will be taken to the national camp while the rest will stay at the SAI centre in Punnamada, which has been central to the sport’s growth in the state. Established in 1989, the centre has churned out rowers in bounty. The entire Kerala crew for the National Games is based here. “This place has a rich tradition of rowing and the nature of water too is very good. So we thought of setting up a rowing centre with an eye on tapping the local talent. It has been very fruitful, as many of Kerala’s present rowers like Honey (Joseph) and Dittimol (Varghese) are from here. In the past also, there had been so many,” observes G S Nair, a former coach at the centre.
The only distraction for the rowers, perhaps, is the over-abundance of natural beauty itself. And the only grousers are the fishermen, deprived of their daily catch for the duration of the Games.