Tag Archives: Nehru boat race

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad region. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while a few kids were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach, where we spent the remaining evening until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. It was there that we were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to ensure a place to sit. (Read about the madness of the event) One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports. And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of that enthusiastic crowd.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

Post the event, we still had time to explore the town and hence boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttanad, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony of time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety. You could include these in your itinerary if you are planning a drive to Alleppey.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. The luxury of time with half a day extra would have allowed us to visit the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

Must dos:

* Experience the madness of the Snake boat race

Must eat: 

* Freshly caught and cooked seafood while on a backwater cruise tour

Snake boating in L.O.L.


After overcoming a lot of last minute hiccups, the planning of more than 3 months finally materialised.. And here we are……….. (For the flow of thoughts, I choose to use present tense :P)

At 10.a.m we are on the stands looking out for a nice place which will give us a good view of the race. The 60th Annual Nehru Boat Race is scheduled to start at 2.30.p.m. The crowd was pouring in as early as 6.a.m to get a good seat- we were told.

Pam and I were sitting in the last row (fortunate enough to get chairs to sit).. Sam had ventured out of our stands to capture some good photos and to find a better corner seat for all of us. Then this gang of 6 huge Malayali men dressed in their white Lungis came in.. They pushed our chairs in front so that they could accommodate few more chairs on the podium which was already crammed. We barely had space to keep our legs and without knowing the language- we just gave them wild stares. Pam belted out a few words in Kannada. Next thing we see is: each man placed a biiig hand bag in between their legs covered by their lungis and pulled out a bottle of local scotch (the tags on the bottle told us that it was pure-strong-local), poured it to a glass and gulped it all down in 2 seconds.(faster than one could drink water) and then… 1 of them started speaking something to us- From the fact that he just had a bottoms up (RAW) and his rude tone of speech, We knew for sure that he was abusing us. I understood a few swears but I told Pam not to react as we would surely be outnumbered by men here in God’s own country.

Like a call from God himself- Sam called us to inform us that he had found a better place to sit. We vacated in the very same minute. On the way, Pam walked upto a cop and said “Those men in the last row there, are boozing; Each man is carrying atleast a bottle which one is not supposed to possess in a public gathering”. The cop said “OK, OK Sir; We will look into it” and walked by as if Pam had just spoken to deaf ears. We met Sam and just as we were narrating the scene to him- We saw 2 more men who carried handbags and settled down right beside us. And soon they pulled out a bottle each, bottoms up, gulped down some minced beef and then started cheering at the water infront where the race was yet to happen. Before we reacted Sam pointed at the platform onto our left. More than 10men were repeating the same procedure- handbags covered by lungis- bottoms up-cheer out loud. And then we looked behind at the gallery- and we were like “What the F***” every lungi fellow has a glass in his hand..!!! And now we know that the reason for getting such a vague response from that cop. The Policemen are outnumbered by these drunkards and this is a normal phenomenon. And we learned to live with it..!! Soon, the crowd of drunkards increased and also the excitement.

Boat Race finals (49)

And.. The boat race had a roaring start with a lot of frenzy and madness.. We too were at the peak of our excitement.. And suddenly this scuffle started between 2 groups and the next thing we see is people were being thrown into the river… Typical to any Indian movie, the cop gives an entry after the fight end- cops arrived in speed boats and pulled out a couple of them from the water and sped away..

The below picture shows:

  1. A hard core fan who watched the match sitting on a coconut tree from 10.a.m to 7.00.p.m.
  2. A drunk fan standing on a pole and cheering for his team whose limbs finally gave way into the water after 5hrs.
  3. Another bunch of fans seated in the gallery who are supporting themselves by holding onto the electric lines.

Boat Race finals (36)

This is 1 hell of a maddening-superbly-awesomeness-crazy-experience I am going to cherish for life.“Land Of Lungis” truly God’s own Country… L.O.L. 😀