Its Mega boat race time in Kerala…

Kerala August Boat Race 2014

Kerala’s captivating backwaters are a picture of peace and tranquillity as they cruise lazily along picturesque banks, quaint villages, coconut groves and blankets of green paddy fields. At the Kerala Travel Centre we always advise travellers that no Kerala holiday is complete without experiencing the peace and calm of the backwaters on a luxury houseboat or ‘kettuvallom’.

Yet it’s that time of the year where another type of boat makes news, a time when the quiet backwaters are suddenly transformed into an arena of frenzied sporting activity. It is a time when boats of all sizes jostle for space along the banks of the Vembanad and people flock from far and wide to watch the world’s largest team sport event.

Yes, its mega snakeboat race festival time in Kerala! Picture this; rows of 60-70 meter long, sleek banana shaped boats, brass mouldings decorating their sterns, their brows raised 10 feet above the water, each manned by 100-125 oarsmen. With more than 10 boats participating together, that’s more than a 1000 people competing at the same time making this an event more spectacular than any other. ‘Chundan Valloms’ as these boats are called derive their name from their raised brows which make them look like serpents.

It’s not only the actual spectacle of the event that makes it special; it’s the whole experience that comes with it. To get to the venue of the event, one would have to cruise along the magical backwaters where local life will unfold before you as an unassuming people go about their daily chores, having clearly adapted their ways to the water. As you arrive at the venue, your boat will manoeuvre around houseboats and other motorboats vying for space - to find the right location from where to watch this grand spectacle. As the boats race, battling for supremacy on the backwaters, cheered on by the supporting crowds, the mood is electrifying and the tension evident in the air. If you are travelling to Kerala in August or September then this is an event that you definitely should not miss.


The story of how these mega boats came into existence is also very interesting. Legend has it that about 200 years ago two rival kings in Kerala went to war with each other. Being a land of waterways, most disputes in those days were settled on the water. One of the kings ordered his chief architect to build a war boat that could carry soldiers and cannons. The architect came up with a unique design - a boat that could not only carry cannons and soldiers but one that propelled forward when the cannons were fired.

Not to be left behind, when the rival King heard about this, his architect was ordered to build a similar boat. The second architect built a boat that was very similar in design but one that propelled in the opposite direction when the cannon were fired. Over the years the dispute between the kings was resolved the boats remained.

Boats were also the main means of transport for most people in Kerala in the early days. As modern modes of transport evolved, the waterways went quieter. Traditional rice barges were converted into the luxury houseboats that travellers now cruise on. The ‘Chundans’ (snakeboats) however did not fit into the modern scheme of things.

To keep the fierce competitive spirit of the ‘chundans’ alive, they were put to race.  Year after year come harvest time, the Ponnumuda Lake in the backwaters now turns into an arena where the boats compete. In place of where the cannons used to be, you now have two people standing and beating the platform with logs to maintain a rowing rhythm. There are about 25 singers on the boat whose rhythmic chants drive the 100 odd oarsmen into frenzy. The strongest boatmen sit at the front to build and maintain pace while the back of the boat is managed by 6 helmsmen who stand and help steer the boat. The person at the highest point being the chief oars men. It’s a spectacle to watch.


The most noteworthy boat races in Kerala are as follows;

The Champakalam Moolam Boat Race, the oldest snakeboat race in Kerala held on the day the deity at the Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna temple was installed.

Perhaps the most prestigious boat race is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race.  Held each year on the second Saturday of August, this boat race commemorates the visit of India’s first Prime Minister, J.N.Nehru to Kerala when four chundan valloms were sent to receive him and a mock boat race was organised in his honour.  Nehru was so fascinated by the race that when he returned to the capital he sent a silver trophy to the winning team and since then this race is held each year. Each year, the races get bigger and better and hundreds of travellers visit the backwaters to witness the event.

Then there is the  Payippad Lake Boat Race which will be held in Allepey and the Aranmula Snake Boat Carnival held in the River Pampa  which are both spectacular events as well.

Experience the mega boat races in Kerala with the Kerala Travel Centre this year. If you are planning a holiday in August or September then call one of our Kerala experts today on 0808 178 9799 who will tailor-make a tour to include one of the boat races. These tours will include an exclusive motor boat from which you can enjoy the grand spectacle.