The battling snake boats of Kerala have over 400 years of history associated with them. Their story can be traced back to the kings of Alleppey (Alappuzha) and the surrounding areas, who used to fight with each other in boats along the canals. One king, who suffered heavy losses, got boat architects to build him a better vessel and the snake boat was born, with much success. An opposing king sent a spy to learn the secret of how to make theses boats but was unsuccessful as the subtleties of the design are very hard to pick up. These days boat races are held with much excitement during various festivals.
Four main snake boat races (and as many as 15 minor ones) are held each year, in and around Alleppey. The spectacular Nehru Trophy is held on Alleppey's Punnamda Lake. The oldest and most popular race, the Champakkulam Moolam, is held along the river at Champakkulam (Changanassery), around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Alleppey. The Payippad Jalotsavam is held on Payippad Lake, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Alleppey. The Aranmula Boat Race is held along the Pampa River at Aranmula, near Chengannur, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Alleppey.
To make sure that everything goes smooth, arrangements start days before the event. The boats are launched a day before the grand racce. Pujas are also rendered to Lord Vishnu and Mahabali by a priest to invoke blessings for the boat and the boatmen. Flowers offered to the God are also placed at the helm of the boat as a good luck charm.
The closest airport to Alleppey is in Kochi, 85 kilometers (53 miles) away.
Alleppey has its own railway station, located a short distance south west of the town center, and is readily accessible from Ernakulum (neach Kochi). The nearest railway station to Aranmula is Chengannur, 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. It's easy to get a train there from Ernakulum, and likewise all major trains between Kochi and Trivandrum stop at Chengannur. However, Chengannur is on a different line to Alleppey, so it's not possible to travel by train between the two places. A taxi is often the best solution to travel around the region.
|Nehru Trophy Boat Race||13 Aug 2011||11 Aug 2012||10 Aug 2013||9 Aug 2014||8 Aug 2015|
|Indira Gandhi Boat Race||28 Dec 2011||28 Dec 2012||28 Dec 2013||28 Dec 2014||28 Dec 2015|
|Aranmula Boat Race||14 Sep 2011||2 Sep 2012||23Aug 2013||10 Sep 2014||31 Aug 2015|
|Champakulam Boat Race||14 July 2011||3 July 2012||23 June 2013||11 July 2014||1 July 2015|
|Payippad Boat Race||11 Sep 2011||31 Aug 2012||21 Aug 2013||8 Sep 2014||30 Aug 2015|
|Kumarakom Boat Race||11 Sep 2011||31 Aug 2012||18 Sep 2013||8 Sep 2014||30 Aug 2015|
The Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race marks the day that the idol of the Hindu God Krishna was installed in the Sree Krishna Temple in Ambalappuzha, not far from Alleppey. According to the legend, those carrying the idol stopped over in Champakkulam on the way. The next morning, thousands of colorful boats were assembled there to honor the event and escort the idol to the temple. This procession is re-enacted before the Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race takes place. It kicks off with exotic water floats, boats decorated with colorful parasols, and performing artists.
The Nehru Trophy snake boat race is undoubtedly the most exciting race of the year. This race is held in memory of India's late Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. An impromptu snake boat race was held in 1952 when the Prime Minister visited Alleppey. Apparently he was so impressed with the welcome and the race, he donated a trophy. The race has continued on ever since. It's a commercial event and you'll need to buy tickets from the tickets stands on the way. They cost less than $1 for for standing room on makeshift bamboo decks, up to $25 for VIP access. Do bring an umbrella in case of monsoon rain!
The Aranmula Boat Race is a two day, predominantly religious, occasion. Rather than being a contest, it's more about retracing the time offerings were carried on snake boats to the Aranmula Parthasarthy Temple. This was done to protect the offerings from rivals from another village. The whole occasion is a celebration of the day Lord Krishna crossed the river. Position yourself on the banks of the Pampa River near the temple in Aranmula to witness the spectacular event. Traditionally dressed rowers, accompanied by groups of 25 singers, are cheered on by an exuberant crowd.