Experiencing The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race In Kerala

Every year the Punnamada lake of Alapuzha in Kerala, witnesses the grand Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race. This sport is called Vallam Kali meaning boat play and is a fiercely fought race among the people of Kuttanad. Held during the monsoons every year, the race is meant to coincide with the Onam festivities. A victory in this race is celebrated by the villagers for months to come. This is such a prominent event in Kerala that the lake gets flocked by lakhs of people every year, from India and abroad. Here’s everything you need to know about experiencing the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race in Kerala.

How Did Snake Boat Races Start In Kerala?

Before we know more about the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race, let’s take a look at the bigger picture here - the introduction of snake boat races. Boat Play or Vallam Kali is a form of canoe race. But unlike a small canoe, in this race, you’ll find long snake-like boats of about 30-35 meters. It gets the name “snake boat”, because of its length and maneuver. They are also known as Chundan Vallams.

The original idea behind the Chundan Vallams dates back to a war between the kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakaserry. During this, the king of Chembakaserry ordered a carpenter to construct a war boat named Chundan Vallam. So, that’s how the concept of snake boats came into existence. Every snake boat you see today is built by following the centuries-old method of creation. 

Later to mark the beginning of the joyous annual harvest festival of Onam, the tradition of snake boat races was introduced. Where hundreds of expert oarsmen are seen rowing the boat in mindblowing sync. Today if you go to see these races, you will find the waters filled with not just Chundan Vallams or snake boats, but also other long and small boats ready to hit the finishing line. Some of the other popular boats you’ll come across during these races, are churulan vallam, irruthukutty vallam, odi vallam, and kochu vallam.

Also read: Kerala Travel Guide.

Experiencing The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race In Kerala

Story Behind Nehru Trophy Boat Race

Today there are over 12 boat races happening every year in Kerala. Some of these are the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, Thazhathangadi race, Pulinkunnu race, Piravom, and Marine Drive boat race. Of these, the Nehru snake boat race is the most popular one. People travel to Kerala even from outside the country just to get a glimpse of this race.

So here’s the story behind this race. By now you must have obviously figured that the race gets its name from the former Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It was he who inaugurated the snake boat race in Kerala back in 1952. When he arrived in Alapuzha to witness this magnificent race in a Chundan Vallam, he was really impressed by the race and himself got in a Chundan Vallam forgetting his security. And, when he got back to Delhi he sent the winners a Silver Trophy in the shape of a snake boat. Later, the trophy was named the “Prime Minister’s Trophy” and on Nehru ji’s death, it was renamed the “Nehru Trophy”.

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Experiencing The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race In Kerala

When And Where Is The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race Held?

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held during the monsoon months, which is anytime between August and September. It is organized in such a way that it collides with the extravagant festival of Onam. Onam is the annual harvest festival of Kerala which lasts for over ten days, where each day is to prep up for the last and main day of Onam (Thiruvonam). Part of the Onam festivities is the Vallam Kali, the snake boat race of which the glorious Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race always stands out. So, as per the date on which Onam falls each year, the dates of the Nehru boat race are decided.

To witness this awe-inspiring race, you need to be present at Punnamada Lake, in Alapuzha. Punnamada Lake or Kayal is a part of the largest lake of Vembanad. It is spread over so many areas that each area has a different name for the lake. So, the part that falls in the Kuttanad area of Alapuzha is known as Punnamada. And, this is where lakhs of people from all over the world come to witness the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race in Kerala. Every year during the season of Vallam Kali, you get to see the lake dotted with many snake boats and small country rafts.

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Experiencing The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race In Kerala

How To Get Here?

By Air

Held at the Punnamada lake of Alapuzha district, the boat race is accessible from two nearby airports. Cochin International airport is just 75 km away whereas Trivandrum airport is around 150 km away from here. Both these airports are well-connected to all cities, so traveling by flight won’t be a trouble. Once you get to the airport, you can then take a 2-3 hour cab ride to reach Alappuzha.

By Rail

If you’re planning to travel by train, then you can arrive at the Alappuzha train station. Just like the airports, this train station also provides great connectivity to all major railway stations in India. From Alappuzha railway station, you can easily avail a cab, auto, or bus to your destination.

By Road

In case you want to enjoy the picturesque views of the Western Ghat on your trip to Kerala, then you can take the road. NH 47 would be the ideal route to take from Trivandrum, Kollam, Thrissur, and Ernakulam, as it passes via Alappuzha. You could also take a bus from cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Mysore, Kochi, Kozhikode, Coimbatore, and Trivandrum.

What Is It Like To Witness The Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race?

Just like the other premier boat races in Kerala, the Nehru Snake Boat race also comes with its special grandeur. On the day of the race, you will find people flocking the Punamada lake, waiting for the race to begin with much enthusiasm. The serene lake of Punamada is covered with colorful snake boats filled with hundreds of oarsmen. 

The boat races in Kerala are not considered to be an ordinary sport, it is the pride of the locals of Kerala. So, winning the race is much important for the teams as well as their villages. The chief of the oarsmen is the one controlling the team to ensure coordination and is always on his foot to lead the team on cue.

Once the race begins, they start rowing the boat in a synchronizing manner. And before you think what’s the big deal about it, if any one of the oarsmen gets out of sync it could lead to the boat capsizing. Taking this risk, they row the boats singing old boat songs called Vanjipattu, while the crowd roars in cheers.

All in all it truly is an exhilarating experience to get to see this snake boat race in Kerala. It is a treat to the eyes so come plan your visit here so you can have a unique time by the backwaters.

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Which Is The Venue Of The Nehru Trophy Boat Race In 2022?

As usual, the venue for the Nehru Boat Race in Kerala for the year 2022, is the Punnamada Lake in the Alappuzha district of Kerala. An initiative has also been taken to hold this popular event in the UAE. So for the first time in the UAE, the race will be held at Al Marjan Island.

Which Lake Is Famous For Nehru Trophy Boat Race?

Every year the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held on the serene waters of Punnamada Lake. It is a part of the greatest lake in Kerala, the Vembanad lake. The lake gets a different name basis the region it extends to. In the Kuttanad village of Alappuzha, it is called Punnamada lake, whereas in Kochi it is called Kochi Lake.

Which Festival In Kerala Is Celebrated With Snake Boat Races?

Other than the main festival of Onam, another festival celebrated with the snake boat races is the Payippad Jalotsavam. It is a festival the locals of Alappuzha celebrate to observe the day the idol of Lord Karthik was installed at the Haripad Subramanya Swamy temple.

How Did The Snake Boat Race Begin In Kerala?

The origin of the snake boat race dates back to the historic war between the kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakaserry. During this, the king of Chembakassery ordered a war boat called Chundan Vallams, or snake boats. Later more boats were created and the legacy of snake boats was started in the year 1952.

What Is The Importance Of The Nehru Trophy Race?

Unlike other boat races, this one was inaugurated by the former Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And, since then the trophy came to be known as the “Prime Minister’s Trophy”. Later, upon the Prime Minister’s death, the trophy was renamed “Nehru Trophy”.

What Is The Boat Race In Kerala Called?

In Kerala, boat races are called Vallam Kali, meaning boat play. It is one of the most prominent events held in the state each year. Visit Kerala during the months of August or September and you’ll get to witness this grand sport for yourself.

In Which State Is The Snake Boat Race Held?

Known as Vallam Kali in Malayalam, the snake boat races are held in the state of Kerala. The boat races are held in accordance with the Onam festivities. One of the popular boat races is the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat race.

Which Trophy Is Given To The Winner Of The Annual Snake Boat Race Of Kerala?

There are over 12 snake boat races that happen in Kerala in a year. And each boat race has its own unique Trophy. For the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race, a Silver Nehru Trophy is awarded to the winning team.