Land of Water
The backwaters of Kerala extend throughout the region, forming more than 900 km of navigable channels. It is a salt-water ecosystem. You can visit it by hiring a kettuvallam, a traditional boat, formerly used to transport grain from the paddy fields.
Nowadays, while not a bloody battle, the reputation and prestige of the different towns is still in play. Snake boat regattas are annual contests held in Alappuzha–also known as Alleppey and the Venice of the East–and the surrounding area. The most important race is the one for the Nehru Trophy, named in honour of former Prime Minister of India, Sri Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The August sun warms the waters of Punnamada Lake. Crowds have gathered on its shores, but the best views are reserved for those who have paid the highest entry fee. The silence is abruptly broken. The rowers chant the Vanchipattu (the boatman’s chant) to mark the rhythm. It is the only day of the year when the tranquillity of the waters of the Punnamada is disturbed. There is one team per boat, and each team consists of a hundred men. They are wearing shorts and their torsos are bare. They sink their oars into the water, in perfect time, and then the snakes, from 30 to 36 m long, slither through the lake. The strongest rowers are positioned at the front. The coxes can be distinguished from the rest because they are standing up. Some carry umbrellas for protection from the sun. All are barefoot, as a sign of respect. The trophy is a silver replica of a snake boat, but the true prize is the pride of belonging to the town that is first to cross the finish line.