Over 50 boats, of small and big sizes, including 16 snake boats, participated in the 56th Nehru Trophy Boat Race at the Punammada Lake in Kerala's Alappuzha District. Snake boats or "Chundanvallam" races, as they are known in local parlance, are very popular in Kerala, dubbed as the Venice of the East for its backwaters, especially around the harvest festival of Onam.
Usually a snake boat is manned by four helmsmen, 25 singers and 100-125 oarsmen who row in unison to the fast rhythm of the Vanchipattu (the song of the boatman). A major attraction of the event was seven foreign oarswomen from the United Arab Emirates who are participating in the event for the third time. Thousands of people, including domestic and foreign tourists turned up for the event.
"Never seen this before. It's wonderful," said Victoria, a British tourist. "We love India. It is second time we have been back here. We heard about the boat race, it's so famous," said Carls, another British tourist.
The race is organised on the second Saturday of the month of August every year.
Snake boats are long and narrow country boats, originally designed to transport soldiers to the war front with speeds of about 50 kilometers an hour. But these days, they are used exclusively for races. The construction of the boat, usually over 50 metres long, takes nearly two years and costs over 40,000 dollars.
The Nehru Trophy is the most popular of all races. The first boat race was held in 1952 to honour India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit to the region.Watching the race, Nehru got so involved and excited that he broke all security barriers and took a ride on a boat. Later, in the same year, he presented a silver trophy to the winner of the race.