Snake Boat Racing in the Backwaters of Kerala

Boat racing in Kerala is one of India’s biggest sporting events. Vallam Kali – translating literally to ‘boat game’ – is a fascinating traditional form of canoe racing.

Held largely during the monsoon (also a time that sees many tourists savour the aromatic, verdant greenery and vibrant culture that come alive here), these races are a huge crowd puller that spectacularly light up the languid backwaters of Alleppey – the place where most of Kerala’s boat races race to a heady finish. The races, popularly referred to as snake boat races, are owed, of course, to the peculiar canoe shape of the boat – the hood of a snake, long hulls and steep sterns. The curious paddled war canoes (chandanvallam) are between 100-138 meters in length and can accommodate 100 odd rowers. Whoa!

Together with 14 musicians and aided by the sounds of war, a 100 boatmen from each of the teams row furiously as the chandanvallams tear through the calm waters.

Vallam Kali is a massive tourist attraction, and is mainly conducted during the beloved harvest festival of Onam. Vallam Kali includes races of many kinds of paddled longboats, the traditional boats of Kerala.

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most popular snake boat race held in Punnamada Lake near Alleppey.

Date: 12-08-2017

Venue: Punnamada Backwaters

Location: Punnamada

District: Alappuzha

Come August, and the cool waters of Punnamada Lake are furiously sliced by the slashing oars of pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, it is the most popular of all boat races in the world. Dedicated teams of rowers compete for the prized trophy to commemorate the visit of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India to Alappuzha.


By Arun Sinha from India – Aranmula-boat race- Kerala-India-1, CC BY 2.0


By Joseph Lazer – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 in


By Balaji.B – Flickr: Snake Boat, CC BY 2.0



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