The annual Nehru boat race is just around the corner and this week we take you through a practical guide of how to plan your trip to watch one of the most fantastic displays of local culture on the backwaters of Kerala. The Punnamada Lake of Alleppey resounds with cheering locals and houseboats line up along the kilometre long track. If you are not familiar with the area, the festival can be a little overwhelming.
Date: 10 August 2013 (held on the second Saturday of August every year).
Time: Starting time approximately 2pm. The races last for about 4-5 hours.
Venue: Punnamada Jetty Area, Alleppey.
How to get there: Alleppey is well connected by trains, but Ernakulum (Kochi) has better connectivity by both air and rail. Ernakulum lies 62km from Alleppey; multiple local buses and taxis are available. Taxis charge as much as ₹2500 for a one-way ride during this weekend. Overnight buses from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and other cities can be booked via state run operators (www.ksrtc.in) and through www.redbus.in.
Stay: It’s best to stay close to Alleppey as the town will be packed with visitors during this time. Take your pick from Alleppey, surrounding villages, Marari beach or Fort Kochi.
1. Cherukara Nest: The 85-year old homestay sits on the edge of the town, just behind the bus stand of Alleppey (ph 0477 2251509; www.cherukaranest.com).
2. Akkarakalam Memoirs: Though the well preserved 150-year old Syrian Christian house is at least 10km away from Alleppey, the ambience makes this a good choice. Plus they have their own viewing houseboat (ph 0477 2762345; www.akkarakalammemoirs.com).
3. Bamboo Lagoon: This new homestay lies on the racetrack itself. You can probably watch the action from your balcony (ph 09446818893; www.bamboolagoon.net).
4. Marari Villas: Fifteen kilometers from Alleppey, soak in the luxury by the Marari beach (ph 09947948707; www.mararivillas.com).
5. Silver Weed Homestay: Located in Fort Kochi, the homestay is a soothing two-room unit (ph 09995205828; www.silverweedhomestay.com).
Hiring a boat: Many houseboat operators have special packages on the day of the race (₹1500 onwards/per person). Usually these are crowded and you are bound by the package. If you can, hire an exclusive smaller boat or a houseboat of your own and carry food for the day. Contact Saju for boats (ph 09947245755; starting from ₹7500 per day for the entire boat).
What to Expect: There is a lull in the atmosphere till 12pm after which the excitement slowly builds as the boats are readied and spectators pile onto the stands. You may have a bit of a problem understanding the order of races if you do not know the local language, but you can always ask around. Locals also tend to climb onto boats: ask your driver to keep them off but maintain a friendly demeanor. Keep your possessions in a safe place before you participate in the celebrations. The celebration continues through the night.
- If you arrive a couple of days early, many boat teams are in the process of giving finishing touches to the boats. Befriend a boat owner to find your way and get some ‘behind the scene’ insights.
- If you leave as early as 9am, ensure that your boat is parked at the edge of the race track. Take a lot of food and water with you. It gets very hot, so try and find a covered spot.
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com