TRAVEL | KERALA BACKWATERS GUIDE |
Thitthithare thai thom
Kochu penne kuyilaale
Thitthai thaka thai thai thom...
To a Keralite, that lilting rhyme evokes images. Vivid mental pictures of swaying palms fringing emerald-green backwaters. Of huge 'snakeboats' and their bare-chested, well-muscled, sweating crews straining at the oars. Of the beat of the drum and the lilt of song. Of, in short, the annual snakeboat race in Kuttanad.
It used to be a peculiarly Keralite festival, till Jawaharlal Nehru discovered its unique charm and instituted a trophy, way back in 1952, for the competing teams to fight for. Around the same time, the international tourist discovered the event, and things have never been the same ever since.
Today, every point along the Kuttanad coast has acquired a name, a significance. Like Finishing Point, for instance. All it is, is a little cement promontory jutting out into the backwaters. But come boat-race time, and it becomes the mecca for tourists and locals alike.
The boat race is about pride, and prestige. Each village has its own chundan vallam (snake boat), meticulously crafted from the wood of the jackfruit tree, and zealously guarded. For stories of sabotage are not uncommon -- termites deliberately introduced, crew given laced drinks before the start of a race, kidnap, even murder.
Come August (and again, during the Onam season) these 150-foot long boats are brought out of their 'garages', spruced up, varnished, and eased into the water for the crew to practise on.
Come the day, and the area, somnolent in normal times, wakes to vibrant life. Thousands throng the banks of the Punnamada Lake at Alleppey for the day-long event (this year, it is slated for August 12).
The festivities kick off with races for women, races involving various lesser craft, and assorted backwaters pageants. And then comes the big one, as 16 snake-boats line up at the starting point for the 2 pm start.
It is all over in four frenzied minutes, actually -- the time it takes the champion boats to traverse the 1.35 km route. Four minutes of lung-bursting effort on the part of the 150-member crew, egged on by a couple of dozen on-board singers break into the lilting strains of the vanchipattu (the boatman's song)...
It is a spectacle like none other. And it is here, on Broadband and Rediff Travel, courtesy Kerala Tourism. Prepare to be transported to a magic land, a magic moment of the year, through this 13-second video clip. It is the next best thing to being there.
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