Nehru Trophy Vallom Kali: The boat fest  

Posted by Praveen in , ,

It was all normal till about thursday evening last week. Then, suddenly an idea came to my mind. Why not head to Alappuzha to watch the legendary Nehru trophy boat race on Saturday. I told guru vivek about this idea. He said he was doubtful of joining me. And, when my friends heard about it, the reactions ranged from 'are you crazy??' to 'u've gone outta control'. Anyway, I got all the tickets ready by Thursday night and on friday evening I set out all alone to the land of vanchipaattu(boat song)...
Chundan vallangal- longer than snakes..

The bus trip itself was an experience in the 2nd last seat of a rajahamsa with my adjacent seat seemingly a magnet for heavy drunkards. When it reached mysore, a man who was barely able to stand and who was smelling as if he had taken a bath in some local liquor, slumped into the seat and started mumbling. I somehow had to push him away saying that its already occupied. After 5 minutes came another one, the size of a sumo wrestler. This time I couldn't drive him away. He was so drunk that he couldn't keep back the money which he took from his underwear. And, he made the poor conductor dig deep inside his undies to keep back the money. I had to spend the rest of that night with the smell of liquor and bad breath blasting my nose. In the morning, as I stepped outside the Alappuzha bus station, my heart leapt with happiness. There was a line of 'thattukadas' with my favourite 'thattu dosas' pumping steam. This is one thing I been missing since I left Trivandrum for the job. After a delicious breakfast, I had 4 long hours left before my friend's friend was supposed to arrive with the special pass. As you all know, there's water everywhere in Alappuzha. There's a narrow river running along the side of the main bus stand road, with country boats and motorised boats doing regular service. These service boats even have boards like those we see in buses, displaying the 'boat stops'.

Chambakkulam- The winner

Orumayundengil olakka melum..Checkout the guys sitting on the tree

The whole atmosphere was festive with a steady stream of humanity arriving in this place for this mammoth event. Its held once in a year on the second saturday of august. Foreigners and people from all over India flock to this place year after year. As I walked along the river, many small groups were heading towards the punnamada kaayal(venue of the race), singing songs loudly. Some of those groups asked me to take a snap of them, probably thinking that I had something better than this crap blog to publish their snaps. And some ticket agents spoke in english-'saar, where are you from? we have tickets at cheap rate and there is boat ride too." There's nothing more embarrasing and frustrating than being talked to like that in your own land. And so, I impolitely replied, "nammalodu veno chetta ee english?"(Is there any need to talk english with people like me?). Lots of boats carrying policemen, the officials and tourists were moving along the river to punnamada. And then it was time for lunch when my eyes fell on those street side vendors selling 'Kappa & kakka irachi'(Tapioca & sea shell meat), another of my all time favourite food items. I sat there at the river bank and happily munched on.

Neck to neck

United we row...

Close to 2 O clock, the friend arrived with the pass and helped me cross the river in a country boat. I reached the venue and much to my disappointment, the police had closed entry to the stand in which I was supposed to sit. I walked along looking for a loophole for infiltration when I saw the crowd behind one of the press boxes. I ran to the last row and politely asked one of the guys there if he would let me go forward so that I can take snaps. I kept doing this excercise until I was just behind the TV cameras and the select group of foreigners sitting there. By then, there was heavy pushing from the back and the people in the box were scared thinking that they'll fall in the water. The police came and there were violent scenes as most of them were pushed to the ground. I was thankfully saved because of my camera which made them think that I was one of the press guys. Anyway, by this time I was inside the box and sitting at the edge, almost falling into water. The whole place was in high spirits with big crowds all around chanting and singing.
Its never over until we cross the line...Row Hard!!!

The inaugural function was attended by Sonia gandhi, shashi tharoor and some other ministers and cultural leaders. The navy did a short stunt display with a guy hanging from a helicopter. Then, it was time for the real show. The boats comes in a vareity of classes just like our F1, F2 and F3 racing cars- Chundan vallam, odi vallam, churulan vallam, iruttukuthy vallam etc. The small vallams looked almost submerged in water and it was a treat to watch this mini racers moving along the water. But the real heroes indeed were the chundan vallams(snake boats). These monsters does really look like one of those king cobras standing majestically with its hood raised. Its a sight to behold with almost 70 rowers on either side pushing it forward with all their strength. In the middle stands, the musicians. There were about 6 of them holding 'olakka'(a heavy wooden rod used to pulverize rice) and beating it on the boat's floor to provide a steady rhythmic beat. Those beats which can be heard from a distance makes you think that its a big army marching in. One guy stands with a whistle to add tune to the beats. And the rowers makes all kinds of group noises to spread the spirit.
Who said women can't row!!Checkout the foreign ladies in the middle
Red warriors are coming for u!
Amidst all this, can the crowd stand still? Never! They added all the flavour singing a vareity of Vanchipattu. Some were seen watching it all from tree tops. There was one particularly awesome sight of a long coconut tree bend forward over the water with 5-6 guys sitting on it and the boats passing underneath it. Many among the crowd were seen diving into the water at regular intervals. The police had a tough time keeping them away from the tracks. In the meantime, the policement gave a headache to the media cameramen by suddenly appearing out of nowhere and spoiling many superb shots. Many of the media men were seen fuming and biting their teeth. 'chendamelam' was heard from some galleries. There was a race for the ladies too. Some foreign ladies were also seen rowing along with the locals in these races. The ladies matched the men in the spirit with which they rowed. The commentators added to the flavour by their non stop flow of small talk, vanchipattu and realtime race updates. They managed to keep the crowd in all spirits for the 3 hour duration. There was one team 'Kaarichal', led by the malayalam actor kalabhavan Mani. This team seemed to have all the ground support mainly because of his popularity. But they could reach only till the loser's finals. The race of the chundans was won by 'Chambakkulam', whose name reminded me of that old malayalam movie starring the brilliant actor Murali, who passed away last week. Maybe, this win was sort of a tribute to the man who played the role of a famous boat maker in the movie. The winners were presented with the 'Nehru trophy', personally signed by Nehru himself.
'Vallam orchestra'- The whistlers and the guys with 'olakka'

Can you sit as comfortable as this on a couch?

adi kittum!Kerala police ki Jai :)

In the end, I don't regret the decision of going alone all this distance just for this race. Somethings are better watched live than in an idiot box, and this is one of those. I was left with a feeling similar to the one after a rock concert. Given a chance, I would like to watch this true spectacle again..and I would recommend you all to do the same, even if its alone...So, make sure you sing 'Kuttanaadan punchayile' from the banks of Punnamada...'Thithithaaro thithithei..Thithei thaka thei thei thom'...

your crusader Praveen

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at Tuesday, August 11, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

15 comments

Nice anecdote..:)

Hoping to see the boat race sometime in my life... :-)

1:57 AM

hehe seems tat u had gr88 fun...

6:06 AM

Awesome! Thanks for sharing this! I've never before been a witness to this in person and so much hope to!

11:34 AM

Alappuzha must be the more commonly referred (non-mallu version) Aleppy, If I'm not mistaken. We were there on a houseboat last year from Aleppy to Kumarakom - and boy!!! was that scenic. The whole path is simply a spectacle to cherish. First of all the scenic beauty. and like icing on the cake you have those boat races - It must have been a mind-blowing situation. I can really picture it.

And hope you saw those boatsmen singing while they row - some singing, and some screaming verses (like they do in kabaddi) and those regular 'aisa's... The feeling must have been like -straight out of a Harry Potter movie - once you are back in office after this memorable trip



Hope to hear some vanchipaattus from you when I meet you next ;) Glad you enjoyed your trip.

4:57 PM

thanks for the photo-journal of this year's vallam-kali. liked the photo with all of those guys on the slanting coconut tree!

5:02 PM

Hahaha .. O mine.. i can see that u njoyed the trip throughly...
i thinks its a trip no malayali wwant to miss..
though i didnt c it.. ur description was wonderful enough to experiance it...

6:08 PM

have been to a boat race when i was in kerala..

hahaha for kerala police ki jai

10:55 PM

@scorpiogenius
yea..u shud!!

@PJ
ofcourse :)

@Rakesh
thnks man..its never too late...try next yr itself :D

@Supriya
yes, its alleppey only..
aah..the scenes from houseboats...awesome..cudn't do it this time cos of time contraints..
yes...they were singing and creating all those rhythmic beats..
but dont expect me to sing..am such a bad singer :P

@rocksea
thanks 4 the visit...keep coming back for more interesting stuff

@Devil incarnate
So y not try experiencing it urself?

12:54 AM

Praveen,
Njanum undayirunnu avide.
Just posted on the same,ente blogil.
Awesome fun it was.

-Nikhil

10:42 PM

Oh man, how I wish you had mentioned this somewhere on your blog before leaving. I wanted to go so desperately (maybe even by bike!) but I just didn't get company.

And the other thing was I didn't know anyone to get the pass. Wonderful photographs, but I was hoping for some more close-range shots. Are the boats that far away?

11:01 PM

Wonderful post and more so I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures!

5:03 PM

@Nikhil
iniyengilum pokunnenu munpu onnu ariyikkanam :D

@Sid
even I wish the same now..anyway u cud've tried a trip alone..its fun man, really ;)
Close range pics..well, even am a little disappointed with the pics..its my 1st time photographing such an event..gotta learn more I guess

7:06 PM

lovely narrative :-) i felt like i was watching it live!!

nothing beats the experience of watching it rite there where the action takes place.

and LOL yes it is funny when ppl try talking to u in english while u r there, and u respond in malayalamd and they r surprised!

ur mention of thattu kadas brought back yummy nostalgic memories btw!

1:55 AM

P.S.: btw the last 2 pic captions rocked! :D

1:56 AM

Wow .seems like u had a gala time!You've described our very own Vallomkali so vividly,now I too want to catch it live and real...all that energy can be felt from the pics !

11:07 AM

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