Alleppey and Kumarakom along with small villages make up what is commonly called the `backwaters’ of Kerala. The backwaters is a network of rivers, lagoons and canals and flow into two lakes, Vembanad and Ashtamudi.
Alleppey is a small town, once a renowned trading port lying on the south western banks of the Vembanad Lake. Once a commercial hub, during the days of the kings of the Travancore state, its trading glory saw a downturn since Cochin achieved prominence as a sea port. Remains of its trading faring days can be seen as soon as you enter the town, a long canal once named the Commercial canal stretches from the lake onto the Arabian Sea a few kilometres away. This canal was used for transporting goods that were offloaded at a pier on the banks of the Arabian Sea and was constructed by the British. Today much of this canal is used for docking boats of all kinds and shapes, from the government long, green painted ferry boats to smaller bamboo thatched country boats used for short cruises. Alleppey commercial prowess is still formidable with the town and the region around it known worldwide for the manufacture and export of coir and coir products.
Alleppey’s modern avatar has come about interestingly based on its lagoons and canals. Today the town, measuring a few kilometres wide and sandwiched between the Vembanad Lake and the Arabian Sea, is better known for its houseboats. Interesting sights to visit here include the SreeMannarshala Snake Temple and the ChakullathkavuBaghavathi Temple.
Life of the people around Alleppey has always been intertwined with boats. For centuries country boats were the mode of travel between the many small waterlogged islands around the region. It would not be a falsification to say that any child born around the region knows how to row a boat. This understanding about the mechanics of boats has spurred a boat racing mini industry all on its own. Local boat races take place with respectable fanfare around the area and involve long snouted country made boats called ChundamValloms or ChurlamValloms. ChurlamValloms are smaller of the two and are the boats of choice for smaller boat races. ChundamValloms, long 100 feet boats with winding snouts are the boats that are used for the bigger boat races. Alleppey largest boat race festival is the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race where teams from various boat clubs participate for the highest prize. This annual regatta takes place on the second Saturday of August each year. Long ChundamValloms race each other in a picture of swinging oars, trumpeting boatswain songs in unison vying for the much coveted Nehru Trophy. Oarsmen per boat number around 100 making this the largest team sport in the world!