kms. of dappled, green waters. Fringes of dense tropical greenery. Clear
skies shimmering through coconut canopies. Kerala is a labyrinth of lazily
. Sprinkled with traditional houseboats,
country crafts, rural lifestyles and Tranquility. It's an intricate network
of innumerable lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries and the deltas of
forty-four rivers that drain into the Arabian Sea. Over 900 km of this
labyrinthine waterworld is navigable. The largest backwater stretch in
Kerala is the Vembanad lake which flows through three districts and opens
out into the sea at the Kochi port.
Have you ever gone houseboat cruising on the backwaters of Kerala? If you
havent, make sure you do. This ones really an absolutely
wonderful, unforgettable experience!
The houseboats of today - huge, slow moving, exotic barge used for leisure
trips - are the reworked kettuvalloms of olden times. The original
kettuvalloms were used to carry tonnes of rice and spices - a standard
kettuvallom can hold up to 30 tonnes - from Kuttanad to the Kochi port.
The kettuvallam or boat with knots- was so called because the
entire boat was held together with coir knots only - not even a single nail
is used during the construction. The boat is made of planks of jack-wood
joined together with coir. This is then coated with a caustic black resin
made from boiled cashew kernels. With careful maintenance, a kettuvallom can
last for generations.
A portion of the kettuvallom was covered with bamboo and coir to serve as a
restroom and kitchen for the crew. Meals would be cooked on board and
supplemented with fresh fish from the backwaters. Today, the tradition is
still continued and the food from the local cuisine is served by the
Kuttanad localites, on board.
When the modern trucks replaced this system of transport, some one found a
new way that would keep these boats, almost all of which were more than 100
years old, in the market. By constructing special rooms to accommodate
travelers, these boats cruised forward from near- extinction to enjoy their
present great popularity.
Now these are a familiar sight on the backwaters and in Alleppey alone,
there are as many as 120 houseboats.
While converting kettuvallams into houseboats, care is taken to use only
natural products. Bamboo mats, sticks and wood of the aracanut tree are used
for roofing, coir mats and wooden planks for the flooring and wood of
coconut trees and coir for beds. For lighting though, solar panels are used.
Today, the houseboats have all the creature comforts of a good hotel
including furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, cozy living rooms, a kitchen
and even a balcony for angling. Parts of the curved roof of wood or plaited
palm open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views. While most
boats are poled by local oarsmen, some are powered by a 40 HP engine.
Boat-trains - formed by joining two or more houseboats together - are also
used by large groups of sight-seers.
What is truly magical about a houseboat ride is the breathtaking view of
the untouched and otherwise inaccessible rural Kerala that it offers - while
you float! Now, wouldnt that be something ?