Have you ever gone houseboat cruising on the backwaters of Kerala? If you haven't, make sure you do. This one's 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, wouldn't that be something?
Houseboats ( Kettuvalloms ) of Kerala
The Houseboats of Kerala are giant country crafts, measuring up to 80 feet in length, retrieved from being lost to the State altogether. Once they ruled the backwaters, poled along by one or two men, heavily loaded with rice, coconut and other commodities. But in the recent times, the kettuvalloms have been replaced by more and modern modes of transport, relegating them to neglect and decay.
It takes great skill and meticulousness to construct these giant Houseboats by tying huge planks of jack wood together. Curiously enough, not a single nail is used in their making of a houseboat. There used to be an entire clan of artisans who were involved in kettuvallom construction. Today, an innovative holiday idea has restored these majestic representatives of a unique culture and with them their makers.
The Kerala houseboats that cruise these emerald waterways are an improvisation on the large country barges which were an essential part of the land's ethos in days gone by. Modified to meet a novel concept of holidaying, the kettuvalloms ( houseboats ) are comfortably furnished with an open lounge, one or two bath attached bedrooms and a kitchenette, and are extremely eco friendly, merging smoothly into the panorama. Every houseboat is manned by a crew - usually a cook, guide and oarsman.