Have you ever gone cruising in a houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala? If you haven’t, make sure you do. This one is really a wonderful and unforgettable experience!
Present day houseboats are huge, slow moving exotic barges used for leisure trips, and are in fact reworked version of kettuvallams of olden times. The original kettuvallams were used to carry tons of rice and spices. A standard kettuvallam can hold up to 30 tons from Kuttanad to the Kochi port.
The kettuvallam is held together with coir knots. Not even a single nail is used during the construction of the boat.. 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 kettuvallam can last for generations.
A portion of the kettuvallam was covered with bamboo and coir to serve as a restroom and kitchen for the crew. Meals would be cooked onboard and supplemented with freshly cooked fish from the backwaters.
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 Alappuzha alone, there are as many as 500 houseboats.
While converting kettuvallams into houseboats, care is taken to use only natural products. Bamboo mats, sticks and wood of the areca nut 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 sightseers.