Houseboats of Kerala are called as Kettuvallams. A houseboat is a boat which has been crafted and altered in a way that it can be used for human stay. There are motor houseboats and also houseboats which can be moored. One of the main attractions of Kerala are the stunning backwaters of the state. As a result, luxurious houseboats have been designed so that people can relax in it and enjoy the scenic beauty of the backwaters in the calm and serene atmosphere of the countryside. Kettuvallams have roofs made of thatch as a covering over wooden hulls. These kettuvallams are mainly used for the tourism in the backwaters of Kerala. All the basic necessities of your home can be found inside the houseboats. Kettuvallams are the best modes of transportation to get away from the hurried pace of daily life and enjoy a slow and leisurely pace with sights that are soothing to the eyes. Few years ago, A.G Sudhakaran, the minister of Government of Kerala built steel fishing and Kochi's first 'junkar'. Another new type of houseboat made out of fibreglass was also invented by Samudra Shipyard Limited, Aroor. Fibreglass houseboats of Kochi are the first of its kind in the whole of India.
The word Kettuvallam comes from two Malayalam (the language of Kerala) words, kettu meaning knot and vallam meaning boat. Houseboats come in many shapes and sizes. Tourists can hire a boat as per their requirement. For large groups of people, there are bigger houseboats and for couples or a family of four, smaller boats are available. Boat trains are available for big groups where two or more houseboats are joined together. The charge will vary upon different factors including the size of the houseboat. There are choices between a day cruise or an overnight stay in the houseboats. The different categories of houseboats include standard, deluxe, luxury, A/c and Non A/c houseboats. The tourists can choose form these categories based on their needs and budget. One can also arrange parties and other events within the houseboat. The factors which determine the rate of a houseboat are its size, model (the year in which it was made), number of guests and duration. Most of the houseboats come within the range of INR 5000 to 100000. If you opt for a houseboat vacation during the peak season, the charge will rise. Some extra costs will be charged for fuel and insurance. When you book your houseboat, you would have to pay a deposit which will be refunded or deducted from the total bill after your trip. You will have to book your houseboat way in advance (almost 6 months before the trip) especially on public holidays and weekends.
Kerala's houseboats and backwaters are so famous and spectacular that they have even been listed in the '50 destinations of a lifetime' by National Geographic Traveller. The most popular backwater destination in Kerala is the district of Alappuzha which is a haven of luxuriously designed houseboats. Apparently, there are more than hundred houseboats in the Alappuzha backwaters itself. Kettuvallams are economical, environment friendly as well as non-polluting. It is the simplicity and originality of the houseboats which attracts tourists to experience them. The views during the journey on the houseboats is endless and includes sights of backwater birds, villagers working in their paddy fields, toddy taping, fishing activities and vendors transporting items on their small boats. If desired, the guests can request for the boat to be stopped in the middle of the water to enable better sightseeing opportunities.
In the olden days, kettuvallams were used only for transporting rice, spices and other goods to different ports and markets of Kerala. The boats have a large carrying capacity. It is only after the tourism became more popular in Kerala that the houseboats are being used for tourist sightseeing. Since it was built as a cargo medium in the beginning, a lot of change had to be made so that the houseboats can satisfy the tourists. A standard houseboat can hold upto 30 tons which is as much as three trucks can carry. It used to be the only form of transport which could reach even the most remotest places of Kerala. As we all know, in today's world, there are many other ways of transportation which transport us to our destination faster and so the usage of houseboats for transportation has reduced considerably nowadays.
How is a houseboat constructed
A kettuvallam is almost 67 feet lengthwise and 13 feet width wise. Though the houseboats have been modernised, care has been taken to keep the traditional aspect of the state intact by using natural materials for its construction. Environment friendly materials are used to make houseboats such as bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes, bamboo mats, carpets, areca nut wood etc. These materials give a cooling effect even in the heights of summer. The main wood used in a houseboat is Anjili (Artocarpus hirsuta). As mentioned before, houseboats come in various forms. One can choose between single bedrooms, double bedrooms, triple bedrooms and so on. As obvious, the price for each of these boats vary to a large extent depending on the facilities provided. The wooden hulls of the houseboats are a series of wooden planks which have been cut long and tied together using coir ropes with coconut fibres stuffed in between. The whole boat is made in a traditional style without using any of the modern technologies. The best feature is that these houseboats remain intact for a really long time and generations of people can use them time to time. The wood used to make the hull is really very heavy but still they are tied together with only coir ropes and nothing else. Not even a single nail is used during its construction. Black resin which is extracted from boiled cashew kernels is used to coat the entire system. Most of the houseboats work on motors and are steered in the deep backwaters using oars (long poles) made of bamboo. Bamboo is the basic material used for making the roofs and mats for the houseboats.
Changes made to the earlier houseboats
The roof of the houseboats had to be heightened so that there was enough room for walking without having to bend. In the previous houseboats, no free movement was possible as the floor space of the hulls were minimum. In modern houseboats, comfortable seating is provided by laying a large plank through the curved space of the wooden hulls. Air ventilation is largely sufficient with windows and other small openings so that the tourists can sit comfortably inside the boat and still admire the views outside. A lot of hardwork goes into the calculations of making the houseboat so that the boat always keeps balance and does not tilt towards one side. The colour and texture of the boat is yellowish brown which is the colour of panambu (or bamboo) as it is traditionally called. The coir fibres are also yellow-brown in colour.
Facilities provided by Kerala houseboats
A normal houseboat will provide all the basic facilities such as toilets, kitchen, balcony, bedrooms with A/c, a dining area, a living room and a fully equipped BBQ (Tandoori grill). Some houseboats have larger living rooms and others have more number of bedrooms. Few of the houseboats even provide a large balcony at the roof of the boat. The view from this part of the houseboat is simply mesmerising. Many couples spend their honeymoon on these houseboats since it is a quiet and calm place with no disturbance at all. The scene creates a romantic mood with the bird's chirping, soft sound of the rippling water and natural scenic beauty. The place is free of any pollutions such as noise pollution, vehicle pollution etc. Most of the houseboats also have modern fittings in it so that one can live luxuriously even in the countryside. Solar panels are used for lighting, refrigeration as well as for air conditioning the rooms of the houseboat. Before the journey starts, pure drinking water is adequately stored in the boats. The rooms are also fully air conditioned though one wouldn't find the need for it because the wood used for making houseboats have a cooling effect on its own. Most houseboats have a generator and heater. Taps are provided for hot and cold water as well as fresh water. Western style closets are available in the toilets making it easy for the tourists who visit from abroad and are not used to the Indian closet style. Water is provided to the toilets and kitchen for use from the water which is stored in a plastic tank kept above the houseboat. To provide a traditional look, even the pipes and tanks are covered with coir. On board the houseboat, there is a cook and two oarsmen. The oarsmen sometime sing songs and chants to inspire the journey. The passengers can get fresh food which is made by the cook in traditional Kerala style. Fish and other seafood is the speciality in the menu. The food is served on banana leaves in typical Kerala style with items such as rice, sambar, aviyal, fried fish or fish curry using fish which is freshly caught form the backwaters. Some packages allow the tourists to share the kitchen with the cook so that they can prepare dishes according to their diet. The kitchens are fully stocked with refrigerator/freezer, gas stove, microwave, oven, blender, coffee maker, toaster including dishes, dish soap, cutlery and lots of pots and pans. The boats wade through the shimmering backwaters amidst the lush green landscape of the villages.
How to choose your houseboat in Kerala
The tourist houseboats are certified for quality under the Green Palm/ Gold Star certifications by the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala. The boats are classified into different categories to ensure that they meet the safety and service requirements and also adhere to the rules and regulations of the government. The three categories are Gold star, Silver star and Green palm certificates. Houseboats which fulfil all the essential requirements as well as some additional optional conditions fall under the Gold star category. Those which fulfil only the basic requirements fall under the Silver star category. These ratings are not compulsory and many companies don't have their houseboats rated with the government ratings.
There are four types of Kerala houseboats namely Standard, Deluxe, Premium and Luxury.
1. Standard houseboats - This is a basic boat and may turn out to be too less for a memorable vacation. Most of these boats come without an air conditioner. It is advisable to avoid booking these kind of boats as the purpose of having a relaxing and enjoyable vacation will be lost. Standard houseboats provide standard bedrooms, bath rooms, kitchen and standard facilities.
2. Deluxe and Premium houseboats - They are much more comfortable houseboats in which air conditioner is also provided. Tourists who approach backwater tour package operators are mainly provided with these kind of houseboats. Deluxe houseboats offer deluxe accommodation and facilities.
3. Luxury and Super deluxe houseboats - As the name suggests, these are highly luxurious boats with extensive services such as uniformed butlers and 24 hours air conditioners. People who always opt for five star hotels should hire luxury houseboats to enjoy the experience. These houseboats are obviously highly priced as they provide some additional services along with the deluxe accommodation facilities.
Things to carry on a houseboat trip
1. Bring your personal items such as bed sheets, pillows, bath towels and blankets, hand towels, bath mat, air fresheners, bath soap or sleeping bags, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste.
2. You are allowed to bring your pets with you if you wish. In that case, bring their food and other necessities along wit you.
3. Don't forget to bring your camera as the scenic beauty has to be captured to relive the unforgettable moments lifelong.
4. In the summer season, it would be advisable to bring sun screens, lotions, caps, protective eye wears, bug sprays etc for the safety of your eyes and skin.
5. If you love fishing, you can bring your own fishing gear and other stuff which can be played in the water.
6. Bring clothes which dry easily and are 'water-friendly' such as trousers and loose T-shirts. Bring a waterproof pack for your wallet such as a zip lock bag. Also bring shoes which can be worn inside the water. Closed-toed ones are preferable than sandals.
7. You can bring other items which increase the fun such as music systems, books, puzzles, board games, cards, magazines, walkmans etc. Reading a good book in the peace of the countryside can be one of the best things for relaxation.
8. The kitchens in the houseboats are equipped with a refrigerator and freezer but still you can bring along an ice chiller chest if you wish to store extra cold foods.
9. Other things that you should bring if necessary are flashlight, first aid kit, medications, insect repellents, earplugs (if you avoid the noise of the water while sleeping), binoculars, sunglasses, slippers and warm socks (in winter season). Even in the summer season, the evenings can get cool, so bring warm clothing along with you.
10. Bring your mobile phone as there are no other telephone services inside the houseboats. Cellular coverage is often available but depending upon the location of the boat and whether there is a network tower nearby. You can also bring your laptop as the harbours provide Wi-Fi free internet access in many parts of the lake.
11. Before embarking on the trip, ensure that you and your children have suitable life jackets.
Houseboat operators in Kerala
The following are some of the popular houseboat operators in Kerala. They are also numerous other operators which provide good houseboat packages.
1. Sree's Tours and Travels,
Vaithara Building, Near Kumarakom Lake Resort,
Kumarakom North (P.O), Kumarakom - 686564,
Kottayam, Kerala, India.
Phone - 0091-481-2523935, 2523936.
E-mail - email@example.com
2. ATDC Alleppey,
2nd floor, Municipal Library, Thathampally P.O,
Alleppey, Kerala - 688013, India.
Phone - 0091-477-2264462, 2261693
E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Ebenezer Holiday Pvt Ltd-Houseboat Kerala(or Dream Holidays-Cochin),
Ground floor, Mohd HajI Building, NH-17,
Near Sai Services, Edappally,
Ernakulum - 682024, Kerala, India.
Phone - 0091-484-2802808, 2802809.
E-mail - email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Coco Houseboats Kerala,
Kariyil Chira Buildings,
Near Nehru Trophy Finishing Point,
Rajeev Boat Jetty, Thathampally Post,
Alleppey - 688013, Kerala, India.
Phone - 0091-477-2239904.
E-mail - email@example.com
5. AquaJumbo Tours and Travels,
Chakrampady, Kumarakom North Post,
Phone - 0091-481-2525615
E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Land n Lake India,
F-7, Pulickal Trade Center, M.C Road, Nagampadam,
Kottayam- 686006, Kerala, India.
Phone - 0091-9539004222 (Mob)
E-mail - email@example.com
7. Kerala Holiday Planner,
Kumarakom - 686563, Kerala, India.
Phone - 0091-481-2523726.
E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
More articles: Attractions in Kerala
You included almost all things related to a houseboat trip. For a family tour this is the most comfortable way. In March-May months the rate is high because of vacation.