The craft which is now the famous houseboat in Kerala was originally called a kettuvellam and was a cargo boat for transporting men and materials from one part of Kerala to another. Rice, spices and other goods such as building materials could not travel in any other way before the coming of road and rail.
Kettuvellum were more than 60 ft long and around 13 ft across the centre, made from jackwood planks bound together with coir, and the joints made water tight with coconut fibres, the whole then coated in black resin extracted from boiling cashew nuts. Split bamboo forms a thatched roof to protect the cargo.
With many constructional changes these ancient vessels have been adapted to the house boats we are familiar with today. Plank floors and a heightened roof, windows for ventilation and light have been installed, along with a living area, kitchen, bedrooms and bathing facilities. Toilets are now bio treated so as not to pollute the environment. Most have air conditioning for use at night, during the day the movement of the boat is sufficient to give a comfortable breeze.
Houseboats come in many designs and sizes, with from 1 to 5 bedrooms, some have an upper viewing deck good for sunbathing. The seating area is behind the navigator giving guests all round views while cruising past scenes of gently waving palm trees, emerald green paddy fields, occasional small temples and houses, with glimpses of the rural community going about their daily tasks.
The usual crew number is three, a navigator, a cook and one other, the food on board will be well prepared and of a high standard, and all the crew will be well informed, giving information and answering questions. They will stop the boat for meals and in the evening when it is forbidden to travel on the waterways.
Tourists can take a day cruise or an overnight stay, most prefer to stay overnight for the complete experience, it is special to wake up on a houseboat to a beautiful and a Kerala breakfast.
Nowhere else in the world can you travel on these boats or experience the peace and tranquillity of the backwaters of Kerala. There are three main towns to begin a houseboat cruise, Allepey, Kumarakom and Kollam.
Allepey is a fairly busy town, with a main family beach, and a nearby fishermen’s beach which is really picturesque. Coir manufacture is the main industry.
Allepey has a well established houseboat hire network and a variety of shapes and sizes, it is better to pre book rather than risk trying for a suitable boat on the day. Kumarakom, renowned for the peace and tranquillity of it,s hotels and resorts is also a popular starting point for house boat hire. Where ever you begin your cruise, the houseboats will be very similar, and pre booking means you won,t be disappointed.
Kollam, on Ashtamudi lake, is the gateway to the southern backwaters and the centre of the cashew industry. This is a good place to begin a cruise, it is 8 hrs to Allepey through wonderful scenery, and this is just a taste of the whole experience, cruise on, have dinner on board, sleep well with the gentle sway of the water and wake up to a delicious breakfast, you will not want to leave.