Houseboats 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 But in the recent times, the kettuvalloms have been replaced by more and modern modes of transport, relegating them to neglect and decay. The “Kettuvallam” meaning ‘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. Once these Kettuvallam’s were ruled the backwaters. It has been a major medium of transportation of goods & people in Kerala backwaters in yesteryears.
In particular these boats were used to ship rice, coconuts & spices between Kuttanadu and the Cochin port. This journey may take three day during those days. A standard house boat, which could be about 100 feet long, can carry 30 tons, and that is as much as three big Lorries can. For the royalty these boats even became comfortable living quarters. It was the important mode of transportation in coastal Kerala just because of its accessibility to the most remote areas. However, when the modernization comes and the introduction of motorized roads the scenario is changed.
The significant of backwaters as a mode of transportation is diminished. Before the deterioration of these Kettuvallams, Kerala introduced these boats as a house boats with huge bed room, a toilet, a kitchenette and an open balcony, where a tourist can enjoy the abundance of backwaters. 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. As the houseboats glide over the Kerala backwaters at a leisurely pace, the sights are new, the sounds are new, and every sensation is new every passing moment. The tourists, with foreigners in large numbers, have helped not only to revive the good old kettuvallams but even make it popular.