Houseboat Kumarakom & Alappuzha

Houseboat Kumarakom & Alappuzha


The Kerala houseboat is a modified kettuvallam, the large boat of yesteryears. In Malayalam, ‘kettu’ means to tie and ‘vallom’ means boat. These boats were held together with rope and hence the name. Kettuvallams were used for the transportation of goods like rice and spices from Kumarakom and areas of Kuttanad to neighbouring towns. With the emergence and development of modern road and rail transportation, these graceful behemoths were shelved. Their reemergence occurred with the growth of tourism. It is now a tourist attraction and a popular mode to explore the magnificence of the Kumarakom backwaters.

Traditionally, a houseboat was about 60 to 70 feet long and about 13 to 15 feet wide at the beam.  Some of the new luxurious houseboats have a length of more than 80 ft. Eco-friendly and easily available materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc are used for constructing these boats. The boat is made by tying together (rather than nailing) planks of wood, generally anjili (wood of the jackfruit tree) with coconut fibre. As a protective coat, black resin extracted from cashew nut shells is applied on the planks. The motors mainly run on kerosene or petrol.  Bamboo poles and palm leaves are used for constructing the roof.

Facilities in a Houseboat

The houseboats of today are mini resorts in water. All the houseboats have a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge, sun deck and eco-friendly cane and bamboo furniture. The rooms are single, double or triple with small private balconies. Some of the houseboats have air conditioning.

Many houseboats provide electric fans, a television, hot and cold water in the bathrooms, and mosquito curtains. There are windows on the sides of the deck. In some boats, the insides are covered with smooth Kerala mats called metha payas. Some of the high-end ones are two-storied and provide newspapers, fishing rods, CDs and a facility for conducting small conferences.

The houseboats in Kumarakom are manned by well-trained crews. The crew usually includes a captain, two oarsmen, a guide and a cook. The crew will ensure that the travelers are comfortable during the hours-long ride through the backwaters. There will be eco-friendly facilities for the disposal of wastes and sewage. Some boats use traditional lanterns to create a romantic ambience.

The food served on houseboats is mainly regional fare like spicy fish dishes. Toddy, sold in toddy shops along the banks, could also be procured on request.  Some houseboats provide continental food, to accommodate their guests

The Department of Tourism, Kerala, has specified various norms to ensure that houseboats follow the rules of environment-friendly tourism. The Department also looks into safety measures along with the boat owners. Green-palm certificates are issued to those who conduct business, ethically and professionally.

For the construction of the boats, eco-friendly materials are recommended. Clean storage facilities, insect-free kitchens and biochemical treatment of solid waste are insisted upon. The Department guidelines specify the area required for constructing toilets for crew and passengers. Houseboats are encouraged to use solar energy. Firefighting equipment and lifebuoys are also mandatory.

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