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Kerala Houseboats

Kerala Houseboats: The houseboats of today - huge, slow moving, exotic barge used for leisure trips - are the reworked kettuvalloms of olden times. The original kettuvalloms were used to carry tonnes of rice and spices - a standard kettuvallom can hold up to 30 tonnes - from Kuttanad to the Kochi port.

The kettuvallam or ‘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. With careful maintenance, a kettuvallom can last for generations.

A portion of the kettuvallom was covered with bamboo and coir to serve as a restroom and kitchen for the crew. Meals would be cooked on board and supplemented with fresh fish from the backwaters. Today, the tradition is still continued and the food from the local cuisine is served by the Kuttanad localites, on board.

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 Alleppey alone, there are as many as 120 houseboats. 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.

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 Kettuvallams Houseboats powered by a 40 HP engine. Boat-trains - formed by joining two or more houseboats together - are also used by large groups of sight-seers.

Kettuvallams Houseboats
Kettuvallams, the stitched boats provide the best way to experience the colourful backwaters of Kerala. The Kettuvalloms of Kerala are giant country crafts, measuring up to 80 feet in length. The traditional houseboat, the indispensable part of the picturesque backwaters of Kerala, was mainly used in Travancore and Kochi and in the Minicoy Islands in olden times.

The wood commonly used to make Kettuvalloms is 'Anhili', which is found in abundance in central Travancore area. Large planks are tied together using hand made coir ropes and beaten coconut fibres. This gives the Kettuvallams enough strength to withstand heavy waves in the sea. These long cargo boats are a familiar sight on the backwaters. These traditional houseboats undoubtedly form one of the most abiding images of the backwaters in Kerala
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