A town with picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches, and lagoons – it was described as the Venice of the East by Lord Curzon. Though the present town owes its existence to thesagacious Diwan Raja Kesavadas in the second half of 18th century, district of Alappuzha figures in classical Literature. Kuttanad (a region in Alleppey district), the rice bowl of Kerala with the unending stretch of paddy fields, small streams and canals with lush green coconut palms, was well known even from the early periods of the Sangam age.
History says Alappuzha had trade relations with ancient Greece and Rome in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, as well as with other parts of India. Alappuzha has a lighthouse,which is a major tourist attraction. Soon after Alappuzha was developed as a port by the Diwan Raja Kesavadas, the town started functioning as the main commercial centre of thestate of Travancore. Export flourished from the port. Spices like pepper were the main export items. Domestic trade was also active. Many traders from Gujarat came and settleddown here to do trading, leading to the presence even now of a Gujarati community in the town. Alappuzha is a centre for coir industries. Later coir (different kinds of rope made from coconut fibre) became a major product of the town, both for local and world markets.
Alappuzha is unique as it is the only district in Kerala without forest. It is a hot spot for renting exotic houseboats, and these stunning creations are hand crafted by masterbuilders without the use of drawings or models. Alappuzha is now the hub for backwater tourism in Kerala.
You might have had a wonderful cruise in houseboats along the silent backwater stretches of Kerala. The comforting journey along the fascinating lagoons and pictorial lakesidesof God’s Own Country is an experience one wouldn’t want to miss. But have you ever wondered how this massive vessels crafted out of wood is really brought to life.
Kettuvallam is a country boat that was used in the early days for the transport of goods from the isolated interior villages to the towns. Houseboats have come a long way from the old days. They are not referred to as houseboats, rather ‘Kettuvallams.’ Kettu in Malayalam means ‘to tie’ and Vallam means ‘boat,’ which translates to a boat made by tying wooden planks together with coconut ropes and coated with cashew nut oil. Each houseboat was built using the ancient principles and techniques of boat building by the local carpenters using wood in early days. You will be surprised to know the fact that no nails are used in the boat building process. Instead, wooden planks are fastened together with coir ropes to make the hull. The materials that go into the making of a Kettuvallam are local and eco-friendly – bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes,bamboo mats, carpets etc. A standard house boat, which could be about 100 feet long, can hold up to 30 tons, about as much as three big lorries can carry.
With the advent of roads, bridges and ferry services, gradually the Kettuvallams went off the scene. Now these kettuvallams are back again as a major tourist attraction. A ride on a Houseboat is a fabulous way to explore the fascinating beauty of the backwaters.
Modern day houseboats are modernized versions of old kettuvallams that were used to carry tons of rice and spices. They are different from the traditional houseboats as they now have cozy living rooms, furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, well-equipped kitchen and some even have a balcony for fishing. They are also powered by diesel engines.
There are houseboats with fully furnished single room, double room and triple rooms. All of them have sundeck, private balcony with comfortable chairs, kitchen and toilet. Today there are A/c and Non A/c house boats with Deluxe and Luxury facilities. There are houseboats available to hire even for 500 $ per night.
The bedroom in the houseboat is private and the bathroom modern, with showers, flush toilets and hot water. Though the houseboat has got its own facilities for the client, it also has its own limitations and cannot fully support an overnight stay in a comfortable way. The reason being most of the time hot water facility doesn’t work for many reasons. Moreover quality of water available in the houseboat is so sticky and is never a wise decision to take shower in it. Clients cannot have a refreshing feeling due to the nature of water. So it is better to suggest the clients to take shower in the next hotel that they stay in and refresh themselves. During the night times, when the boats are anchored, there will be flies and mosquitoes in the boat which cannot be fully controlled or avoided. This might probably annoy some clients who are sensitive to these issues.
In spite of all, The houseboats of Kerala are increasingly becoming popular with domestic as well as international tourists. Consequently, the number of houseboats plying the backwaters ofKerala have increased dramatically. However very few houseboat companies offer the same authentic experience even today whereas most of the houseboat companies have become very commercial in nature and service quality is diluted. So in order to evaluate the safety and service standards of houseboats and classify them accordingly, the Government of Kerala has conceptualized a scheme to grade the existing house boats which maintain the quality standards into Gold and Silver Star categories and also to give Green Palm certificate as a symbol of eco-friendliness to those house boats which adopt environment friendly practices in its operation.
Boats in a variety of shapes and sizes have traditionally been the main means of transport of men and materials in the Kerala backwaters since olden days. In particular, the house boats were used to ship rice and spices and other goods between Kuttanad and the Cochin Port. It was a three-day affair in those days. It was the important mode of transportation in coastal Kerala just because of its accessibility to the most remote areas. However, as time passed, the scene changed gradually. Motorized road, rail and air transportation scored over the slow and staid country boat, with people opting for speed over charm.
Recently I happened to visit the main finishing point of Alleppey which was as worse as a fisherman’s place (market). 90% of the boats operate from here only. There were lot of boats anchored and locating one’s boat would be very difficult for any guest. Even if they locate the boat, they need to cross and climb many houseboats that are anchored there. So it would definitely be a nightmare for any guests particularly elderly people to locate and embark the boat. 10% of houseboats have private boat jetties wherein check-in & out will be as smooth as possible without any hassle.
To overcome these kind of issues, to improve the overall product and enhance the service, South Tourism decided to open an exclusive office at Alleppey. Today being an auspicious day, we are doing a soft launch and official opening would be on 19th September 2013. One of our senior Managers Mr. Vinoy would be heading the branch with his team of people. They will be available with the guest at the time of check-in & out to ensure smooth process. Any issues related to houseboat will be addressed on the spot and they will ensure clients are comfortable and enjoy the cruise.
Whoever wish to avail houseboat assistance from us, please note we will be charging a very minimal amount of Rs. 150 to provide houseboat check-in / out service. Please let us know if you would like to avail this service. In future you will be receiving instant updates from our Alleppey office as well and this will ensure that your client doesn’t go unhappy or with any complaints.