Kerala Houseboat





Running parallel to the Arabian Sea coast in South West India, the Kerala Backwaters are a chain of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals totaling over 900 km in length.  Historically, houseboats called Kettuvaloms were the primary means of transport of people and materials through the area, and were essential in the transportation of rice and spices from the paddy fields to the sea coast, given the absence of roads.  A standard houseboat was 60 to 100 feet long, built of wood without nails, and could hold up to 30 tons.  The wood was coated with a black resin extracted from boiled cashew kernels, and lasted for generations.  The thatched roofs made from bamboo poles and palm leaves protected the cargo from sudden tropical rains. 


Although the Kettuvalloms operated for centuries, starting in 3,000 B.C.E., technological developments resulted in more efficient and faster boats, and eventually they were overtaken by trains and motor vehicles.  Today the houseboats are used primarily for tourists.  Some are motorized while others are steered through the waters by means of oars or a rudder, with long bamboo poles called punts used to propel the boat through shallow areas.  The Backwaters have a unique ecosystem in which fresh water from the rivers meets the seawater from the Arabian Sea.  The area contains rare species of aquatic life such as crabs and frogs, water birds such as terns, kingfishers and cormorants, and animals such as otters and turtles.  Numerous trees and plants on the banks of the water provide a green hue to the surroundings.


Today’s houseboats are ancient Kettuvalloms with modernized interiors, resulting in many luxury houseboats which cruise the waterways and their towns and cities, providing a relaxing way to tour through the historic and remote locations.



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