The entire state of Kerala is criss-crossed with waterways, lakes and lagoons. Next to the coastline, these endless stretches of lakes and lagoons joined together by canals are called the backwaters. Life along these canals and byways is quite different from that seen along the highways. Many of the villages are isolated and entirely dependent on the canals for means of livelihood, transportation and communication and the best way to explore these surroundings is by a ‘kettuvallam’ or houseboat. A houseboat ride through these placid waters is a heavenly experience, with visions of life gliding silently by.
Our sample tours visiting Kerala and the South
In Malayalam the word ‘kettuvallam’ means a sewn or stitched canoe. Traditionally they were built of planks sewn together with coir cordage, threaded through with a needle carved from a palm frond. The seams, caulked with coir plugs soaked in sardine or cashew oil made the boats waterproof. The traditional houseboat of Kerala is one of the most enduring images of the backwaters – its natural, cocoon-like profile complementing the surrounding countryside. These ‘kettuvallam’, were originally designed to carry heavy cargo, such as coconuts and spices and to provide living accommodation for the boatmen.
Enjoying a more modern houseboat
Preserving their historic character and style, craftsmen have created a unique atmosphere on board, a comfortable, self-contained world from which to observe rural Keralan life flowing gently by. Most of the houseboats come with en-suite bedrooms, a living room, open deck and a kitchenette. The crew – an oarsman and a cook will ensure that you have a comfortable as your houseboat meanders through the tranquil network of water canals, dotted with busy hamlets and lush green paddy fields.
A slice of Venice in the heart of Kerala, Alleppey is a mix of shady streets set around a grid of canals spilling into the vast watery highways of the region. This is the base for most of the houseboat-action in Kerala and home to the famous Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race.
Kollam is a tranquil trading town and the secret southern approach to Kerala’s backwaters. One of the oldest ports in the Arabian Sea, it was once a major commerce hub that saw Roman, Arab, Chinese and later Portuguese, Dutch and British traders jostle ships into port, eager to get their hands on spices and the region’s valuable cashew crops. The town’s shady streets and antediluvian market are worth a wander, and the calm waterways of the surrounding Ashtamudi Lake are still fringed with coconut palms, cashew plantations and traditional villages.