There are more than 2,000 houseboats in Kerala backwaters. These boats, formerly called Kettuvalloms, were once used to transport rice harvested from the fields. They have been converted to suit the needs of luxury tourism. The boats are made of wood with a thatched roof. They have ensuite bedrooms, sitting and dining area and a kitchen. The bedrooms are usually air-conditioned. Each houseboat has a captain and a chef.
This was my second houseboat cruise in Alappuzha. The first was in May last year. This time around, the cruise was part of my school reunion. The cruise was from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The boats are docked after 5:00 pm . Most visitors choose to spend the night on board. The cruise restarts after 7 am.
The food is traditional Kerala fare. Lunch usually includes Karimeen fry, chicken, rice, vegetables, papadom, pickles and payasam. Snacks, dinner and breakfast will also be served as required. Liquor is not available on board. Guests have to purchase and bring their own drinks.
The backwaters consist of five large lakes which are linked to rivers and canals. The backwaters are fed by 21 rivers. Tidal currents and waves created sand banks across the river mouths, leading to the formation of backwaters. Punamada Lake is where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held. It is conducted on the second Saturday of August each year. The finishing point of the race is close to the city centre of Alappuzha town.
The sitting area is open on three sides and permits unobstructed view of the surrounding canals, lakes and countryside. The glass windows can be closed to allow air conditioning to be turned on. A home theatre and satellite TV channels are mostly provided for entertainment at night.
Kuttanad is a region covering the Alappuzha and Kottayam districts of Kerala. It is famous for its vast paddy fields and is known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala.. Rice cultivation is carried out below sea level in Kuttanad. Among the well-known villages in Kuttanad are Nedumudi, Kainakary, Edathua, Kavalam, Pulinkunnu, Champakkulam, Payippad, Karuvaatta, Narakathara, Mamkompu, Thayankary and Kumarakom.
The lakes and canals are full of houseboats. Other boats, big and small, can also be spotted.They are used for transporting people and goods.
Many churches dot the landscape of Kuttanad. Every village has its own church. Christianity existed in Kerala from first century AD when St. Thomas the Apostle is believed to have visited the region.
Connected by artificial canals, the backwaters form an economical means of transport. A large local trade is carried on by inland navigation. Fishing, along with fish curing, is a major income generator.
Alappuzha is famous for its boat races, backwater holidays, beaches, marine products and coir industry. It is among the top tourist destinations in the world. Peak season is from August to February.
Housboats are motorised but generally go at a slow pace for smooth travel. All the boats have a generator.
The burgeoning of motorised houseboats in the lakes and backwaters has raised questions regarding the adverse impact of pollution from diesel engines on the vulnerable ecosystem.