The Kettuvallam (name of the House Boat in Kerala) was historically a large floating boat built with an intention to carry heavy loads (that only a very big cargo vessel could carry) and which still is a part of Kerala's culture and heritage since the past decades.
In ancient days it was a Britiesher who when undertaking the journey through the waters suggested building bamboo shades over the boats during punting the waters. This suggestion was appreciatively acknowledged and the idea blossomed to the Kettuvallom with provisions to attach modern day facilities and bedrooms with additional functionalities. Even to the present day these boats float harnessing wind energy.
A journey within these boats through the lagoon is interesting and fascinating and one can pass through peaceful villages, busy boat piers (jetties) and watch vibrant celebrations. The boat glides across the shimmering blue waters which dazzle in gorgeous green with fringed edges. The small cargo boats called Kettuvalloms are frequently used in the waterways for the above purpose. In local dialect (Malayalam) "Kettu" means “to tie” and "Vallom" means " boats". Hence the name Kettuvallom was formed. These boats played a major role in the economic development of ancient Kerala, moving cargo and men from every very nook and corner of an otherwise inaccessible territory, cutting across the length and breadth of the water mass. From about half a century ago, there are more than 5000 Kettuvalloms within the backwaters of Kerala, mainly used for transporting goods
During ancient times these Houseboats were traditional rice boats, which were used to carry the harvest from one place to another safely adhering to eco friendly environment with no mechanized systems. Through the centuries Kettuvalams (Houseboats in Kerala) have been roaming within the backwaters transporting men and materials to different destinations. Due to its sheer size and shape, Kettuvalams carry very heavy loads, which is at times more than three times that of a cargo truck. Kettuvallom is an important mode of transportation in coastal Kerala because of its accessibility in the most remote areas. During the time when road and rail transportation was expensive or unavailable, traders used this as a form of main transportation in the inland waterways. The House boats had enough facilities for cooking and sleeping for the boatmen. Sometimes boatmen's families too accompanied them. A standard house boat, which could be about 100 feet long, can hold up to 30 tons, and that is as much as the standard three big Lorries can carry. As for the royalty – men of high bearing - these boats became a comfortable living quarters. As time passed, this situation changed gradually. Motorized road, rail and air transportation scored over the slow country boats, with people opting for speed over charm.
With Kerala becoming an increasing destination for tourists, these Kettuvalams (House Boat in Kerala) have been given a new lease of life. A cruise in the backwaters of Kerala within these boats is a remarkable experience and an opportunity to enjoy the contained unhurried pace of life. Floating along the cool tranquil water one can experience an unusual approach to the Kerala way of life. Accounting for eco-friendliness has now become the yardstick gauging the efficiency and effectiveness in transportation. Thus a Kettuvallam (House Boat in Kerala) is not only economical but also non-polluting and is environment friendly. It thus became imperative that this mode of transportation is to be developed further and encouraged
Thus the tourist demand for an experience to get a feel of the Kerala shores brought the Kettuvallam (House Boat in Kerala) back to the waters in the restored form of a modernized Houseboat. This simplicity and the originality of the transformation of the Houseboat captures your attention during the serene, relaxing and enjoyable ride through the various historic locations.
The hull of an ancient Houseboat is comprised of a series of long wooden planks, cut and carved by the expert hands of the carpenter and tied together using coir with coconut fibers fitted to strengthen the holdings. Earlier Kettuvallam (House Boat in Kerala) was steered by two persons in deep waters by means of bamboo poles (traditional kazhukol). These Long bamboo poles or 'punts' were used to propel the boat in shallow areas. Bamboo beams fitted on the sides are used as foot holds for the same. A senior oarsman and a helper help in controlling the Kettuvallam. The work is generally accompanied by singing songs and chants for inspiration. A box of sand and a few bricks in the interior of the boat facilitate cooking on lower racks, with storage facilities on the upper racks. Food and necessary items are stored in separate shelves. The sleeping quarters are generally located on the uppermost racks, which possesses the best ventilation and accessibility. Interior spaces likewise can also be used for the same when there is no cargo. Fresh water is stored in earthenware pots.
Due to the difficulties and inconvenience it became necessary to make some minor changes in the existent form of a Houseboat so that a comfortable cruise was possible for the tourist. The body was redesigned and remodeled to adapt to the new demands and functions. Certain parts had to be added and others removed to make it good enough for a comfortable cruise. The height of roof was increased to get sufficient space in the bed room. A plank was laid all through the length to reduce the disadvantages of the curved shape of the hull which was used for walking and comfortable seating. Windows and other openings provided light, airflow and view. An entrance was provided at the center of the linear axis with a panel hung from the top which was supported by poles on either ends of the Vallavara (frame).
Today these Houseboats are fitted with the latest designs and have (1) bed room houseboats, Two (2) bed room houseboats ,Three (3) bed room houseboats, Four (4) bed room houseboats, Five (5) bed room houseboats as also Family Houseboats each provided with modern day toilets, living space and kitchen. For fixing toilet seats, shower tray and ceramic floor finish and a concrete slab is laid at the floor level. The soil outlet of the toilet seats are taken through the hull and let out to the following water beneath, the water is stored in a plastic tank kept at the top portion of the Vallavara taking a connection to the kitchen and toilets. The pipes, tank and other synthetic materials are covered with coir or panambu to maintain the aesthetic quality of the eco friendly materials. The air cylinders, with metal body, are fixed to the underside of the cantilevered platforms at the entry points of Vallavara. These cylinders help to balance the structure on the water reducing and its tilting on the sides to a minimum.
Modern house boats have been designed to meet the Green Palm /Gold Star Certifications by the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, which has recently enacted regulations, stipulating the quality standards which are to be maintained by the Kerala Tourism houseboats or Kettuvalams.
The color of the Vallavara is yellowish brown, which is the natural color of the materials like panambu, coir and bamboo. It is a warmer color comparing to the color of the surrounding atmosphere. This texture gives a nice feeling when being inside the Vallam (boat). Bamboo is used for the framework of the roof and splits of Bamboo are used for weaving the mat for roofing. Bamboo poles are used for punting the Vallams. This is made of strong fiber and absorbs more carbon. Latest House boats have modern interiors.
The interior furniture is either of cane or wood with a carpeted floor made of coir mat and wood panels. Vallavara of panambu, Bamboo and Coir - all colors matching each other bring the depth and variations in vision reflecting on the tranquility of the surroundings.
Various patterns of lighting are followed in the present day House boats that call for your attention to the flamboyance creating a division of spaces. During night times a traditional hurricane lamp is used to light the interiors. Usually one is hung from the ridge of Vallavara one at the front and one at the rear, thereupon one or two accordingly for the living spaces. In most instances half of a month there will be moonlight, which would provide sufficient light, which will also be reflected on water. Modern Kettuvallams / House Boats use Generator sets or use Solar power to provide lighting and power requirements inside the Houseboat.
Coco Houseboats keeps bio-septic tank (eco friendly toilets), tested and certified by the Central Research Laboratory (CRL), specifically fitted to collect the effluents thereby avoiding pollution to the backwaters