The Watery way!

The Government of Kerala has an independant authority to operate and authorise ferry services within the state's inland waterways. The authority is christened as "State Water Transport Department" also known as SWTD. The department is based at Alappuzha and operates a good number of passenger services in the district. Typically, the boats operated by them can carry upto 100 passengers.
The Kuttanad area of Alappuzha, which was ill-connected by road until a few years back, had only these boats for their commute. One such boat is seen in the image above. The boat has about 4 crew members including a Driver, a navigator, a person to tie the boat at stops, and a conductor locally called as a "Master". In the image seen above, a cabin can be seen above the roof of the boat. The Navigator sits inside this cabin. He has a starwheel to control the direction of the boat. He communicates with the Driver, who sits towards the middle of the boat, with the help of a bell.
The driver notches the engine depending on the signal that he recieves from the navigator. The boat is powered by a Diesel powered marine engine. A single bell means stop, double means move, and triple means faster. The third person in the crew jumps out of the boat every time the boat reaches a jetty for a stop. He helps pull the boat closer to the jetty, and he ties the boat on to a metal rod so that the boat doesn't move away while passengers are boarding/alighting. He also pushes the boat off from the jetty during departure. The conductor, as in a bus, issues tickets to the passengers.
The boat is a very economical means of transport, but is slower (about 15 kmph!). Typically and end-to-end journey on a boat lasts about 3-4 hours. The boat services are not available during nights (excessive reflection from the water surface due to the headlight is quoted as a reason!). The seats in the boat are padded with coir. The boat in the image is a very old model and is made of seasoned wood. The newer models are made are made of steel and look more complex.
I had a trip in May 2005 from Nedumudy to Alappuzha, a distance of about 14 kilometres. The journey time was 2 hours, and the fare was Rs. 9.50. That was a beautiful experience with the boat alternating between the river and rivulets! The boat takes "U-Turn" at about 3 occasions. The ride is recommended to know the real spirit of Kerala!!!

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