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!!!