A Houseboat ride along the canals of Alappuzha

Houseboats are an inevitable component of the tourism sector in southern Kerala, especially in the districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam. Unofficial counts say there are over 100 houseboats in Alappuzha alone. Houseboats came to the scene over a decade ago, as goods transportation along the inland canals declined.

Houseboats came to fore as a modification of Kettuvallams - country boats built of wood, and mainly used for goods transportation in the olden days. I remember seeing goods being transported using such vessels during my childhood, while visiting my maternal hometown in rural Alappuzha. In the olden days, some such vessels were also used for long distance travel through the inland canals - such boats had basic protection from rain and sun. Some of these vessels were also used as ferries to take people across rivers, in places where bridges didn't exist. As road transport became popular, and more bridges were built in these rural areas, goods transport moved from the efficient and ecofriendly inland waterways to roadways. These boats were rendered useless. Some businessmen saw the possibility of converting these boats to full fledged houses, floating on water. These boats are usually about 100 feet long, sufficiently long enough to build a one bedroom "house".
A large houseboat returning to Alappuzha..

The Houseboats in Kerala are different from those in Kashmir - the former actually moves around, while the latter is stationary in the lake. Both the houseboats offer premium facilities to the occupants. The house boats in Kerala come in multiple sizes and ranges from one bedroom to as many as 7 bedrooms (or even higher). These boats in Kerala typically offer a 22 hour ride, commencing around 11AM and ending the next morning at nine. The cruise until about 5pm (about 5 hrs of actual ride, with about an hour of lunch break), and then dock at a place until next morning. They serve meals and breakfast on board, along with evening tea and snacks.

I had an opportunity to go on a houseboat cruise along the canals of Alappuzha, recently. It was part of a tour arranged for my students. We had hired a boat, named "Raajamanickam" - a three bed room boat based at Alappuzha Punnamada finishing point. House boats in Alappuzha are based at, either Punnamada, or Pallathuruthy. The former is located in Alappuzha town itself, while Pallathuruthy is located on the Alappuzha-Changanassery highway. Our booking was for a Day package - a 11am check-in and a 5pm check-out. The booking includes a welcome drink, lunch and evening tea with snacks.
Our boat..

We checked-in a little past 11am. A guy took us through the facilities in the boat first, and ensured that we were happy with the facilities, before he confirmed the cruise. Although we were traveled in the middle of a tourist season, boat operators complain that reservations were very poor as an after-effect of the recent deluge in Kerala. Quite a lot of boats were docked together, and it took quite a bit of effort to get the boat out of the parking. Once out, the driver, the captain, took us straight towards the National Waterway, setting cruise towards inner Kuttanad. As the cruise began, the crew brought out the welcome drink - a juice. While the food includes fish and chicken, the crew informed that they could cook any other type of fish if it was purchased and given to them. They stopped at a "fish market" on the way too.

That stop was used to get some icecreams and refreshments, and we continued the cruise.  The large boat ambled along the calm backwaters of Kuttanad, as we progressed towards Kainakary. Local shuttle boats overtook us with ease, as we stuck to the center lane of the waterway. The boat was docked at a place called Kainakary - there was a toddy shop near by, a paddy field, and plenty of options to click photos. This stop was quite long - this was the "lunch break" for the crew. Meanwhile, our lunch was ready and was served - the lunch spread, prepared in typical kuttanad style, had rice, sambhar, a dry vegetable, some non-vegetarian dishes (chicken and fish), salads, papad, moorukari (A dish made of curd and coconut) and pickle. They also had bottles of chilled water. The lunch was sumptuous, and really delicious.

After serving lunch, the crew left to have some rest - they were seen having a quick nap below a tree nearby. We started our voyage back to Alappuzha a while past 2. All of us were tired, and almost everyone retired - some in the bedroom, and some people, like me, on the sofas and side seats they had on the boat. Tea and snacks were ready by about 4 - hot pazhampori (banana fritters) accompanied by tea/coffee made our evening. We were dropped back at the houseboat terminal at Punnamada by about 4.15pm (we had requested an early return).
A "shikkara" with a houseboat in the background

Houseboats play a major part of revenue in Alappuzha's tourism industry. These large boats make a great place for family get togethers or corporate meetings - personally, I think it might be too boring to have a houseboat ride if you are not a group - its monotonous. They serve some great food on board - especially if you are a fish lover (me being a vegetarian, the food was normal stuff). The boats do give you time to enjoy the backwaters of Kuttanad at leisure. While it does check one item of my to-try list - I might not repeat this again unless I am in a group. 

Comments

Sunup said…
How much did they charge for the day trip?

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