Think of Kerala and an image of a grand houseboat afloat the infinite backwaters with lush palm-lined shores props up in the mind—there’s a reason they call the state God’s own country! With inflows from 38 rivers, these backwaters comprise lagoons, canals, and lakes, and are the lifeline of a number of villages that flourish on the banks. No points for guessing then, houseboats indeed are the best way to explore the divine abode, away from the crowd and chaos of the mainland.
Locally called Kettuvallams (kettu for ‘tie’ and vallam for ‘boat’), houseboats have been crucial to the Kerala economy since 3000 B.C. and were originally used to ferry cargo, rice and spices, and passengers owing to the largely underdeveloped road network back then (and we are talking somewhere around the 1990s), with only a handful of rudimentary roads. With time, as development took over, robust infrastructure came up, and mean machines started ruling the roads, the good old kettuvallams were no longer needed and totally disappeared. However, they reappeared in a new avatar, which is what we know today as houseboats or floating houses! Today, houseboats have become a vital part of Kerala’s tourism industry and the state’s identity as well!
Constructed using coir (coconut fibre rope) to tie together jack wood planks and bamboo boles, traditional houseboats boast of being constructed without a single nail used in the entire 80–100 feet long structure! The more modernised versions, however, flaunt contemporary comforts, including suite-like rooms, modern washrooms, and well-appointed kitchens. You get a crew too, which includes oarsmen and a chef, to look after you and make sure you go back with a wholesome experience and a fair share of cherish-worthy memories.
And when you intend to go houseboat-ing in Kerala, Alleppey (also called Alappuzha), the hub of houseboats, is where you need to be! Resting on the Laccadive Sea, Alleppey is settled along the backwaters and is aptly called the ‘Venice of the East’, a title that Lord Curzon bestowed it with. Also famous for the Alappuzha Beach that houses the nineteenth century Alappuzha Lighthouse, the town is synonymous with houseboats. Blessed with water that is almost at level with land and narrow canals that allow you a closer sight of the villages, the sprawling paddy fields, banana and palm plantations, and coconut groves on the shores, cruising on a houseboat through Alleppey backwaters is an experience unlike any other - an experience one ought to live at least once in their lifetime!
Let’s now tell you what to expect in a houseboat! Well, expect anything from a rustic traditional one for that authentic experience, to an uber-modern one with your own Jacuzzi; expect tasting some delicious Kerala delicacies like tapioca, pazham pori, mutton stew, appams, puttu, karimeen and pollichathu to being pampered with a lavish spread of your choice of cuisine; expect waking up to witness a pretty sunrise and feasting on a hearty breakfast on the deck, expect bird watching and spotting some cormorants, kingfishers, egrets, and herons, and expect exploring those villages, interacting with the locals, relishing fresh coconut water from a nut freshly picked from the tree just for you, and tasting a unique alcoholic beverage called toddy!
Whether you are in the mood for a romantic getaway with your beloved or planning a fun family time, houseboats in Alleppey pack something for everyone. Though we highly recommend that you go for an overnight package, a day cruise comes close enough and must be on your itinerary when you visit Kerala, the land where the Gods reside!