A vacation aboard a kettuvallam, Kerala’s majestic houseboats is a once in a lifetime experience
One of the underappreciated wonders of India, the kettuvallam or ‘boat with knots’ are sailing palaces found in Kerala’s backwaters. Just like the unique backwaters, the kettuvallam are an unforgettable experience – at once majestic and tranquil. These giant boats are nothing like any sailing vessels anywhere. Just the size itself – a kettuvallam is about 100 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle – makes it a floating giant where different rooms and quarters serve varying purposes. Think of a cruise ship – only this one is a personal one!
The name comes from the way coir ropes (which come from the versatile coconut tree) are tied in knots to hold the entire structure of the boat together. Kettu means tying and vallam is the word for country boats. They are made of hundreds of fine, heavy-duty planks of jack-wood held together absolutely by coir knots. Once these houseboats were used to ship rice, spices and other goods between Kuttanad or the hinterland covering parts of Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts, and Cochin port.
At Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, Kumarakom, you can enjoy a small traditional boat ride, that takes you through a network of canals in and around Kumarakom. Soak in the sights and sounds of the riverine culture of the paddy growing area of Kuttanad as your boat rides through the lush green landscape.
Today kettuvallams are chiefly used for tourism as people to enjoy a stay on them – a once in a lifetime experience. It is estimated that today there are more than 1,500 houseboats plying Kerala’s backwaters. The best way to experience a kettuvallam, is to take sail and spend at least a night in them. The kettuvallams catering to tourists today come usually in combinations of one to three bedrooms, along with living spaces, kitchen and crew quarters. Yes, each boat comes with multiple crew members who specialise in different tasks. Completely at your service, they further enhance the feeling of luxury as you gaze entranced out of your ‘balcony’ at lush fluorescent paddy fields, waters that seem still but teeming with life, life by the waters – homes, markets, shrines, and a range of boats serving different purposes, including transport and fishing. Treat yourself to a kettuvallam experience!