Meaning of Kettuvallam is ‘boat with knots’ and it has coir ropes tied in knots to hold the entire structure of the boat together. Not a single nail is used. The boat is made of huge planks of Jack wood or similar wood and joined with coir. These have thatched roof covers over wooden hulls. The exterior is painted with cashew nut oil or fish oil.
In olden times, house boats were used to ship rice and spices and other goods from Kuttanad and Cochin port. It was a three-day trip in those days. A standard house boat, which could be about 100 feet long can hold up to 30 tons, about as much as three big Lorries can carry. For the royalty these boats even became comfortable living quarters. Today, each houseboat is constructed using the ancient principles and techniques of boat building by the local carpenters.
A kettuvallam is about 67 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle. The materials that go into the making are local and eco friendly; bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes, bamboo mats and carpets. Most of the latest designs have incorporated 3 bedrooms with toilets, a living space and kitchen with variations. The use of biodegradable toilets do not pollute backwater canals. The water to be used is stored in a plastic tank kept at the top portion of the main body connecting to the kitchen and toilets. The house boats have modern interiors with decks and some even have conference rooms. It is like travel time into the quietness of another century.
Alapuzha is the citadel of houseboats. These modified boats are used to promote Kerala tourism today, The boats ply through the area’s winding backwaters and offer visitors one of the most relaxing and unique experiences in travel to be found in India. Watching daily life as you cruise on your boat is voyeuristic-people eating, working, cooking, bathing and washing clothes in the backwaters as you look on from the boat. The tour guide crew includes oars men, a cook and a guide to accompany you. You find houseboats in Kollam, Alleppey and Kumarakom.