Alleppey backwater House Boat expedition is a holiday experience that allows one to have a first-hand knowledge of the unique lifestyle and eco-system spread magnificently around one of the largest fresh water lake systems called Vembanad; stretching about 900 km. The significance of the landmass linked with this lake known widely as ‘Kuttanad’, never becomes fully evident until one visits it and explores it with an element of curiosity and passion.
TravelCart likes to stress the fact that we are offering this holiday package as a very special, once in a lifetime experience, rather than a mere tourism product. It is insightful, active and could be interactive in many ways during the course of your schedule.
Alleppey’s backwater system which is the heart of Kuttanad, is special in so many ways. It has been home to a hardworking and productive agricultural society with commendable adaptation skills. They have been pioneers in mastering paddy cultivation way below the water levels of the Vembanad Lake for centuries. The only other place with a similar topography is Holland. This area is home to migrating birds and a wide variety of other endemic birds, reptiles and fresh water fish. It has a way of life and economy predominantly dependent on the paddy fields, coconut groves, lake and its many meandering canals that are the lifeline of Kuttanad. Most of the dwelling places are not accessible by road. So boats are the primary mode of transportation. The lake and its canals connect villages, irrigates dry land and nourishes the paddy fields. Before the paddy sprouts are planted, water is syphoned off from the fields, back into the canals.
The popular and most practical mode of transportation here has been wooden boats in varying sizes and capacity. The largest of these boats are called ‘Kettuvallom’. They have been traditionally used to transport heavy loads of rice, building materials, hay, livestock etc. They are made using a local wood called ‘Aanjili’. It is a hard and obdurate wood that can withstand the challenges of weather and water. Efforts are underway to minimize, and eventually refrain from cutting down these gigantic trees with the vision to promote a sustainable environment. Now, new materials are being used.
Making a ‘Kettuvallom’ involved a highly specialized know-how that has been passed on through generations. Shaped and finished wood was literally sewn together using treated heavy duty coir strands. Surprisingly no metal nails were ever used. It took months of precision work based on meticulous calculations to finish one ‘Kettuvallom’. The underbody is subjected to wood treatment using Neem oil, Sardine oil or Cashew shell oil. These act as an effective sealant and water repellent. The roof scaffolding is formed using treated Areca nut wood and bamboo splits; thatched with coconut palm or arecknut palm leaves.
Modern houseboat structure is built using the same traditional principles and skill set, but the interior is designed giving emphasis to comforts and conveniences. Bedrooms are cozy with air-conditioning. Bathrooms are well equipped with all amenities. The front section of the houseboat is set aside as the living room. It is designed with the open concept, so that guests can get a panoramic view of the lake and all activities surrounding the lake and its canals. The kitchen, generator and the engine are all concealed at the rear of the houseboat, so that guests never experience any discomfort or sound pollution.
The captain and the crew of these boats are highly experienced with a thorough knowledge of the VembanadLake. Their special advantages come from the fact that they are born and brought up in this region. Their contributions also become meaningful in the company’s effort to promote responsible tourism. After being employed in these houseboats they have been able enhance the quality and standard of their living considerably. The boats are completely safe, meeting all safety standards; with fire extinguishers, life jackets etc.
Now that you have been introduced to the quintessence of these houseboats, we would love to take you on a typical cruise on our houseboat; the way it happens on a given day.
Before writing the content for this website, I had requested the management to arrange a regular houseboat cruisefor me, so that my observations and experiencesthat influenced this content are based on facts.
I started the day in the early morning on February 12, 2013. TravelCart picked me up from my home at Kochi. A neat white spacious car and a very courteous driver took me to the boat dock at Alleppey. Felt safe on the road, as the speed of the vehicle and the road manners of the driver were calming and relaxing. Bottled water and snacks were available in the car. After reaching the dock, the houseboat crew took over. Shifted my luggage to the boat; myself and 3 others in our team were greeted on the deck with a flower garland and a nice cool welcome drink. We were taken around the boat to get us acquainted to the facilities as well as the safety gear. ‘Tidy and clean’- was my impression. The kitchen, bathrooms, the living and the bedrooms; all felt nice, clean and inviting.
Captain says it is time to move on. We were briefed by the crew that they don’t necessarily follow a specific route. Each day, between the captain and the crew; they choose a specific route for the day’s expedition.
The engine is on and the boat slowly moves into the lake. It is a bright day, blue sky with nice patchy white clouds; great day for photography. Unlike the sea, Vembanad Lake is smooth all the time. So the cruise is calm, quiet and stable. But there is a huge difference. Every second the scenery changes. I could see small boats pass-by and other houseboats were seen at a distance. On the banks of the lake on both sides I started seeing a mix of trees that contribute to the economy and lifestyle of the people here. Spices, fruits and vital commodities. Its Mango season! I could see different varieties of Mango trees abundant with its fruit, Jackfruit trees with its huge imposing fruit, Arec nut, Indian Almond, Tamarind, Kokum, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, different varieties of plantain, Banana, Custard apple, Pomegranate, Cashew, stretches of resplendent Paddy fields, a variety of tropical flowers- especially Habiscus, Tapioca (cassava), Papaya, Coco plants, rows and rows of coconut plantations; the list goes on. These are just the visible trees. When you get on land and search, you will keep seeing a variety of herbs, bushes and small flowers. Multi-coloured butterflies, dragon flies and humming birds are nature’s embellishment to this already magnificent eco-system.
Oops! A kingfisher just made a dive, but the fish slipped-out of its beak this time. A very rare miss! You can see a variety of kingfishers here in Kuttanad, including the white variety with black spots.
Lunch time. While we were engrossed in the natural sound and sites of the lake and its banks, our chef and his team were busy setting the table with food. Looks colorful and appetizing. After tasting this exquisite meal I am convinced. ‘Just like my mom’s cooking’… that was what I felt. The main feature was baked pearl-spot fish (locally known as Karimeen). It is baked, wrapped in banana leaf to lock-in the natural flavor of the fish and the subtle aroma of the banana leaf.
Now the captain is taking a sharp turn to get into a canal. This is the segment of the trip that could excite the people who are curious about the lifestyle and culture of Kuttanad. I started seeing homes, big and small, thatched roof, tiled roof; their front yard, back yard, lawn, garden, the livestock; chicken, goat, cows, ducks, cats, dogs etc.
As for village activities I could see children flying kites, diving into the water for a swim, fishing, some women washing clothes and hanging them to dry, some washing pots and pans, some milking their cows and goats, an old woman giving bath to a baby.
I even saw a man shaving. He had a little mirror hanging on a nail driven into a coconut palm. We all gad a quiet chuckle watching him as our boat sailed by. Small retail outlets are located all along the stretch where the villagers buy their provision.
We also passed a few Toddy shops. Toddy is a natural alcoholic beverage fermented overnight from coconut palm using an age old simple technique. Experts climb the coconut trees early in the morning to fetch the toddy collected in earthen-ware which were placed on top of the trees, the previous evening. It is then sold at these toddy bars. These bars are popular for their delicious fresh water fish, crabs, prawns, cassava dish and a variety of other local cuisines.
The crew now tells me that we are about to reach a small town named Chambakkulam. I am told that there are occasional stops during the cruise at places of interest. Chambakkulam veronica church is one of the oldest churches in Kerala. It is believed to be one of the seven established by St.Thomas the apostle, during his time in India. There is a collection of interesting murals inside this church.
Chambakkulam is a very interesting small village town. Serious shopping is not recommended here. There is a shop run by a traditional family selling wood sculpture. Most of the sculptures are of a religious nature. I did spent some time watching the artists chisel away, sculpting works of art. Art work is available here for sale. We walked around for a few minutes to stretch our legs.
Back to the boat. Tea and snacks were served. Captain says it is time to proceed to our designated place for the night halt.4.30 pm. The sun is lower in the horizon by now. The colours are changing. This is a good time to freeze some images if you are carrying a camera.
Flocks of different type of birds decorate the sky, frequently flying in formation towards their roosting places. All houseboats need to anchor by 5.30pm. This is to clear the way for the hundreds of local fishermen who cast their nets across the lake and canals for their livelihood. They clear their nets and collect their catches early in the morning. This has been yet another way to demonstrate responsible tourism, by not disturbing or altering the life style of the people of Kuttanad.
The chef told me that he buys locally to contribute to Kuttanad’s economy. Fresh lake fish from local fishermen, rice, fruit, vegetables and spices that are locally available. That is great, I thought; even the chef is focused on the ideals of responsible tourism.Besides, his kitchen receives farm fresh produce daily, while also saving on transportation costs.
The crew brought our attention to an old lamp on the shore which used to be a beacon in olden days for the boat crew to locate themselves at night. Our boat is now slowly pulling in to anchor for the night halt.The captain does it so smoothly with no jerk or bump. It is early evening.
I am told by the crew that there is a good opportunity to take an evening walk to experience the village life at dusk, now that we have anchored. As we got off the boat, I saw a fisherman cast his net from the shore right in front of us. Apparently this was not a great evening for fishing. Yet, he was landing some fish with every cast.
We moved on. I see hundreds of ducks being huddled from water into their night shelter on land. As we pass, I could see goats and cows being fed their evening snacks and fresh water to drink. Chicken and roosters are searching to occupy the best tree branches for their night’s perch.Fireflies light up the dusk sky and reflect the water body with their romantic flashes.
The following is by far the best part of our evening stroll in the kuttanad village, from a perspective of profound spirituality. When we pass through the front of each home, we start seeing lamps on the floor of the living rooms or porch, with family seated around for the evening prayer. Young and old chant their prayers in unison with their eyes closed, and chin slightly up to face the heavens above. The dim light from the kerosene lamps casting a feeble amber hue on each face. The Hindus and the Christians have different devotional songs. Yet, they all seem to blend and harmonize through a common pitch and rhythm echoing across this enchanting land through the cool evening air. Besides, even the frogs, crickets and the roosting crows seem to be contributing to the evening devotion of the land with their own songs. At this point of time the entire village has become a temple for worship; irrespective of who they are worshipping. I was moved in such a special way which inspired me to say a few words of silent prayer.
Time to go back to the boat. We freshened up with a nice shower. Dinner was ready and like the fantastic lunch we had, this was equally great, featuring a variety of cuisines.
By now, the air-conditioner has been turned on in the bed room. We all had a very comfortable sleep. We asked for an early wake-up call as we had plans to do some photography using the ‘crack of dawn’ natural light. As a rule, the best time for outdoor photography is early morning and evening. This is all the more true in Kuttanad area where the landscape is a combination of land, water, sky and the ever present greenery complimenting everything else.
So we are up and ready after our morning coffee. Being aware of our specific need for photography, the captain took us through some fantastic areas of the vast Vembanadlake.
Time to get back. On the way back, breakfast was served. Delicious! All the way. The captain smoothly touched the dock at the point of origin. We all clapped our hands as a gesture of appreciation for the captain and his crew. They all smiled. The captain said “Enjoyed your company. Hope to see you again”. We thanked them, and I thought to myself; “yes, I would love to do it again”.
Our car and driver was waiting at the dock. Relaxed on the way back to Kochi reminiscing the great experience of the enchanting Alleppey House boat cruise.
Photo by kruainThis entry was posted in Blog