Kettuvalam, centuries old traditional boat of Kerala State

Kettuvalam boats.
The coastal  Kerala State  is  a  unique  place  in  SW India, unlike  most  other  states. It is  geographically endowed  with  myriads  of  long  water  ways or salty  back waters (in Tamil they are called Uppankazikal) stretching  and cir-crossing several miles   on  the  Malabar  coast  beautifully lined on both  sides  with  lush  green  fields and tall coconut or palm trees.  Popularly  referred  to  as ''God's Own Country'' in  ads run  by  the  Kerala state  tourism department, it  an  ideal place  for tourists  who  want to get their money's worth  and  to just to  get  away  from  the  chaotic and maddening urban crowd. The  back  waters of coastal  scenic  Kerala  is home  to fascinating flora and fauna  

Not only  is  it  a  ''God's Own  Country'' but also  Mother Nature's  play  ground. Absolutely a thrilling  place to forget yourself and go into a trance.  Positively, if  people  go  on  a  holiday there, they will  let  themselves  lose, relax  and  wander  into  a quiet, exhilarating world. Frankly speaking, many  tourist  spots  world  over  may  offer  you a lot  of  fun  and  frolics  but only  a  few may  appeal to your heart and soul. In this respect, Kerala  is  a popular destination for people of all ages. Here your heart and soul meet and work wonders in tandem.

For centuries, the  hard  working  Keralites  know how  to  use  their  vast natural  resources  to their advantage. Long  ago  the  natives  introduced  cheap and  easy  transportation  of  goods  from  one  place  to   another  place  through  water ways. Severacenturies  ago,  it  was  a  well-known  international center  for  spice  trades that attracted the attention of  European  explorers  to  this mystic land.  

Kettuvalam (In Malayalam Kettu means  to tie and Vallam means boat) or  boat of  knots  measuring roughly  80 feet long  and roughly 13 to 14 feet wide  in the middle  was  the  brainchild  of  the  local people 

Kettuvalam boat.
Back waters of coastal Kerala,
Kettuvalam boat inside.
centuries ago. It's a  wooden house boat or 'boat with thatched  roof  covers   over  wooden  hulls,  made  of  numerous  long  strong wooden  planks  just  firmly held  together  with  specially  made  strong  coir ropes  with knots. Because  coir  ropes  are firmly tied in  knots,  they hold  the  entire  structure of the boat safely. It is absolutely  ease  to maintain and   the boat  requires  periodic  overhauling. The  main  wood  chosen for  Kettuvalm  is  jack  wood or  Anjjili (in Tamil Paala maram) 

Artocarpus hirsuta  which  is  commonly available here. Jack wood  is  resistant  to  water  and  would not  rot  that  easily, Normally  a house boat measures  up to  100  feet  long, and  is capable of carrying  25 to 30 tons. The   local  carpenters  use  special  age-old traditional  methods  to  build  them to last for a long time. To  achieve  better  forward motion, speed  and  water  resistance, the  boats, especially cargo boats, are dynamically shaped with narrow ends on both sides. A surprising  fact  about Kettuvallams  is,  during  production, no  single  nail  is used. The  boat  is  made  of  huge wooden planks   joined together  with  coir ropes. Then they are coated with  black  resin  made  from  boiled  cashew nut shells. Regarding  other materials  that go in the making of the  rice boats are  Eco-friendly  bamboo poles, coconut  fiber  ropes, bamboo mats,  coir  carpets, etc.

In the colonial period and prior to  that, Kettuvalam was  mainly used  to  transport  spices, rice etc., through  the  back waters  from remote,  isolated places  to  the  nearest  towns. The  Kuttanad  and  the Cochin  port  water way  was  of  particular  interest  in those days  for  goods  earmarked for export.  Kettuvalam  is  also  referred  to  as 'pathemari.' They  were  called  rice barges  to transport mainly rice and other stuff  in huge  quantities roughly equal to two to three truck loads. In the olden days, it was   the  important  mode  of  transformation  for the natives  because  it  was easy  and  accessible. The only shortcoming was it was  time - consuming; it  used to  be  a  three  day  long  boat  travel  from  Cochin  to  Kattanadu. With the advent  of  modern  transportation, the commercial  use of  Kettuvalam has  slowldeclined. Thanks to  the boom in tourism. These  kattuvalam house boats are sought after by tourists, especially foreigners.

To cater to the needs of the tourists, Kettuvalam  house boats, (once were cargo boats), now have well decorated  interior, fully furnished  two or three  bed  rooms, living  room, a neat kitchen,  hygienic toilet  and,  of course, an observation deck or balcony  at  roof  level. The roof is  reasonably high  to  have enough  headroom. Since last decade, things have changed.  The town of Alappuzha  is well known  for  such luxurious boats that come with different  shapes and  decor.  More than 100  Kettuvalams  ply  the  back waters  and the  town of  Allapuza  alone  has  more  than 100 Kettuvalams. It is believed,   Vembanad lake  has  about  400  operational  houseboats.

 No doubt,  Kettuvalam  has  become the mascot of
 God's own country. It is  also an  exciting  way to personally experience  the unique  culture and tradition of  Kerala,  south western  part of the Indian Peninsula  where  the  first  Europeans (Portuguese) - Explorars like  Vasco da Gama and other historical
 people  roamed  in late 1500's and later period - beginning of imperialism and a complete exploitation of the entire Indian sub continent.

"Unforgettable house boat ride". Alleppey. Travel Division of Retrieved 2008-01-05.