The shape of the first Kerala houseboats appears whimsical, fanciful, even bizarre, and that is precisely why more of them are constantly being built. Like oversized hats, or bundles of baskets, they float over the water. The entrances are on the sides, port or starboard, whichever is convenient. The long hull, which is usually painted black, is decorated with curved stems at the bow and stern, often with golden emblems. The optical similarity to the gondolas of Venice is somewhat far –fetched, but cannot be denied entirely. And neither can the touch of houseboat luxury
Every little detail that could make the backwaters cruise more comfortable for guests has been taken into consideration. Starting with the freedom of movement below the spacious, semicircular bamboo roof over the main deck, to the comfortable rattan armchairs. Not to mention the well-prepared meals, beautifully served on banana leaves in typical Kerala fashion. The list goes on and on. On the better-equipped boats, the spacious bedroom with a double bed, chair and chest of drawers hidden behind the brass- coated door beyond the dining table, comes as a surprise. Depending on the type of boat, the rooms are fitted with window panes or curtains and sometimes also with mosquito nets and fly screens. A second door leads into a proper little bathroom, complete with washbasin, shower and toilet, all of good quality.
The epitome of houseboat luxury is, of course, to charter such a boat, with a three-man crew, entirely for oneself. An articulate young man takes care of the personal service on board, alternating between waiter and guide for sightseeing trips on land. Secondly, the cook, whose galley is often accessible only over a narrow plank that runs along the outer walls of the boat, a tiny space, from which such delicious meals appear, served on banana leaves. The skipper and helmsman usually sits at the rudder and is skilled at squeezing the houseboat through the narrowest canals of the backwaters. Many of his colleagues steered the kettuvalom cargo boats for years, long before the new era of the houseboat had dawned – who would know their way around better than them? When there are more passengers on board, (up to eight, depending on the type of boat), a larger crew is appointed. One thing that is not part of the usual high-quality furnishings is a television set.
This would be out of place anyway. After all, what attracts most people to a houseboat tour a la Kerala is mainly the opportunity to see and experience the world that really exists: to look out over the vast, green-fringed expanse of Lake Vembanad and Lake Ashta- mudi, watching the shores glide slowly past, where villagers are up and about, women wash clothes, morning ablutions are conducted, and where all day long there’s plenty of time for a chat under the trees. At night, one can gaze at the stars and the moon and sometimes music from a temple festival in the distance floats across over the water.
During the day, the meditative journey can be punctuated by excursions on land: villages, where one can visit Christian churches or an open-air workshop, where coconut fiber is converted into rope. Particularly interesting for houseboat travelers: a visit to the shipyard under the coconut palms where one can see how the dense network of the superstructure is created out of bamboo sticks, bamboo slats, and palm-fiber cord, without nails or metal. And then again, a village shop, women in gorgeous frilled dresses, smiling at the camera, children who ask for “rupee, rupee!” or “pen” and are thrilled when someone has a ballpoint pen or a sketch pen to spare.
No matter what the season, there are always hundreds of houseboats on the water. But on some days, highlights on the Kerala calendar, all eyes turn to the famous snake boats. Every year, Kerala celebrates several of its grand and colourful Onam festivals at harvest time, with Snake Boat Races. They are held from June until September and then again at the end of the year, during the Kochi Carnival, with the “Indira Gandhi Boat Race” on Lake Ernakulam. The impressive large race boat (chundan vallom) are between 15 and 50 metres long, with at least four coxswains, 25 singers, and 100 to 125 oarsmen.
They are called “Snakeboats” due to the decorative detail on their bow – a snake with a raised hood.The “NehruTrophy Boat Race”, which is held at the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, also has some contests for women. And at all these water festivals: a den dent riot of colours, with silk parasols, water processions with deities ,children wearing costumes in bright shades and tens of thousands of spectators.
There are different route options available for its visitors to choose, depending on their time and budget, from where the boat can be boarded
Alappuzha to Kumarakom / Kumarakom to Alappuzha
Alappuzha to Kochi / Kochi to Alappuzha
Aqua Jumbo Tours, Chakrampady, Kumarakom North Post, Kottayam District Tel: +91 9447124627 (M), +91 481 2462627 (O) Email: email@example.com
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