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Backwater Houseboats   Price Band:   £51-100 per room / villa per night
Backwater Houseboats

The Backwaters of Kerala are a complex network of lagoons, canals, estuaries and the deltas of 44 rivers which drain into the Arabian Sea near the Southern tip of Kerala. The longest stretch is the Vembanad Lake and a total of 900kms of waterway are navigable.

The Kettuvallam – houseboat, or often ‘Rice boat’ – is a ‘boat with knots’, so called because the entire boat is held together by coir knots. The boats, up to 80ft long, are constructed from jakwood planks which, during construction, have fish oils applied to them, then the whole is coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. With good maintenance, a Kettuvallam can last for generations. The upper part has rest rooms fashioned from bamboo for the crew and traditionally they served as barges transporting rice and spices to the port of Cochin.

Modern trucks later replaced this system and a new life dawned for those floating armadillos as leisure cruisers. Though many boats are 100 years old, careful planning has transformed them internally to offer furnished bedrooms, modern en-suites and cosy living and dining areas. Crew quarters are found at the rear, with small but efficient kitchens from where delicious meals appear.

The kettuvallams glide through the Backwaters allowing unforgettable and fascinating glimpses of everyday life. The waterways are the main thoroughfares and you will see narrow- boat loads of† school children in pristine uniforms being rowed across to school, a couple of housewives swapping gossip over the family washing, tired workmen washing away the day’s dust and the local ferry ‘bus’ carrying villagers to work or shopping. All this in a calm, almost silent, world, as different from Venice as you can imagine.

Coconut palms line the banks, occasional groups of houses huddle together and mile upon mile of paddy fields stretch outwards. Stops along the way allow visits to local ’wedding cake white’ churches, probably Syrian Christian, remarkable for their colourful internal decoration and absence of pews/seats. Worship here is conducted on your feet or on your knees on the dirt floor.

Admire the triumphant Snake Boat of immense length which is the local unrivalled champion. A team of oarsmen paddled their way to victory over 25 other boats in their annual event.

For the bird lover the cruise is pure joy. Herons flap past, too many to count, brilliantly coloured kingfishers perch on poles ready to swoop, and crow pheasants, cormorants, drogues, woodpeckers, bee eaters, kites etc, etc go about their business as you glide silently by.

Fishermen paddle their craft towards you after a successful catch, hoping to tempt you or your cook to a fresh, tasty dinner. Then, as evening falls and you watch the sun sinking behind the palm trees, sounds of family life begin to drift over the water; sometimes a radio, encouragement from the local church or temple, groups of smiling children waving in the hope of a few sweets or pennies being thrown or simply good natured friendliness.

The boat is tied up or anchored mid-lagoon for the night. Evenings pass quickly as you enjoy your dinner, perhaps read or play cards etc, enjoy the moon shining on the water, then take the hint to retire as the crew stretch and yawn.

A 24 hour trip is an enjoyable experience, 48hrs, i.e. 2 nights is better, giving you one whole interrupted day on the water – a real ‘life in the day of’.

The boats do vary in quality of accommodation, food and crew, all reflected in the price, so consider all the factors when making your choice. We suggest that the higher quality is worth paying for.

Highs Lows
  • Life on the lakes is¬†serenity defined.
  • The best boats are the newest as they have all the character of a traditional rice boat but increasing comforts inside.
  • Early morning breakfasts and waving to the children on their way to¬†school is enchanting.
  • Fresh seafood full of flavour
  • Space is tight so be prepared to live out of a suitcase¬†
  • 2 days can be enough for many¬†as the meandering routes can be monotonous, albeit beautiful.

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