You might have had a wonderful cruise in houseboats along the taciturn backwater stretches of Kerala. The comforting journey along the fascinating lagoons and pictorial lakesides of God's Own Country is an experience one wouldn't want to miss. But ever wondered how this magnificent example of watercraft is really brought to life?
Present day houseboats are modernized versions of old kettuvallams that were used to carry tons of rice and spices. Kettu in Malayalam means to tie and vallam means boat. This explanation throws light to a surprising fact about the construction of kettuvallam, that no nails are used in the boat building process. Instead, wooden planks are fastened together with coir ropes to make the hull. Modern day houseboats are different from the traditional houseboats in that they have cozy living rooms, furnished bedrooms, modern toilets, well-equipped kitchen and some even have a balcony for angling. They are also powered by diesel engines.
The boat making begins with hull, which consists of wooden planks of Anjili tree (Artocarpus hirsutus). In most constructions the planks are tied together using coir with coconut fibres stuffed in between as caulking. This is the traditional method followed in construction. The other method is using bronze nails. Caustic black resin extracted from cashew nut husks is used to polish the framework. The hull is then launched into water for the rest of the construction.
The framework of the roof is made with GI Pipes. Bamboo mats, sticks and wood of areca palm are used for weaving the mat for roofing. In between a layer of plastic sheet is used to reinforce it and make the roof waterproof. The rooms are separated using thick plywood. Prior to the flooring process, bio-tanks are placed inside for collecting toilet waste. The filtering process of these tanks emits only fresh water to the lake. The wiring process is finished before the interior works. Most of the interior works are done using plywood.
A well-furnished houseboat will cost around Rs. 4 to 5 million. This will vary depending on the size and number of rooms. The construction process will take an average time of one year. The state Department of Tourism issues Green Palm / Gold Star certifications in order to ensure the quality standards of houseboats.