History of Kerala Houseboats
History of Kerala Houseboats : Backwaters in Kerala consist of manmade and natural canals that are 1500 km long, 38 rivers and 5 big lakes. Once used as the main cargo transportation of the region through backwaters, ‘Kettuvalloms’ means, ‘stitched boat’ and are 70 ft long and have a capacity of 30 tons. They are made up of wooden planks joined and stitched together with coconut ropes and is painted with cashew nut oil from inside and fish oil outside. Everything used in these boats is handmade and not even a single nail is used in its construction. However, with careful maintenance they do last for generations and one can see ‘Kettuvallams’ that are more than a century old. In the past, boatmen rarely stopped along the waterways for meals and instead opted for catching fresh backwater fish such as ‘karimeen’ (pearl spot) and ‘kalangi’ (barramundi), nonperishable diets such as lentils and local large grain rice reddish in color and inexpensive spices such as coriander, ginger, dried chillies, turmeric and black mustard seeds.
Most of the grains and spices they carried were usually in the ungrounded form to retain their freshness and crushed them at the moment into a spice paste using a small stone plate and a rolling pin. To enhance the flavor they used to add the coconut paste liberally as coconuts could easily be found on the seashore. Coconut oil was used to cook the food on an earthen stove, fuelled by coconut shells at the stern of the ‘Kettuvallams’. They mostly lived on the vegetable, fish and fruit diet with occasional luxuries of yams, breadfruits, raw mangoes, and jackfruits that grew in great abundance along the waterways. However, with the advent of the modern transportation means, especially, trucks, ‘Ketuvallams’ were soon out of business until they were redeemed by the tourism industry and were remodeled into the luxurious houseboats that are now one of the chief attractions of the tourists.