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Cruising along in designer houseboats

A CRUISE along the mirror-still lagoons, picture-book lakeside, palm-fringed canals and shimmering rivulets of `God's Own Country' is the most enchanting holidaying experience in the country. With a cruise along the palm-fringed waterways turning to be part and parcel of holidayer's itinerary, the traditional ``Kettuvallam'' has emerged as the mascot of Kerala Tourism.

Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney is the latest ambassador to this amazing experience of cruising in a houseboat. During his recent sojourn, Sir McCartney opted to celebrate the birthday of his girl-friend, Heather Mills, in a flower-bedecked traditional houseboat in the Vembanad lake, the largest backwater body of Kerala.

Innumerable lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries and the deltas of 44 rivers make up the 900 km of backwater network of the State. The Ashtamudi lake, the second largest backwater stretch, offers the longest ride of eight hours to the cruisers and is considered as the gateway to the backwaters.

For the holidayers, a cruise in the comfortably furnished houseboat will enable them to see the rustic life. They can skim past the ancient Chinese fishing nets, water lilies, lush paddy fields, coir villages, rustic homes, temples and coconut grooves.Traditionally, the houseboat was called ``kettuvallam'', which means a boat made by tying together pieces of wood. Unbelievable as it may sound, not a single nail is used in its making. Jackwood planks are joined together with coir and then coated with black resin made from boiled cashewnut shells.

With kettuvallams turning popular and in high demand, the giant 80-feet-long crafts have been transformed into floating paradises to cater to the needs of the tourists. Luxuriously furnished houseboats with one or two attached bedrooms, open lounge, deck, kitchen and other facilities, crew comprising oarsmen, a cook and guide have become the order of the day.

The latest houseboat to hit the backwaters is the Rs. 20-lakh air-conditioned kettuvallam launched by a leading hotel chain to rope in European and American tourists to cruise along the Vembanad lake. Comprising fantastically crafted multi-purpose living area with facilities for seating, dining and lively conversations, it has wardrobes, study tables, sofas built in two bedrooms, contemporary kitchen and hygienic pantry.

Manned by well-trained crew and with artefacts fixed around it to give an ethnic touch, the ``shower cubicle'' is another novel feature for disposing wastes and sewage. Powered by a generator and solar panel, newspapers, magazines and even fishing rods have been made available for the cruisers along with CD in each room.

By S. Anil Radhakrishnan
Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

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