The houseboat in Kerala, popularly known as the Kettuvallam, was meant for carrying heavy loads in the bygone era. For the uninitiated, in Malayalam ‘Kettu’ means “to tie” while ‘vallam’ meaning “boat”.
Over the years, the Kettuvallam has been part and parcel of the culture and heritage of Kerala. It is said that the master brain behind building shades over the boats, was that of a British man, who on one of his journeys across the waters suggested this idea to build bamboo roof overhead. This gave rise to the creation of exquisite floating houses. And today one can see these lovely water abodes having wide range of bedroom options, fitted with modern amenities and other elements to provide utmost comfort, yet reflecting the traditional essence through its architecture.
During the ancient times, the Kettuvallam was instrumental in economic development – transporting men and cargo from everywhere across the waters, the remote places which were not otherwise accessible. These boats, which are around 100 feet long, were mostly used to transport spices, rice and other kinds of goods. Interestingly the magnificent structure and size of Kettuvallam is three times more than a normal cargo truck! That is, the houseboat can carry more than 25 tons which is equivalent to what three huge trucks can carry. Amazing, right? That is why in olden days, this was the most preferred transport option to carry heavy loads and also take people to remotest of villages via backwaters. Moreover, the other means of transportation like rail and road ways were either expensive or not developed in those days.
The houseboat offered good provision for the boatmen in terms of cooking food and sleeping purpose and also, ample space for their families to accompany them on longer journeys. People of royal hierarchy found a comfortable advantage of living in these floating houses while travelling to different places. However with the coming of modernization, houseboat took a backseat while other means of transportation got rapidly developed and were used more. Eventually, the Kerala houseboats were merely left for promoting tourism and, what was once a humble transport option turned out to be a means of luxury and relaxation.