The concept of our houseboats is quite simple. Start with beautiful floating accommodation. Take the most picturesque route in the backwaters. Most important, several men from the local villages are trained to pilot that boat through those waters at a leisurely pace, stopping for meals along the way, and sharing their local knowledge about the locale. The backwaters communities are only accessible by boat, and having members of those communities as your guides ensures an authentic local experience—but in the comfort of a state of the art houseboat.
There are some canals within the backwaters that cannot be accessed by boats as large as ours. And yet, there are communities to visit in those canals. So each day a friend of ours brings his canoe to the same location where we arrive after lunch, and for those interested he paddles through the smaller canals. He is from this stretch of backwaters so there is a friendly interplay with the folks living in those waters—Malayalam language jokes flying back and forth as he paddles along.
The daily rituals of life on the backwaters, including on our
houseboats, include many share responsibilities due to the special
considerations of living surrounded by water. Among the favourite
scenes of our guests tend to be the "school bus" for children,
which is in the form of a long motorized boat; or the grocery store,
which is a converted barge that floats from one community to the
next selling the same typical items that other Keralites can find in
their local market.
To make these provisions for the special conditions of life on the
water, planning and teamwork are required. This is not new. It
goes back at least centuries, and this is what made possible one of
the only places on earth where agricultural production occurs
below sea level. An ingenious set of man-made bunds and canals
allowed some lands to be drained and re-filled with water all using
the natural flows of the Western Ghats monsoon rains
About those houseboats. They are designed along the lines of
traditional rice barges, or kettuvallam in local language. The hulls
are made in the ancient traditional manner from jackfruit tree
wood, with no nails—all the wood is stitched together and sealed
with a natural waterproofing method made from fish oil. Within
the hull, under the main deck is all the equipment that makes our
boats ecologically responsible, including efficient engines, fresh
water holding tanks, and other specialty fittings that we will be
happy to show you if you are interested.
Atop the hull, the bedrooms are the one set of interiors that are
air conditioned, and otherwise all spaces including dining room,
living room and viewing decks are open to the fresh airs of the
backwaters. The canopy of the houseboat Is what gives it the
distinctive historic look—the all natural thatch roofing and siding
materials have been woven in this manner for centuries, and we
are doing our part to keep the tradition alive and well supported
(these materials are replaced annually for each of our 9 boats,
employing dozens of local craftsmen throughout the year).
Of the four men who crew the boat, they share responsibilities as
a team. But besides the captain, one of the others is a specialist.
He is responsible for preparing "mama's home cooking." The
authentic flavours of these waters include a mix of various shellfish
as well as the local favourite fresh water whitefish called Karimeen
(pearl spot in English). The variety of rice used in traditional Kerala
cuisine is grown exactly in the location where our houseboat ply
the waters, so of course we serve that with each meal, as we do
fruit and vegetable produce from the various plots of land that our
neighbours tend to throughout these waters. Our objective with the
food program on the houseboats, as with each of the activities we
support in the backwaters, is to support the local traditions and
customs, including the foodways, to be able to share this heritage
with the next generation.
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