Battle of the Indian Super Yachts ' Kashmiri Houseboat VS Kerala Houseboat
By Gasoline Junkie ( Ashish divakaran )
The Houseboat in Kashmir
Kettuvalam in Kerela
They are magnificent floating palaces that give the best of hotels a run for their money. Just a day onboard would enchant you, regardless of weather you're a 10 year old kid, a couple on a honeymoon or an elderly man done with life's responsibilities and dedicated to smoking a pipe. What more do you need when your on a houseboat floating away all of life's miseries? (Well probably a bike or should we say a jet ski for that daily dose of adrenaline ' but lets not go there now)
What I'm trying to say is, a houseboat is more that just expensive accommodation that would blow a hole in your back pocket, it's an experience, it's a journey in itself. It is expensive accommodation that would burn a hole in your pocket but it will also give you memories for life, its something you have to do before you kick the bucket or before your too old to be bothered about having a good time. Drifting in a boat gives you the sense of freedom to go anywhere and the feeling of serenity that you cant even get with 10 pounds if marijuana, a cozy house makes you forget life's problems so you can sit around all day doing nothing, a classy bachelor pad with Kashmiri carvings and silken curtains screams to your neighbor saying "look sucker, I'm better than you" without you having to open your mouth. Combine the three and there you have it ' a Houseboat, and unlike the Queen Mary 2, you have the whole vessel to yourself & unlike the Rolls Royce Phantom, you have a good 2000 square feet of sheer luxury for more or less the same price.
A while back on the first leg of the GIR we had the amazing opportunity to stay in a houseboat on Dal lake and boy it was great, until then I thought houseboats were floating piles of expensive firewood rented out to gullible tourists.
Kashmiri houseboats have been around for a while, but just like cricket and the Ambassador we Indians didn't invent it.
When the Brits went to Kashmir the racist Maharaja at that time forbid them to buy land and build houses in his kingdom, and at that time holiday inn wasn't happening. So instead of giving the finger to the king and going back home they started getting innovative. He forbid them to stay on land, but there was a catch, he didn't say anything about water. So the Poms got themselves a big raft in Dal Lake and built a cottage on it, it was no big deal because for half the year the lake was frozen and that made it all the more like England.
Assuming that they had all the time in the world and nothing to do being stranded in the middle of a lake, they just made their houseboats bigger and better and that is house the Kashmiri houseboat started.
Now, these floating works of art range from 60 to 150 feet long and 15 ' 30 feet wide. Every boat has all the modern comforts you can thing of like electricity, heating, plumbing, television and even internet connectivity in some cases. A typical houseboat has a sit-out in front, a large sitting & dining room, a kitchen and two or three bedrooms. And the amazing thing here is every house boat is made to specification by master craftsmen. Most of the décor along with the wood carvings is Victorian influenced and the tapestries, carpeting and curtains have an eastern blend of Turkish and Kashmiri. The amount of carvings on the cedar interiors is unbelievable and the attention to detail is incredible, it is another one of those things that you have to see to believe. I spoke to the owner and he told me that these houseboats cost around one crore, that's 10 milion. 10 million rupees for a boat!!
If you think about it, these aren't really boats, well they float ' so does a log. The problem with the Kashmiri houseboats is they are made as big as possible and as fancy as possible and at the end of it all they forget about the very vital weight reduction factor. With a little over 100 tones there is no point trying to move this goliath, why even try? That's what the engineers thought when they considered mounting an engine and hence it has no engine, it also has no rudder because who needs to turn it when it doesn't move.
So there you have it, it's a fancy house that floats but doesn't move anywhere. So why not build a fancy house with one crore? If you ask me, 1 ' land prices are skyhigh, the lake is quite possibly a lot cheaper & 2 ' if you build a house on land it wont be a houseboat.
On the other side of India, the Kerala houseboats are very different. Traditionally they weren't houseboats, they were just big boats called Kettuvallams, which means boat made by tying together pieces of wood. Senseless as it may seem, not a single nail is used in the whole damn wooden boat. The wooden planks are joined together with coconut coir rope and then coated with a resign made from boiled cashew nut shells. So while the Goans made fenny and got drunk the Malus made their boats waterproof.
I guess this boat was designed by Robinson Cruso or some guy like him when they were stranded on a tropical island because everything used, everything from wood to the ropes and the resign is grown in your backyard.
Traditionally the Kettuvallams were used for lugging around rice and coconuts all over Kerala, they had the load carrying capability of two or three trucks and they were powered by men using bamboo sticks instead of ores. Then when roads were built in kerala and bridges connected the thousands of different islands, people started using trucks to for transportation. I don't blame them, would you rather send your stash in a 40 toner Volvo or in a boat made by a pile of wood tied together by rope and sealed with un-fermented fenny? With more and more people beginning to think like me, the Kettuvallams were probably being used as firewood or to transport illegal substances across borders and check-posts. So when the tourism boomed in Kerala people probably thought of converting these rotting old Kettuvallams into slick houseboats, every innovative idea always gets stolen so within a few years you'd see house boats all over the backwaters in Kerala.
Ovbously some redesigning had to be done to make the Kettu-V more suitable for living, not just living we are talking about high-end accommodation. The body was redesigned and remodeled to adapt for the new demands and functions. Certain elements had to be added and others removed to make it good enough for comfortable cruise. Height of roof was increased to get sufficient headroom and a plank was laid all through the length to reduce the disadvantages of curved shape of the hull. Some boats have a first floor deck and some really good boats also have pools and jacuzzi. With all this additional weight being thrown around the boat, some of them were given buoyancy by two air tanks underneath. The blokes did a pretty good job in converting a coconut carrier to a 5star houseboat and most comforts in life like aircon and running water are available. I think is the biggest design flaw is cooking done on the floor in a fully wooden boat, I don't know if there is a traditional reason to this but if I'm on a wooden boat I wont even let someone smoke a cigarette. But thankfully health & safety doesn't exist at this part of the world, so I guess if a fire starts you just jump overboard.
What I like most about the Kettu 'V is, unlike the floating logs on the Dal lake these Kerala houseboats can move. They are proper functional boats, not the Noa's ark that floats at the mercy of the waves. The Kettu 'Vs are loaded with a 40 horsepower motor and that can keep the big boat to cruising speed all day and its cool to watch three or four of them sailing together on the Allepy backwaters. If you have to compare them to the Kashmiri houseboats, they suck when it comes to class and luxury. The Kashmiri boats are floating palaces while the Kettu-Vs are sailing caravans. To build, the Kashmiri boats are about twice as expensive and to hire for a day both of them are pretty much the same, the costs also depends on the season and how touristy or western you look.
Giving a final verdict is kinda hard because both the boats are very different and they both have their own pros and cons. But at the end of the day I think I should hand it to the Kerala houseboats or the Kettuvallams, simply because it is a proper boat. It may not be as grand and as fancy as the Kashmiri ones but it has an engine and it sail, just like a boat should.
Kettuvalam on the Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom
Houseboats on The Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir
Inside our houseboat in Kashmir
Inside the houseboat in Kashmir