Saturday, September 20, 2014
Kerala House Boat Tourism and Some Thoughts Arising From It!
A speeding House Boat in the Vembanad Lake of Alleppey
I was very delighted to see a small news clip in a Malayalam TV channel yesterday about the inauguration of an internet portal that provided travel enthusiasts the much needed information about the Kerala luxury house boats.
A small wooden boat in the approach channel
to Vembanad Lake at Alleppey
This new online Kerala House Boat information and booking website which came into official existence is www.myboattrip.com which is a safe and secure website.
An Alleppey House Boat
The ever shining Malayalam actor Mohanlal [മോഹന്ലാല്] reportedly inaugurated this website which is an initiative by M/s Safe Boat Trip Private Limited of Kerala.
A House Boat in the Backwaters of Kerala
The house boat tourism began in the back waters of Kerala a couple of decades ago in a big way when an enterprising Kerala businessman built the first luxury houseboat for tourism purposes, spending millions. But houseboats called kettuvallam (കെട്ടുവള്ളം) have been in existence in Kerala rivers and backwaters perhaps for centuries. They have been used for days long journeys through the calm backwaters and rivers of Kerala. I remember enjoying a lunch inside a kettuvallam during my early childhood days. It was owned by some of our relatives who lived in the water locked Kuttanad area who came all the way travelling through the Pamba river to attend the famous Christian annual convention called the Maramon Convention. That was some time in the Nineteen Sixties.
Coconut Palm grove and the backwaters of Kerala
The rivers and backwaters of Kerala always have been awesome for me, but regrettably I could not get much opportunities to experience it to the full. I have written about some aspects of those in one of my blog article (read 'my love and hate relationships with water')
The Backwaters of Kerala
Since most of my adulthood, I had spend outside Kerala, my exposure to the natural beauty of my home state is much limited. But whenever I visit my village, I keep thinking about the enormous potential of tourism in my home state. It is not that the Kerala government and the several private players have not done much on this. In fact they have done lot many things including the projection of Kerala as ' God's Own Country'! But whether they have done full justice to that phrase is a debatable issue.
Another House Boat in the Lake shore
with the Coconut Palms
The first and last time that I could view the awesome glory of the Kerala backwaters, especially the Vembanad Lake in full was some time in 1969 when I was a high school student studying in the St. Thomas Higher Secondary School, Kozhencherry. Kozhencherry is a small town of Central Travancore area of Kerala located in the banks of the Pamba river. (Incidentally, this is the place where the now famous Mutthoot group began their small chit fund business decades ago. It is also the nearest town to the now failed Aranmula International Airport Project )
A large 7 Bedroom House Boat
In those days in the 1960's, tourism was not developed as an industry in Kerala. The Kerala roads and the water ways were much better maintained by the state government and the facilities were reasonably good when compared to the demands. My father allowed me to travel first time to the twin cities of Ernakulam-Kochi alone to book a railway ticket, a facility that existed only in the Ernakulam Railway station then. I could reach Ernakulam city situated about 120 km away from my home village, Elanthoor, within about 3 hours time then (some thing which is impossible now due to traffic congestion), travelling on a Fast Passenger bus operated by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). By the time I completed the task of booking the railway berth, it was late after noon. Now, the possibility of my returning back to my home village by bus posed some problem. There used to be KSRTC Fast Passenger buses that plied in the night and possibly one them could have taken me to Chengannur, the nearest major town located on the main central road of Kerala which is about 18 km away from my village. But by the time I reach, Chengannur, it would be late night and all public transports to my place would stop ( the situation is more or less the same even now!)
A Kuttanad Lake Side House in Kerala
So, I decided to get in to a lodge and stay there over night. In those days, a lodge room was available in Kochi for budget travelers within Rs.10/- per night! But before getting in to any lodge, I decided to have a stroll to the ferry that existed by on the banks of the Vembanad lake on the western side of the railway station. When I reached there, the time was about 8.00 PM. There were several big motor boats which looked almost similar to the KSRTC buses above the deck. They were like buses placed on kettuvallams! In fact, they were the public transport boats owned and operated by the Kerala Water Transport Corporation for the people of the Kuttanad region. When I reached there, I saw one of the boats with a prominent board placed on it reading-Chengannur. It was indeed a boat which was going to Chengannur. I had no idea how this boat from the backwaters would reach Chengannur through the water route! Any way I got it confirmed and got inside. The conductor was a little surprised initially, because it was the first time that he was getting a passenger who is boarding his boat for such a long trip from the starting point to the end point! The ticket charge was surprisingly low. It was just three and a half rupees- much lower than what I had to pay for the overnight stay in the lodge! The boat, as I was told, would be reaching Chengannur next day morning. It was just alright for me because I would be spending the whole night in the boat and in the morning I would get the bus from Chengannur to Elanthoor. It was my first experience on a diesel boat of the water transport corporation. As the boat started to move in to the depths of the sea like lake, I found it surprisingly smooth and with good speed. There were hardly a few passengers and they were all going to their water bound Kuttanad homes unlike me. I enjoyed the night view of Kochi from the boat as it moved away from the Kochi harbour beside several big ships anchored there. In another one or two hours time, heavy rains started. But it caused no problems for the boat or its travel. On its way, it stopped at different boat jetties and that process too was new to me.
A Passenger Boat Moving in the Backwater Channels
The boat had two crews. One steered it from his cabin at the top while another operated its diesel engine from the engine room below the water line. The communication between them was just a string operated bell. Yet they worked quite in good synchronization without their boat making any wrong moves. Yet it did happen. Some time in the midnight, the boats propeller hit some thing and got partially damaged. It moved slowly afterwards upto Alleppey where it was placed in a boat workshop. It too was some thing new to me. I watched the whole process of boat repair with much enthusiasm during the night till dawn. After the repair, the boat moved again and entered the Pamba river. By the time it was already morning. I had the unique opportunity of watching the Kuttanad life by being in that boat till it reached the boat jetty of Chengannur which situated just below the MC road bridge. This boat jetty is no more functional now.
A Foreign Tourist Enjoying Sight Seeing in a House Boat
Years later some time in 2007 I got the second opportunity to make a small motor boat journey in Vembanad lake from the Alleppey side after the house boat tourism became much popular. The pictures in this blog page were taken during that time.
A Kuttanad House and its Common Transport Means
My non Keralite friends who happen to visit Kerala do tell me their appreciation of Kerala's natural beauty. I do agree with them. Kerala is unique in India and it is really beautiful when compared to the other Indian states. But had the Kerala government been a bit more careful with their administration, there are much more things they could have achieved in this state. Tourism industry could grow tremendously if they improve the roads, the transport, get more trained professional tourist guides, get more online travel portals, etc. Air travel to Kerala is much expensive as compared to some other air ports, even when it has three international airports within a span of 600 km.
A Luxury Hotel by the Lake Side
Kerala has been a centrally neglected state all through out because of the peculiar submissive nature of the Kerala politicians and bureaucrats who represented it in the Central government and its organizations. Kerala has been a non entreprising state always collectively, even while the Kerala people remained much more educated and industrious individually. The reason for this, in my opinion, is the peculiar political attitudes of the people. They fight each other on imaginary ideologies, totally ignoring the practical aspects of life and business. Because of this, Kerala businessmen are careful not to make themselves exposed much in the public! It is common knowledge that many Keralites are specialists in leg pulling. When they find some one among them successful, their sleep is lost and they may go all out secretly or openly to reverse the success of their fellow being!
The White Sandy Beach of Alleppey and the Arabian Sea
That is the reason why many Keralites prefer to venture out of their state to try their fortunes. Within their own state it requires far more efforts to become successful because of the pulls exerted by many of their local cousins. In a larger context, this is true to India as well. There are millions of successful Indians in the developed nations who are all contributing their knowledge and skills for making their second homes to prosper while they would have been just average performers within their own country because of the local pulls of other Indians at the home land! (Read more about this narrow mindedness in the blog I wrote yesterday)
The Waves of the Arabian Sea
Barring a few, most media in Kerala shy away from giving any publicity to news relating to business initiatives. I tried to get more information about the news that I mentioned in the beginning of this article. I could not find any of the Kerala online news papers covering this news of Shri Mohanlal inaugurating the new travel and tourism portal in Kerala.
Scenic Beauty of Kuttanad!
In my opinion, it is high time that the Indian media learn to move away from the politicians and give undue importance to their thoughtless voices and acts. The public also should understand the futility of going after the politicians. If the politicians are doing some thing good for the nation, that should be acknowledged. Not otherwise! Instead, the wealth and job creators efforts should get more public appreciation. All businessmen who have become successful in creating large business organizations that provide worthwhile employment to the Indians should be appreciated more than the politicians.
Author's Niece Having A Hands On Experience!
Why some nations are highly developed while some others like India are not? Perhaps, talents and resources are more in India than perhaps all other nations. But regrettably, we lack the fundamental knowledge and attitudes that are required for efficient management of resources, including our human resources.
Near View of A Luxury Hotel and their Speed Boats
From personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that Indian organizational systems are antagonistic to progressive work. All our rules and procedures are based on mutual suspicion and fear. Perhaps it is all because the rules and procedures of Indian organizations are all made mostly by non-progressive narrow minded individuals. In many organizations, especially in the government controlled organizations, people simply cannot give their best out puts because the systems do not allow them to work! People are seldom provided the facilities that they require for executing their respective works in the appropriate times!
Another Kuttanad House
Often, the capable person to do a particular work is alienated and he or she may not be assigned any work. Instead, the work is likely to be assigned to persons who are not capable to do that work.
Incredible, is n't it? But then, that is the way things generally happen in India! Kerala is no exception!
I would request all the retired high officials of India to do some introspection in this context. How did they work when they were in power positions? Did they work as broadminded mentors?
They should also give some thoughts on the ways and means by which the water tourism industry is promoted ensuring safety and security to the tourists. Accidents and untoward mishaps should not happen to mar the industry and the livelihood of the people who are depended on it. It is reported that the number of houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppey has already crossed one thousand. Do the government and the local authorities have some mechanism to improve the infrastructural facilities and the vigil?
Just sharing these thoughts with those who are capable of thinking positively.
Would you reciprocate with your reactions?