Even in earlier times, celebrating onam was a financial burden on the families which were not as affluent as they pretended they were. Hence the saying ‘kanam vittum onam unnananm’ or you can even sell your land to celebrate Onam. The expenses are still there though channeled elsewhere. The average salaried person takes festival advances, borrows, charges it to credit cards and then works the whole year to clear those debts. The difference is probably that now the money is spent on clothes rather than food.
Once in a while the crass commercialization of the festival does bring on bouts of nostalgia for those days when onam was a festival celebrated by the family and had not emerged into the public domain. The elder women in the family had worked very hard but one had been too young to have much responsibility. Like all memories of childhood, the darked days vanish from one’s mind and one remembers the sunlit days when the family got together and there was a lot of laughter in the air. And the competition was only with the children next door to see who had more colours in their floral pattern.
Probably it is these memories which stir the Malayalis come Onam time, to make an effort and celebrate this festival however far from home they are.
Anything in a houseboat is made from nature
Imagine this: Stare at the starry sky and sleep with the lullaby of the waves in the background. Wake up to the chirping of the birds and watch the sun rise. Feel the fish nibbling at your fingertips, and lift them up with your own hand. Well, all this and more are in store for the one choosing to stay in a kettuvallam (house boat) in the lap of the vembanad lake, kerala’s largest water body. When the ‘national Geographic Traveler’ declared the south Indian state of kerala as one of the 50 ‘must see’ destinations in the world a few years ago, was charted the tourist route to the south coastal districts of Alappuzha and Kollam. Since then no tourist visiting kerala has missed the backwaters of these two districts.
Nothing appears to have caught the tourists’ imagination so much as the network of the endless backwaters, lakes, canals and the delts of several rivers in these places. Once called the Venice of the East’ where navigations of almost 900km of the winding waterways was possible, alapuzha district is a delight to the water lover. And to enjoy both the modern comforts and the bounty of nature is the kettuvallam (houseboat) a concept that has earned acclaim in a short span of time.
Kettuvallam or houseboat was a layman’s vehicle till 1950’s and 60’s when it was used as a cargo vessel to carry paddy and spices from Alappuzha to Kochi port. It was also home to farmer families which braved the torrential rainy nights in the protection of its curved roof. Floating majestically with cargo as much as 30 tonnes, these barges went out of use once the rail and road transport in Central Kerala became stronger.
The kettuvallam literally means a barge made of knots. The entire baot was held together using coir knots alone. Pieces of jack-wood were tied together with coir. Cashew kernels were boiled to bring out a black resin which was used to coat this. Part of the houseboat had a bamboo covering which served as kitchen and resting place. Rice was stocked for cooking and fish caught fresh from the backwaters formed the accomplishment. The houseboats, decades old, were in fact resurrected when the tourism industry suddenly realized its immense possibilities. Though commercialized, the houseboats are still full of nature. Anything you see in a houseboat is made from nature. Roofing is with the help of bamboo mats, sticks and wood of the aracanut tree. Coir mats and wooden planks are used for flooring. Even the beds have coconut fibe in them. If kashmir’s once famous Dal Lake and its houseboats floated into the minds of those looking for a unique getaway, kerala’s kettuvalloms sail a step further. They take you around quite a few ‘seeable’ spots, stop where yo want to, serve you food as you like it after an overnight stay in the backwaters and get you off at where you started. If you want to touch the rural life of kerala, and at the same time enjoy yourself, this is the place to be in. now, there are about 220 houseboats dotting the Vembanad lake.
With more than 60,000 visitors holidaying throughout a calendar year, these 80ft long, 20ft. wide baby ships have no time for play. There is no off-season and the operators and owners of the 150odd houseboats plying in Alappuzha are engaged throughout the year.
The smallest of the houseboats will have a bedroom, with attached toilet facilities, living room, dining area, a deck, a kitchen and a staff of three to run the boat and manage the kitchen. Comprising two types, overnight cruised and conducted tours, the sail is enjoyable with a host of places to see in interior kerala. Be it agriculture, fishing or cottage industry.
The district tourism promotion council (DTPC) Organizes an eight hour conducted tour from Alappuzha to kollam starting at 10.30 am. The route covers karumadikuttan Buddha idol, kumarakody, matha amrithanandamayi madom and alumkadavu. Then there is the five hour day service from Alappuzha to kumarakom, which starts at 11 a.m. for those interested in taxiing in the backwaters motorboats, speedboats and luxury boats are available. If bookings are done earlier, DTPC arranges for pickup from airport or railway station. Though rates vary from off-season to peak-season, most top houseboat owners have customers all through the year with the international tourists coming during the peak season, while Indian nationals visit during vacations.
However, if you are looking for picturesque locations and breathtaking backwaters, check out the overnight cruises. The package is a 24 hour stay on board. You could book for 24 hours or any number of days and sail to kollam, kumarakom, if you start from alappuzha. The houseboats now cater even to business men looking to hold a conference or workshop on board, depending on demand, he will get one to four bedroom houseboats, which are air conditioned and are solar electrified too which use lanterns.
Four bedroom houseboats can hold a conference consisting of 30 -40 people. Tomy j pulickattil of pulickattil houseboats says his company will soon launch an A/c five bedroom houseboat, which can hold 150 people for a conference. Many a renowned public figure including the late Jacqueline kennedy has stayed in his houseboat “ But we don’t know of them until they leave,” he shrugs. Bollywood superstars Aishwarya Rai and Kamal Hassan are among those who have stayed in his boats. Film shootings have become a regular feature on the houseboats. Tourism houseboats have made a name and formed a shape after the initial slow start. In the last couple of years, more and more importance is being laid on the nature of the houseboats. The focus is on eco-friendly tourism with emphasis on modernized septic tanks for waste disposal, marine plywood flooring, solar power for electricity, usage of locally available ethnic furniture etc., most of the earlier houseboats were reconverted rice boats. “but today we have to build a whole boat, since almost all the old ones have been used up. A two – bedroom houseboat costs no less than Rs 15 lakh after meeting all the criteria”, says Biju Vilsan General Manager, Rainbow Cruises. The coming up of houseboat tourism has generated employment to almost 1000 people in this southern district town of Alappuzha alone. With the State government focusing on promoting tourism as an industry, several steps are being taken to maintain international levels. The department of tourism has set up several safety and service standards to classify houseboats by awarding them the status of Gold Star and Silver star. Those houseboats satisfying the essential conditions and adhering to eco-friendly measures are being awarded the green palm certificate.Kerala Gears Up In Major Ways To Attract New Investment MELODIOUS ONAM (The onam song market is tastier this year.)
"Maveli naadu vanidum kaalam
Maanusharellavarum onnu pole
Aamodathode vaskikkum kalam
Festival songs with a traditional touch are featured, probably with the intention of marketing it even after the festival season. According to jayachandran “the music is a fusion of the ethnic and western.” to lend authentic touch to ethnic music the collection features backing vocals by people like kalamandalam Haridas, noted Kathakali vocalist. Another onam song collection worth mentioning is Maveli Naadu Vanidum Kaalam from East-coast Entertainment. This is not just a collection of songs but rather two long songs. It is rather like a musical conversation about onam. There is one long song on each side and each is set to a different tune. Sang by praveena, rajalakshmi and baby aswathy, the songs promise a sweet change from the usual fare of Onam songs. If you are a die – hard fan of Yesudas or Chitra, you can get some of their old collections as well, as some of these are still available in the market. Last some years , another set of songs doing brisk business during onam are parady songs. The tenth edition of ‘De Maveli kombath’ featuring popular actor Dileep, Nadirshah and Salim Kumar is already selling like hot cakes. It features paradies of songs like ‘Onnam kili’ from kilichundan Mampazham and ‘sare Sare Saambaare’ from thilakkam. It is interesting to note that even the parady of the ‘sare sare saambare’ song is sung by Dileep who had earlier sang the original version. One song is devoted to introducing the artistes singing in the cassette. And another song contains a message against chewing pan massala. Another major offering in this section is the thirteenth edition of ‘Onathinidakku pootukachavadam’ which is compered by actor ‘ innocent’. Interestingly innocent is the Maveli in both these cassettes. Though onam songs come out with both audio and video, only the audio version is available in the parady section. And if you want to get the lyrics to some Onam songs search the net as there are some sites offering Onam songs. However, listening to some of the best onam songs collections in the market will definitely help you create an instant ambience of onam in the midst of our busy lives, wherever we may be. (Continue later other onam reports by this blog site)