Alappuzha (Kerala), Dec 30 (IANS) There might be fewer foreign tourists here, but all 650 houseboats that ply the Vembanad Lake here have been booked much in advance. Anyone who wants to ride these boats now will have to wait till a fortnight after the New Year.
"The recession seems to have dented foreign tourists. This season, we have very few international tourists who have booked a houseboat. Instead, domestic tourists have led from the front," says Tomy Pullikattil, who owns a dozen houseboats here, and is considered an innovator of houseboats. Among Pullikattil's boats is a houseboat with a convention facility that can seat 100 people on the deck.
Traditionally known as rice boats, these boats have undergone numerous renovations. Today, they come in varied sizes, and some are like floating palaces, with as many as five bedrooms.
Pullikattil mentioned, in a conversation with IANS, that the boats in the area have been running full since the beginning of December. Since bookings have now been completed till mid-January, getting a houseboat at short notice is practically impossible.
Alappuzha is the ideal place to be in if one wants a ride in a houseboat. One can travel the pristine backwaters here, which connect this district to Kumarakom and neighbouring towns like Kottayam, Changanacherry and Kollam.
At peak tourism time, a single-bedroom houseboat tariff for an overnight journey would cost at least Rs.7,500. That cost includes also three sumptuous meals.
Kerala Tourism Minister A.P. Anil Kumar asserts that the houseboats have won rave reviews, and are a valued and flagship product.
"We expect to launch seaplane services by the end of next month at four locations. With this, we are certain that the houseboat industry will spread its wings to other destinations too," Kumar said.
The state government wants to set up jetties from where seaplanes can land and take off at Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha and Kochi.
A splendid New Year awaits those who have already booked a houseboat: "We have organised a gala cultural extravaganza to be staged in the Vembanad Lake Monday midnight. All my houseboats will be assembled in the midnight around the stage to usher in the New Year," Pullikattil said.