The picturesque backwaters of Kerala is a destination that every tourist would vie for to obtain the ambience of utmost serenity and natural splendour.
The houseboats of Kerala bring true dreams of many to catch a glimpse of heaven right here down on earth. Here is a little glimpse into the life of one of the cruise operators who strive to perfect the traveller’s little moments of joy on the Kerala backwaters.
The man, whose most important events always happened to fall on a first of a month was born on December first in Ambalappuzha, a small town in the district of Alappuzha, Kerala, India.
Devdas, founder of the Kerala Cruise and Holidays with about fifteen houseboats under his wing and seventeen years of experience in the houseboat tourism business, is as humble and down to earth as they come.
“As a boy”, Devdas fondly remembers, “we used run along the bunds along which the houseboats carrying the foreign tourists were rowed. The tourists during those days would come with gifts like pen, pencil, chocolates and so on which we eagerly sought after, running along the embankments alongside the houseboats. ”
“Sayyipe one pen please ! is what we would say” mentions the seasoned cruise operator with a nostalgic smile spreading across his face.
The smile reflected the seed of affection that was sown then in his heart for these travellers from beyond the boundaries of the nation.
A graduate in Commerce, Devdas hailed from a family of humble background with an ailing mother who was a heart patient and a sister. His only aim from a tender age was to amass just enough wealth to support his family. The only ambition being, as was the norm during those days, to travel to a gulf country and make money.
After graduation he registered for CA with the hope of reigning in the situation of his family and had also completed a course on computers.
“What turned you in the direction of houseboats and Kerala backwater tourism?”
He laughed out loud and said “To tell you the truth, it all started because of my watching a movie!”.
“I had registered for the CA course and used to go for classes which would get over by five in the evening. I would reach home around six to seven in the evening.”
“It so happened that on that fateful day, a friend of mine came down from Ahmedabad and we went for a movie called ‘Azhagiyaravanan’ . It had gotten really late by the time I returned home”.
“When I reached back home, the entire family was up and fussing about and that’s when my cousin (mother’s sister’s son) said enough of CA and got me a job in Ernakulam.”
“The salary was 750 rupees out of which I was left with 60 rupees after all the expenses and the PF was 62 rupees hence i had to pay 2 rupees out of my pocket which I now had to separately earn”.
“After two more odd jobs, I finally joined the ATDC houseboat operators on first August 1996 as an accountant which also required me to do different odd jobs like receive guests, take them to their cruise and other services. That was the real turning point in my life that has put me where I am right now”.
How has the journey from an employee in ATDC to setting up your own business been?
“ATDC proved to be a vast exploring playground ground for me. It opened up to me a whole new world of opportunities to establish new business relations and knowledge. In fact the 17 years of my life spend there has amassed me a wealth of knowledge and experience”
“Following ATDC I joined another agency to whose terms and moral policies I could not bring myself to agree. I believed in a personal touch and friendly service. Satisfaction of the people we were providing a service to, I firmly believed lay the root to establishing stronger ties with the travelling masses”.
“Eventually, with the help of three friends, I bought my first own houseboat. ”
Who are the people who have influenced you the most in your life?
“The person who influenced my life the most was my mother. She is a heart patient but has inspite of that struggled to make ends meet and keep our family moving forward.”
How has the houseboat tourism in Kerala progressed over the years?
“Backwater houseboat tourism in Kerala has faced colossal growth over the years. What started from a non mechanised houseboat with one cook, kerosene stove and native food has turned into a luxurious affair.”
“During the earlier days, there were many smaller canals connecting different places and the local people traveled by those until the advent of roads and bridges pushed down the preference of canals right to the last. Reclaiming land from canal and building bridges caused the canals to gradually close up leaving only bigger channels behind.”
“Another major change is that , earlier the boats were smaller nearly around 13 feet, 60-70 ft length whereas now they are nearly 17-18 of width and of 85 ft in. Hence the boats also bigger since height has to be constructed accordingly. Neither are the boats made in accordance with the climate or the environment.”
“Initially there were two authoritative bodies namely, the Canal authority which was responsible for the hull and the chief inspector of boats in which was in charge of looking after the running condition. This system was prevalent since the rule of the rajas.”
“Currently the rules are laid as per the seaport rules and the people who have brought about these rules have no idea about the backwaters. It is not right to compare the lagoons and the sea and make rules for both as if they were the same.”
What are the things you feel, needs to be addressed for the smoother movement of houseboat tourism?
“The first and foremost thing, I believe is to have a board specifically designed for the backwaters of Kerala that would form rules and regulations pertaining to the situation here rather than the open seas or port”.
“Recently there has been a new regulation passed by which new houseboats will not be provided with licenses. I strongly object to this because this could lead to a monopoly by the bigger businesses in the houseboat tourism .i.e. help the rich get richer.”
“Instead, new boats’ construction limits should be maintained and the length and width should be controlled. There should be control in the corruption at the higher level of authority”
How do you think the houseboat tourism is affecting the environment and how effective is ecotourism ?
“Houseboats have been on the Kerala backwaters since the early times. The only change is the motorization of the houseboats. Every possible measures are taken to ensure that we do not disturb the ecology of the place.”
“Proper waste management systems are followed in terms of human waste on house boats. Currently, the wastes are chemically processed and released in an environment friendly form. There are also suction points at different locations.”
“We all strive to maintain a clean environment and pay due importance to it. With the influx of massive numbers of tourists into the area, implementation of ecotourism has greatly helped maintain the sanctity of the place. Alleppey is close to becoming a non-plastic region with the replacement of plastics used for daily purposes by degradable substitutes”
With the influx of huge number of tourists into the regions, how do the inhabitants perceive and feel about it?
“In the earlier days, people were averse to the idea of tourism and were not quite supportive of having their land overrun by strangers. But in the recent years , the realisation has strongly sunk in as to the importance of tourism in the market and the benefits it pose. The acceptance and interest has risen sharply.”
Where do you see the future of the houseboat tourism in Kerala?
“I truly see the future of Kerala’s houseboat tourism to be a bright and prosperous one. This is a service industry ; while only about 40% behave courteously , the rest have unbecoming behaviour due to the existing Trade unions. The trade unions were helpful when the rich used to suppress the poor in the older days, but the times has changed and they should pay attention to the service quality and look to introduce reforms to make the industry more prosperous.”
How safe do you think Kerala is in comparison with the rest of India in terms of tourism?
“From personal experiences and feedback from the visitors, there has been a considerable satisfaction in the safety in Kerala as compared to the rest of the country.”
“Most international travellers first land in Delhi and travel own throughout the country, finally making their way down to Kerala. They have all commented on the secure and relaxed feeling they experience when in Kerala. Our police and the general public go a long way to make the visitors comfortable in their stay except for the occasional eve teasing which is strictly dealt with by the policing bodies”
The plethora of knowledge that Devdas shared throws a lot of light on the more unrealized stories, aspirations and realities that exist behind the scenes in bringing out to the greater public the perfect journey in the quest for peace.
Book Your Kerala Houseboat cruise with Backwaterbreaks.com and set adrift on the scintillating backwaters!