Shopping in the waters

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A clump of earth spattered all over the vast Vembanadu Lake Kuttanadu itself is a perpetually floating piece of land. A clump of earth spattered all over the vast Vembanadu Lake Kuttanadu itself is a perpetually floating piece of land.
SummaryResidents of Kuttanadu have come to believe as the first floating mall in the world.

for buying it,” she says. Measuring 55 ft long and 20 ft wide, the floating malls boast wall-mounted shelves, electronic cash counters, fans and even a computer that helps raise online demands for fresh stock. Solar panels on the rooftop supply much of the power to the boat, whose outboard engine is fed by kerosene. Some, like the floating mall in Naluchira, also sport flowerpots, gifted by villagers to show gratitude.

Since 2009, when the first floating mall came to Alappuzha, backwater districts like Kochi, Kollam and Kottayam have got their own boats. The last one in Kottayam, inaugurated in April 2012 by Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, has taken the total number of Trivenis on water to six across the state. Constantly on the move, each floating mall caters to thousands of families in dozens of villages, anchoring at a place for a day or sometimes two, depending on the demand. “During festivals, our sales reach R1 lakh a day,” says shop manager Sreejith Gopalakrishnan in Naluchira about sales that rival figures of many shops in city malls. The backwaters in Malabar, in the north of Kerala, will get a floating mall later this year when a boat, currently under construction in Kasargode, is ready. “Unlike conventional boats made of wood and steel, the floating malls, with a polymer and cement combination as the main building material, is non-corrosive and need almost no maintenance,” says MR Narayanan, managing director of Floatell India, which has built all the Floating Trivenis. At R28 lakh apiece, the floating malls are far cheaper than similarly-sized boats made of steel and wood that cost “up to R80 lakh” to build. “We have received enquiries recently from Sri Lanka about building floating malls for its inaccessible regions,” adds Narayanan.

The great backwaters

The canals of Alappuzha, called the ‘Venice of the East’, have always been the arteries of a healthy economy in central Kerala by propping up trade for centuries. A coastal town and coir capital of the world, Alappuzha received much of its goods for trade from the hilly eastern districts of Kerala through large vessels called ‘kettuvallam’. Later, construction of roads reduced the dependence on these boats for transporting goods, a twist in the socio-economic history of Kuttanadu that led to the transformation of the ‘kettuvallam’ into today’s houseboat. The arrival of the first floating mall in 2009 also helped the houseboats that dot the backwaters

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