By T G Biju
Alappuzha (Kerala), Feb 21 (IANS) A floating shopping mall on Kerala's beautiful backwaters is catching the attention of tourists. The mall on a boat floats in the backwaters of the low-lying Kuttanadu area of Alappuzha district.
"The floating Triveni Super Store, which sells everything a home needs including refrigerators and TV sets at subsidised rates, is the brainchild of state Cooperative Minister G. Sudhakaran," an employee of state government-run Consumerfed, which runs the mall, told IANS.
Kerala's tourism department is very happy with the Consumerfed initiative as it catches the attention of tourists visiting the backwaters of Kerala, an area that ranks above the Taj Mahal in National Geographic Traveller's best destinations of the world.
"Ever since the launch of the floating mall in June last year, it has become a tourist attraction," says M. Shivshankar, director, Kerala Tourism.
The boat, lined with shelves full of grain to perfumes and health drinks to shampoos, caters to more than 100,000 people in 12 panchayats of Alappuzha. It docks at 53 villages along the backwaters.
These villages cannot access the mainland except through boats. A Triveni store official said the timings of the boat's arrival in each village is announced beforehand, and villagers look forward to it.
The mall is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For safety reasons, only 20 people are allowed on board at a time.
"Ours is a supermarket," says Reji R. Nair, managing director of Consumerfed, which was chosen the best cooperative in the state last year. "For the villagers, there is a lot of excitement to step into the boat which has everything for their needs under one roof."
Provisions like rice, wheat and sugar are priced at least 10-15 percent below market rates.
"The villagers can buy even refrigerators and TV sets from the floating mall. For that one has to just place an order and it will be delivered at your doorstep within two-three weeks," says A.K. Anoop, the mall's manager.
"The mall has average daily sales of Rs.60,000," he said. The sales go up during festivals like Onam and Christmas.
"We wait for the boat to arrive in our village," says M.C. Vijayan, a farm labourer in Changankery, 18 km from Alappuzha.
"Earlier we used to take a bus to the town for shopping, which took a lot of time and money," Vijayan said.
The mall was designed by the University of Cochin's naval department. It was built at a dock in Kochi at a cost of Rs.50 lakh.
Cement was mixed with certain polymers and reinforced with steel to build the boat, which is anti-corrosive. A solar panel was added to light the boat and power the billing machine.
Consumerfed, which runs 100 Triveni super markets and 46 liquor shops in Kerala, is building two more floating malls because of demand from villagers.