Arattupuzha is a quaint little village in the outskirts of Thrissur. Life around the village is a very laid back affair for the better part of the year. Come summer around March-April the village comes to life for its annual temple festival. The name Arattupuzha itself is derived from this festival and signifies the ritual bath that takes place in the river at the end of the festival.
Nature and history has been kind to arattupuzha. Karuvannur puzha, a beautiful river meanders through much of the village as it heads west into the Arabian Sea. Vast expanses of paddy fields surround the village and its verdant landscape. Arattupuzha Sastha Temple is at the centre of its land and life and is strategically positioned by the river at the foot of a small hill.
The village is primarily residential with a population of about 7000. Apart from Neelambari, a few small shops are the only businesses in Neelambari. A good part of the population works in cities like Thrissur and Cochin. Farming is the main local occupation, major produces being paddy and plantain. The village community is very closely knit as the majority of the families have been here for countless generations.
Despite its thoroughly rural setting, Arattupuzha is surprisingly well connected. It is just 40 kms from the Cochin International Airport. Thrissur Railway Station (and the City Centre itself) is just 12 kms away. NH66 and NH544, the major arterial roads of Kerala are a short distance away to the west and the east.
Peruvanam Mahadeva Temple is an ancient Shiva temple that dominated social and political life in Central Kerala a few centuries back. The temple still stands high as a magnificent structure in its vast compound though its social, political and economic clout has dwindled much. Peruvanam Gramam that was the governing body centred around the temple is non-existent today in an administrative sense. Socially, religiously however, the concept still lives on mainly through the annual temple festivals connecting the network of temples in and around the peruvanam gramam. Culturally too the Peruvanam Gramam thrives today in the minds of people through the numerous art forms and artistes connected to these festivals.
A clutch of magnificent temples, each of them several centuries old, form the central pillars for these annual festivals. Other temple festivals in the region like the much more renowned Thrissur Pooram are spin offs and once formed part of the original Peruvanam-Arattupuzha Pooram. The legacy of Peruvanam Gramam is far more important than such spin offs. The very syntax and structure that make temple festivals of Kerala magnificent, spectacular and colourful affairs originated in peruvanam. Melam, the very popular percussion orchestra synonymous with temple festivals all over Kerala originated in its present form here. The way elephants are caparisoned and decorated for temple (and church and mosque) festivals too originated here. Even today this legacy lives on, as the most acclaimed percussion artistes for melam belong to Peruvanam and their performance is much sought after across the state.
Touted as the cultural capital of Kerala, the city of Thrissur is centrally located in the state. The famous Vadakkumnathan temple, a UNESCO heritage site, forms the centre of the city and lends its name to it. Major cultural and literary Institutions of the state like the Sangeetha Nataka Academy (for music and dance), Sahitya Academy (for literature), Lalitha Kala Academy (for fine arts) have their headquarters and performance spaces in the city. Thrissur is also very famous for its Pooram, the annual temple festival. Puli Kali or tiger dance organised during Onam celebration is another popular and mesmerising event here. In our opinion, the wider Thrissur region outside the city has even more to offer for interested travellers and explorers. Nature, culture, temples, festivals and traditions have enriched this region.
Like most of Kerala, the magnificent Western Ghats line the eastern border of Thrissur. The forest trails and nature reserves offer exciting possibilities for nature lovers. The most popular among these are the Athirapally Waterfalls and Vazhachal rapids. The beautiful nature trail starting from Thumboormuzhi park through Athirapally waterfalls, Vazhachal rapids and all the way through rain forests to Parambikulam tiger reserve is an unforgettable jungle drive. Chimmony Forest Reserve offers exciting possibilities for travellers with trekking, coral boating and wildlife camping. Peechi and Vazhani are two other spots popular with the local population.
The magnificent Vadakkumnathan Shiva temple at the heart of Thrissur city lends its name and character to the city, not to mention its very famous annual festival the Thrissur Pooram. Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temples also in the city are famous in their own right and are the principal constituents of the Pooram festival. Peruvanam Mahadeva Temple in Cherpu was the centre of the Peruvanam Gramam and is another ancient and spectacular place of worship in Thrissur.
Further South the Koodalmanikyam temple following the Vaishnava tradition is another glorious place of worship with a history dating back more than a thousand years. Triprayar Sri Rama Temple to the west is another magnificent temple very popular with pilgrims to the state. Temples at Kodungallur and Thiruvanchikulam have great historical significance dating back to the Chera Kingdom from which Kerala derived its name. Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple is one of the most visited temples in the whole of India. Magnificent temples also exist in abundance in other parts of the district, each with its own unique history, rituals and festivals. They are too numerous to be mentioned here individually.
Thrissur has been a major trading hub throughout the history of Kerala. The Cheras had Muziris (near Kodungallur) as their centre and this was at the time one of the most important trading ports in the world. Muziris lost its prominence with the decline of the Cheras. The port was rendered unusable by the cataclysmic flood in 1341. Thrissur subsequently became a trading hub under the Kochi Kings, especially Shakthan Thampuran. Jews, Christians and Musilms settled in Thrissur at different times and created iconic places of worship. The Cheraman Masjid in Kodungallur, considered the oldest mosque in India is a prime example. The Puthen Palli Church and the Chaldean Church in Thrissur are two other magnificent places of worship with illustrious pasts.
The Arabian sea that lines its west coast has gifted numerous magnificent beaches to Kerala. Thrissur too has beautiful shorelines and beaches. Nattika, Valapad and Snehatheeram are popular beaches closer to Neelambari. The western shores also have some beautiful backwaters that offer numerous possibilities for exploration and fun.
Thrissur Pooram that involves the major temples in and around Thrissur city is the preeminent temple festival of Kerala. The grand event occurs every year in April / May (corresponding to the Zodiac Taurus). Peruvanam - Arattupuzha pooram is an equally magnificent event that is much more elaborate and ancient. This festival occurs every year in March - April. Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam temple festival, a nine-day cultural extravaganza follows closely on the heels of Thrissur Pooram. Numerous temple festivals that occur every year in smaller temples across the villages and suburbs of Thrissur are charming affairs. These smaller festivals are often closely integrated with local communities and are thus more delightful for explorers of culture.
Thrissur is considered the cultural capital of Kerala as it preserves and nurtures some of the rich traditions and art forms of this land. Kerala Kalamandalam, the pre-eminent institute of classical art forms of Kerala is situated here. Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and Lalitha Kala Academy have their headquarters here. It is however the ancient temples steeped in traditions and culture that play a more prominent role in earning the epithet Of Cultural Capital for Thrissur. Each of these institutions and temples hosts a wide range of cultural programs spanning the year. In addition to their local festivals, these temples organise cultural fetes for calendar festivals like Onam, Vishu, Thiruvathira, Shivarathri, Mahanavami etc. and have functioned as the repositories of culture and art forms across centuries.
My name is Sreeni. I started Neelambari in 2017. Though Neelambari is my brainchild, I owe significantly to inspiration and unstinting support from my friends in the creation of Neelambari. After graduating from IIT-Kanpur as a Mechanical Engineer, I worked in the corporate sector for seventeen years. During this time I had occasion to travel widely around the world. The more I travelled, the more I became aware of the rich cultural treasures in and around my village that I used to take for granted during my growing up years. Having reached middle age in my life, I was considering the possibility of leaving the corporate world and doing something meaningful for my community. Neelambari came up as an idea and soon became a reality with unwavering support and encouragement from my friends - Chandrasekhar (Sekharettan), Tito, Vinoj, Saji, Sony and Mohan.
Though I conceived Neelambari and was primarily responsible for building it, my wife Meera has played a much more important role in its evolution and success once we started receiving guests from September 2017. Neelambari today is loved by our guests for its familial warmth, great food and authentic experiences. Meera and our wonderful team comprising Saju, Viku, Savithri and other women from our village have made this possible. All of us have known each other from childhood and bond together as one large family. Time and again, our guests have remarked that Neelambari combines the warmth of a homestay with the space and comforts of an upscale resort. The warmth is a natural extension of the bonding we share within our team.
Less than one year from our opening, we were deluged by the terrible Kerala floods of 2018. We picked ourselves up and kept going before the Covid pandemic struck us in early 2020. The floods and the pandemic caused severe damage, but did not dampen our spirits or interrupt our journey. Neelambari has grown, bloomed, thrived and succeeded in its journey so far. And we owe it completely to the resilience and resourcefulness of our wonderful team.
Responsibility to our community was not an afterthought for us that we assumed would look good on our website and presentations. It is part of our DNA. Neelambari was not an answer to our quest for profitable investment. Neelambari did not start as a business idea. Unlike most other resorts, Neelambari did not start with the objective of promoting or capitalising on a destination. It was an idea that came up when we were pondering what we could do meaningfully in our own village. Our little village Arattupuzha is on the lee side of Kerala’s established (?) tourism network. The promoters of Neelambari have no background in this industry. We were advised caution and reconsideration by several knowledgeable tourism veterans when we talked to them. Our village community however provided us with a lot of encouragement and support. And this gave us the necessary motivation and encouragement on our journey. We did not treat the advice of industry veterans with disdain. Rather their words of caution have made us more vigilant and more perseverant - to vindicate the encouragement we received from our community.
When Neelambari took off, our village community became an integral stakeholder in our concern. And as long as we exist, it will continue to be so. All our staff are recruited from our village community. Most of them are women and most of them are from less privileged sections of our society. In addition to the people we employ directly, Neelambari has benefited farmers, vendors, artists and artisans over the years. We are happy that hundreds of travellers from around the world have visited our little village just because Neelambari is here. We are glad that we could be of significant help to our village community when the 2018 floods submerged and devastated most of our village. And we are proud to confidently state that Neelambari has tangibly improved the quality of life for at least a few women and families in our village. And for every little bit we have contributed, our gracious community has given us back many fold. The journey so far has been well worth it.
We were novices in the travel industry when we started our journey. Few years on, we are still very green behind the ears. But the little we have learned so far has increased our sense of responsibility. We have been environmentally conscious right from our construction practices. We keep our planet in mind when planning each aspect of our operations. But we still see immense possibilities to improve upon here. We have curated several interesting cultural and rural experiences and is considered a reliable destination for experiential travel in central Kerala. But the rich possibilities around us overwhelm us and we realise we have just scratched the surface.
We dream of inspiring others on a similar journey. We would like to be a counterexample for the mores of mass tourism and over tourism. We would like to enable delightful discoveries in the rural backyards of Kerala. And we would like to reaffirm that travelling is not about going places but about meeting people. If you are interested to understand or discuss more about how we have engaged our community and how we have received their unstinting support, please write to me directly (email@example.com)