I was in Dharamshala on assignment wherein I was to visit and document a few offbeat places and experiences. Sometimes it meant delving deeper into obscure names found on the internet; while at other times it would mean chatting with the locals and using my judgement to find out more. In those days, travel assignments did not mean finding instagram-worthy locations or making reels! Anyhow, the mention of Andretta wasn’t new as I had heard the name earlier from someone who had recommended me the village for a quiet stay and to perhaps meet all kinds of artists and thinkers. It was a cold morning in January and we set off to visit Andretta some 30 odd kms from Dharamshala and gather first hand information.
Andretta (sounds Italian?) is a quaint village in Himachal Pradesh that rose to prominence in the 1920-30s. It is possible that you may have heard the name of the village in connection with theatre, art and pottery. It is said that when Norah Richards first arrived; she came to Andretta on horseback! There are clear views of the snow capped Dhauladhar range that looks deceptively close while the village is surrounded by fields as the weather is conducive for farming.
Andretta was a melting pot for artists, painters, thinkers and creative folks. Here are a few interesting notes to know when you are visiting or thinking about visiting Andretta :
Norah Richards (Norah Centre for the Arts)
Norah Richards was an Irish theatre artist who was instrumental in making Andretta what it is today. Norah Richards built a traditional house in the Kangra style (Chameli Niwas) using mud and wood and even set up a makeshift stage. In 1935, the District Commissioner of Kangra gave Norah 15 acres of land, and the Woodland Estate came into existence where she built a basic amphitheatre and invited amateur actors to perform Punjabi plays. Even the young Prithviraj Kapoor (of the illustrious Kapoor family fame) worked under Norah during his theatre days. She started a school of drama, and it is said that Andretta village itself came to be known as Mem-da-pind (the village of the memsahib).
Sobha Singh Art Gallery & Museum
Sobha Singh, widely renowned for his paintings had settled in Andretta and lived here till his death in the mid-1980s. Murals painted by Sardar Sobha Singh adorn the Parliament House in Delhi. His paintings of Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus, Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal are quite famous and can be seen printed on calendars across the country. He painted hundreds of paintings in the four decades that he spent in Andretta and his work is showcased in the Sobha Singh Art Gallery which is run by his family. It is possible to buy poster prints of his work at the shop in the Art Gallery.
Andretta Pottery & Craft
Norah Richards invited Sardar Gurcharan Singh (who was awarded a Padmashree later!), the master potter from Delhi. Gurcharan Singh had trained in Japan, but came back to India to work with the country’s oldest pottery institute. He built a house and a small pottery studio for summer use in Andretta that paved the way in introducing studio art pottery into India. The blue pottery technique, used in ancient Indian pottery, was rediscovered by Mini’s father, Sardar Gurcharan Singh.
Gurcharan’s son, Mansimran Singh (Mini) and his wife Mary, both potters, moved to Andretta in 1984 to start the Andretta Pottery and Craft where prospective students can enroll for pottery classes with a variety of short and long duration courses.
I was lucky to be able to visit the Andretta Pottery studio even though I had not made any prior contact and had come unannounced. The studio was filled with incredible works of art that are made in Andretta combining village pottery with designs to create glazed earthenware. The exhibition room here has an excellent collection of tableware and sculptures made by artists that are available for sale. One can try their hand at the pottery wheel for a small fee (INR 150).
In the same compound as Andretta Pottery, there is a small museum started by Gurcharan Singh. It showcases a collection of work of local potters as well as terracotta samples from around the world.
I really liked the products for sale at the pottery studio but was skeptical about my packing skills and whether they will last the journey back home and ended up not buying anything. The town itself had a small village vibe and was very peaceful, almost to the point of being uneventful. I’m certain that there are interesting folks who live in Andretta in the present day and that only a longer stay can reveal more.