When Norah Richards, an Irish theatre artist, decided to make a village in Kangra Valley her home sometime in the 1930s, it was completely unknown to the outside world. Reaching here required one to undertake an arduous journey that included a12-hour train ride, followed by a bus ride, and several miles on foot or horseback.
Here Mrs. Richards built for herself a traditional Kangra house using mud and wood and even set up a makeshift stage. She began inviting local theatre artists and amateurs to perform, slowly sowing the seeds of what we now know as the Punjab Theatre Movement between the 1940s and 1960s. Norah’s passion drew many artists to Andretta including the likes of B.C Sanyal who painted backdrops for several plays and Sardar Sobha Singh the famous portrait painter. In time the little village transformed into a bustling retreat for artists of all kinds, locals began referring to it as ‘Mem da pind’. Even the young Prithviraj Kapoor worked under Norah during his theatre days.
It is not hard to figure out why Norah chose Andretta of all places–nestled in the picturesque Kangra Valley surrounded by the mighty Dhauladhars, the village looks right out of a postcard.
Andretta also became home for the founder of Delhi Blue Pottery, Gurucharan Singh who laid the foundation for studio pottery in India through the pottery unit he set up here. His son Manisimran Singh along with a local father-son potter duo continue his legacy by offering courses for aspiring potters from around the world.
Andretta is a 13km drive away from Palampur. Once you get there start with Norah’s house which is now known as Norah Centre for the Arts at Woodland’s Cottage. Every year on October 29, students from Punjab University perform plays to celebrate her birthday. Don’t miss the Soni-Mahiwal painting at Sir Sobha Singh Museum (Tel: 01894-254229, 253423; sobhasinghartist.com). His other paintings here include versions of Guru Nanak besides figures from Punjab mythology and of local shepherds from the Dhauladhars. You can even buy poster prints of his work at the museum shop.
Last but not the least, make sure you visit Manisimran Singh’s pottery production unit called The Andretta Pottery and Craft. The little exhibition room here has an amazing collection of tableware and sculptures made by artists from all over that are available for sale. You can even try your hand at pottery with a variety of short and long duration courses on offer. For those who have a genuine interest in pottery, you can take the 3 months intensive pottery course.
For more info: www.andrettapottery.com