Melting Pot

It was evening when we walked into the blue gates of Andretta pottery. Country music was spilling out into the lane, blending perfectly with the whirring of the wheel even as the hands guided the clay. The mound was thrown, centered, shaped and lessons imparted as we stared, tapped our feet a little and soaked it all in. The detour from the enveloping mists of Dharamshala to the foothills, which had taken hours in a local bus, had been guided by curiosity. After all, Andretta was no ordinary village.

Overlooking the Dhauladhar range, this Himalayan village has been a centre for theatre, arts and pottery for decades. Ever since Irish artist Norah Richards set up home here in the 1920s. Richards invited Punjabi theatre amateurs and professionals to perform plays, and launched a theatre festival that even drew in Bollywood doyen Prithviraj Kapoor. The invitations weren’t restricted to theatre artists though. She got painters, sculptors and artists to make the village their home – including painters B C Sanyal and Sobha Singh – and put the remote spot on the map.

Her imprint was so singular that the village was once called ‘Mem-da-pind’. Richards’ house – Chameli Niwas – still hosts drama students, who put up a play each year on her birthday. Built in traditional Kangra style, the orche-yellow house was acquired and restored by the Punjabi University recently, but it’s not the only reminder of its artistic roots. Sobha Singh’s workshop stands as well, now serving as a gallery for the painter’s top works.

As does Andretta Pottery, which was set up by Gurcharan Singh, the master potter from Delhi, who again arrived at Richard’s invitation. His son, Mansimran Singh set up the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society in the 1980s, which has become the mainstay for the village now. Singh hosts a residential program and his team makes glazed earthenware to this day. This is where we spent the next day, mesmerised by patterns and glazes, wanting to take all the wares home, even as Mr. Milap helped us churn out a few pots ourselves. Theatre has staged a comeback in the village too, with Denis Harrap and Navjot Randhawa setting up an arts company alongside their homestay The Mirage.

Walking between these points of history, one can only imagine what Andretta was like in its heydays. The conversation flowing through the village, the meeting of minds, the vivid canvas. It doesn’t quite invoke the same passion today, but shaping clay does soothe the nerves. If you like a peek into history, Andretta might just be the place to slow down before heading to the tea gardens of Palampur, traditional Kangra meals, paragliding at Bir or even embarking on the Thampsar trek.

Stay at: The Mirage: Located right opposite Andretta Pottery, the homestay is run by Harrap and Randhawa. The guest rooms are earthy and full of knick-knacks procured from across the country. They run yoga retreats and theatre programs throughout the year. Check their website for details.

The Lodge at Wah: About 15-km from Andretta, this is a boutique property in Palampur. Walk through their estate, visit the factory, sample different kinds of teas and organic produce and wake up to lovely views.

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