Why Go to Andretta:
Artiste Village, Serene Surroundings, Andretta Pottery and Craft Society, Norah Richard’s House, Norah Richard’s Centre for the Arts, Sobha Singh Art Gallery.
Distance: 13 kilometer from Palampur (Kangra District)
Elevation: 1300m (4200 ft)
Date of Drive: 17th and 18th March 2012
One of the many benefits of frequent transfers and shifting of homes is that you get to meet many new and interesting people. Since I was in officer category in Punjab National Bank, I had to shift more than 10 homes during my 28 years of carrier. One of those at Amritsar, Green Avenue was good one. We had some nice people in our neighbourhood. One of them was Mr Kulbir Suri a publisher and son of a noted poet, songwriter, novelist and freedom fighter Sardar Nanak Singh. Some times I used to hear sweet music of flute being played by someone very passionately. It was Mr Suri. And this made us friends. I used to ask many questions and Mr Suri used to tell me so many stories related to him, his father and mother. Learning about my love for hills, one evening he told me how his father was also in love with hills and had tried to even settle in Andretta alongwith Sardar Sobha Singh, the famous painter.
Thus planted a seed in me for Andretta.
Meanwhile, We shifted to Ludhiana. I took VRS and started a business which involved meeting new people. Though this business could be built anywhere, I intentionally used to fix meetings with people at places where hills were closer. I had one such business meeting at my friend Mr Gurmit Singh Pahra’s home in Gurdaspur. Since Gurdaspur is close to the hills, my mind was looking for a place to visit after the meeting.
Starting of early from Ludhiana. Fantasizing about hill drive. Drove all of 170 km to Gurdaspur through Phagwara, Adampur, Bhogpur, Tanda Urmar and after crossing river Satluj at Sri Hargobindpur, without any break. After the meeting, I decided of driving to Palampur. Rang up my business associates at Palampur that I was coming. And that we would have some business meetings. And that they should get the people ready for the meeting.
It was 4pm evening and Mr Pahra told me he also wanted to come. After crossing Pathankot, Mr Pahra asked me if we could go via Jawali and meet one of his friends there. I said…‘why not’. After crossing bridge on the Chakki river and HP toll booth (Rs.30-) at Jassur, we turned right to Jawali. It became dark and this was my first time on this road. It was a bad road. No electricity. We did not know the address of our friend in Jawali..just a phone number. And people don’t pick up business calls these days. Still we decided to try our luck.
Some enquiries and phones calls later…we were able to reach and meet our friend in Jawali. It was disappointing. During night and lights the village Jawali looked good. It is situated on one of the farthest ends of Maharana Pratap Sagar Lake.
Soon we were driving on SH 22. It was hilly, narrow road…no lights, very little habitation. We thought we would have food on the way but there was no dhaba. There was only dark road, silence of the jungle…no trace of any village/town nearby. Mr Pahra was staring at the dark road. He was conscious of the silence all around. He would suddenly break silence and ask if by chance we encounter a wild animal…what we would do? And that if car breaks down…what we would do? I looked into his eyes and whispered why don’t you leave all this to God and enjoy the drive.
Lalpari was gliding swiftly though. I asked Mr Pahra as to has he ever had this kind of experience before? To which he said no. I told him…..then you are going to remember this for a long long time. We chatted about life, goals and dreams, sang few songs. By around 11pm we were on the main highway, NH 20.
We continued drive and at 1am reached a hotel at Sungal on Palampur-Baijnath road. Soon we were in the room and sleeping fast.
Though we slept very late the previous night, Mr Pahra got up very early. A cup of tea and we were off for a light walk in a tea garden nearby.We have a number of business friends at nearby places like Kandbari, Banuri, Panchrukhi, Baijnath, Paprola and Dhanag. We got a call from one of them in Banuri to have breakfast at their home. Went to their home, had nice parathas with local herbs, butter and tea.
We had a meeting in the evening. In the meanwhile we decided to walk and explore countryside.
Later we drove to Andretta and visited Sobha Singh Art Gallery and abandoned homes of artists who once used to live here.
Nora Richards, originally from Ireland, came to Andretta in 1924 and made it her home. She built a traditional Kangra-style mud house, known as ‘Chameli Niwas’, employing local style and material, using mud, slate and bamboo. she also built makeshift proscenium and invited Punjabi theatre amateurs and professionals to perform plays.
In 1935, District Commissioner of Kangra gave Richards 15 acres of land, and the Woodland Estate came into existence. Soon, she established a school of drama, and in time the village was known as “Mem-da-pind” (village of Memsaab). In those days, travel to the village was not an easy task, it took 12 hours train journey, followed by bus rise, the last 9-miles from Banuri on foot. It started attracting artists from all over, especially Lahore. This included painter, BC Sanyal and noted painter Sardar Sobha Singh. Richards nurtured Punjabi theatre through the 1940s and 1960s, and came to be known as the “grandmother of Punjabi theatre”.
Further on, Gurucharan Singh, a noted potter who started the Delhi Blue Pottery in the 1952, also established base here. Active till the end, he died in 1995 at the age of 99. Freda Bedi, mother of actor Kabir Bedi, who turned into Buddhism also lived here for some time.
Later in life, Richards was made a fellow by the Punjabi University, Patiala…while in turn she willed her house and land around it to the university. Today, the estate of Nora Richards has been renovated and maintained by the university. Each year on her birthday October 29, a Punjabi theatre festival is hosted by the students of the university.
We also visited Andretta Pottery and Craft Society. We were surprised to see so many young Indian and foreign students working and taking photographs there.
Came back to the hotel. In the evening we had business meeting. After the meeting my friend Mr Pahra decided to go back to Gurdaspur.
But I had a different plan in my mind…………………………………………………………………….BAROT.