Andretta – A Himalayan hamlet turned into artist’s haven by Irish actress Norah Richards continues to host artists from all over the world

Now famous for its unique pottery style, Andretta village, near Dharamshala in Himachal was transformed into a retreat for artists from all over the world by actress Norah Richards in 1924 after her arrival in India.

Richard invited artists including potters, musicians, writers, actors, a drama teacher named Jai Dayal and his young student, a legendary theatre personality Prithviraj Kapoor. Among the bungalows is Chameli Niwas (House of Jasmine), the mud and bamboo house that Richards built in Andretta, in the local style.

Richards lived in Andretta until her death in March 1971, aged 94. A year earlier, the Punjabi University in Patiala acquired her home. Visiting today, it’s easy to understand why she missed the blazing colors and sun-drenched villages and felt she had to return.

Sardar Gurcharan Singh, a master potter who studied the art form in Japan and returned to birth a culture of studio pottery in India, moved onto land gifted to him by Richards, and set up the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society. It still stands, and serves as a platform for local artisans.

One of the oldest homestays in the village, The Mirage was built in 1948 and it was inhabited by drama teacher of the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor, Jai Dayal. He and Kapoor would spend years here, immersed in theatre, before the latter made a foray in  films and creating history in Bombay.

She soon added an amphitheater and began inviting former students to perform. She extended an open invitation to painters, potters, sculptors and writers, and they showed up when they were looking for space to create or community or escape or inspiration.

Even today, no dust has yet settled on the vibrant village lies in the shadow of the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain range, it hosts artists and attracts tourists on artistic pilgrimages. It has a few bungalows among bamboo forests and rice fields; tea plantations which offers a perfect environment for creation.

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