Did you know that there was a secret meeting point for renowned actors, artists as well as potters? Not many know this, but Andretta has been a critical meeting point for some of the masterminds in art and theatre. Located just about 13 km from the Kangra Valley tea gardens, Andretta is an amazing artists’ colony and village. Here you get August snow-covered Dhauladhar range peaks.
It is said that somewhere during the 1920’s, the British Empire was on the way down. This decline coincided with the arrival of a young Irish woman in Andretta. Her name was Norah Richards and she arrived on horseback. This was not her first visit to India. She was married to Philip Richards in 1908. She then helped set up Punjabi theatre in Lahore. However, she had to return to England once her husband passed away.
Even though she returned to England, it is said that she was still unhappy and always had a longing to return. When in England, she met a man who was willing to sell her land-based in Kangra. This deal was worth one rupee. Norah jumped at the offer and caught the next ship and reached India. This was the last time she was seeing England. Upon reaching India, she could not find the land in Kangra that the man had sold her. However, she soon stumbled upon Andretta. This was a small village that was off the grid. In those days, the only way to reach Andretta was via a 12-hour long train journey. This was followed by a ride on a bus and finally several miles by foot or on a horse.
Progression Of Andretta
Upon reaching Andretta, Norah decided to build a small mud house that was built in typical Kangra style. This house was called ‘Chameli Niwas’. This house was made using slate, mud, and bamboo. After this Norah built a proscenium that was makeshift. Here she invited professional theatre artists and Punjabi amateurs to perform. Even though Andretta was very remote in its location, a number of artists started flocking the village.
Norah then invited one of her late husband’s student, Professor Jaidayal and a well-known sculptor and painter, B.C. Sanyal to join her. Both of them came and built their very own mud homes in Andretta. Then in 1935, the Kangra District Commissioner decided to give Norah almost 15 acres of land. This is how the Woodland Estate came into being.
Norah then started a drama school. Very soon, the village was being called Mem Da Pind. This roughly translates to the village of memsahib.
The old mud house built by Norah was recently renovated by the University of Punjab. A number of local artisans also helped with renovating the house. University students still use the theatre and plays are performed every year on the occasion of Norah’s birthday. Anyone and everyone is invited to come and watch the plays and sit under the stars at Andretta.
Featured Photo by Prasanta Kr Dutta from Pexels