About 30 km from McLeodgunj, there’s a potter’s village — it’s called Andretta — when a friend gave me this piece of information just ahead of my planned weekend getaway to the land of the Dalai Lama, I quickly grabbed a tissue paper and noted down the name — Village ANDRETTA. But when we started driving down the winding roads of the picturesque Kangra valley, the name Andretta was not to be seen anywhere on the sign boards or milestones. Trusting Google maps, we just continued driving from Mcloedgunj to Palampur, the nearest town to Andretta, and unexpectedly stumbled upon a right turn that said — village Andretta 10 km.
If your image of a potter’s village is that of numerous huts with potters working on their wheels and creating intricate earthen works, then Andretta is an absolute misfit. But if you want to visit a quiet Himalayan hamlet with precisely about 15 houses, a mountainous backdrop, that gets covered in snow during winters, a stream flowing by and hardly a vehicle visiting in a day — please do visit Andretta. A writer’s house — the rather dilapidated home of late actor Norah Richards — just adds to the mystic set up of the Himalayan settlement.
Our hello to Mini and Mary Singh’s house — the pottery workshop which gives Andretta its identity as the potter’s village — began with a confusion. We reached the village at about 1.30 pm when the only one to welcome us was Mr Singh’s golden retriever. It’s a big house with a museum, a gallery, backyard with a stream flowing by and a workshop where potters wheels and clay lay scattered. About 10 minutes around the house, searching for at least one potter, we were finally told that the group of artists were on a lunch break and would return within 30 minutes.
A quick walk through the gallery and the museum within the premises is a mesmerising experience. While the gallery is visible immediately as one enters, the museum is located at a corner along the stream behind the workshop. Potters, visiting students and even Mini Singh, the son of late Gurcharan Singh — the master potter from Delhi in Norah Richard’s words — create some amazing artefacts that reflect a magical amalgamation of European cutlery and a rustic Indian appeal. Dishes, tea sets, vases and even a hippy couple created by one of the visiting students, the gallery is a world within itself.
Soil, which is available locally, is soaked in water for days and in the process that follows, the mud is allowed to settle. It is then taken out and stuck on vertical walls. The heat allows moisture to evaporate partly and the mud takes a sticky, homogeneous form which sits well on the potter’s wheel. The potters here have been with Mini ‘Sahab’ for decades and create artefacts, literally within no time. What follows is a rather treacherous process of heating the pots/ artefacts to over 1000 degrees in ovens. The oxides applied on the pots give it the colour and the design when heated. From here, the artefacts are sent to Delhi and exhibited in various galleries, expos and international exhibitions.
A small, stream flows through their backyard and Mini Singh arrived as we waited for the ‘owners to come. In absolutely fluent Hindi, she instructed one of the potters to carry out some task. The 80-year-old lady from Cambridge came to Andretta about 30 years ago with her second husband and pottery teacher Mini Singh. “And I just fell in love with this place,” she said. The Singhs had their own kiln in Delhi which had to be closed due to local land related matters. They relocated to Andretta and have been operating out of the Himalayan hamlet ever since. Most recently, she published a book – Pottery and the legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh. The couple holds two workshops every year for artists who intend to take up a career in pottery.
Surprising as it may sound, but not many in India know about Andretta. Though a soothing weekend getaway from Delhi, Google search also yields a result showing Andretta as an Italian village. Shubham, the young manager at Andretta pottery told us an interesting tale. “Years ago, when Norah Richards was still living here, people from different parts of the world would come searching for her address. The local villagers would point to the lane saying ‘ Andar Rehta’ meaning she stays in here. Andar Rehta became Andretta,” he smiles.
Quite frankly, Andretta is synonymous with Norah Richards, pottery and Mini and Mary Singh. A potential artists’ village, it may require tremendous efforts from the government and local administration to develop it as a hub for artists from across streams. But even till that happens, the village is a paradise and a getaway that compels you to dream and live the life of an artist.
How to reach:
Reach McLeodgunj by flight or by road from Delhi.
Road journey from Delhi to McLeodgunj is about 11 hours with breaks (470 km via Nangal)
From McLeodgunj, take the road to Palampur which is about 30 km via Yol Cantonment
About 9 km short of Palampur, a subtle right turn takes you to Andretta.
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