One of the places I visited on my India tour was Manali. Manali is located at the northern end of the Kulu valley. It belongs to the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is about 270 km north of the state capital, Shimla. Manali offers endless places to visit and is also a paradise for adventure sports like mountaineering, rafting, para-gliding, etc. About 21 km from Manali in a town called Naggar is the Nikolai Roerich Art Gallery.
Nikolai Roerich was a Russian artist who came to the Himalayas after the 1917 revolution and where died in 1947. He was originally from Saint Petersburg and was a philosopher, writer, archaeologist and painter. He was a founder of the International Movement for protecting Cultural Heritage. Nikolai wrote over 30 literary works and founded the theosophical-inspired Agni Yoga Society. The artist lived in several countries before finally moving with his family to India.
Nikolai Roerich cultivated monumental and decorative painting; he made frescoes and mosaics and created costumes and sets for plays. In addition to studying Russian philosophy, he devoted himself to studying the philosophy of the East. Interested in the problems related to the migrations of ancient peoples around the world, he began an expedition from March 1924 to May 1928, passing through Sikkim, Kashmir, Ladakh, China, Russia, Siberia, Altai, Mongolia, and Tibet, as well as little explored and difficult regions. Nikolai Roerich, his wife Helena, and his eldest son, the orientalist George, were members of the expedition.
They travelled 25,000 kilometres through mountain outposts, deserts without water, footsteps without limits, slopes covered with ice, deep cracks in the roads, suffocating heat, severe frosts and human hostility. Whatever the difficulties, they could not break with the spirit of travellers. During his expedition, he conducted research in Asia, where he discovered manuscripts and described many local customs. He wrote several books and painted about five hundred pictures. In the last years of his life, Nikolai Roerich worked on a series of paintings called “The Himalayas”, composed of over 2000 canvases. For him, the mountain world was an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
On a large estate surrounded by mountains and forest, is the two-story house where Nikolai lived with his family. Unfortunately, the house is not in good condition on the inside and access to it is not allowed. Only through the windows can you see its interior and get an idea of what his life was like and appreciate the peace and harmony that it breathes. Another building near his house is the Art Gallery (another two-story building). The Gallery was founded in 1962 by Nikolai’s son, Svyetoslav Roerich.
On the upper floor, they have recreated the office with his typewriter, furniture and some utensils that he used. In other rooms, you will find memories of his long trips, such as objects from his homeland, which he loved and never forgot in his entire life. Many of his paintings and photographs of himself, his family, and his expeditions are on display on the ground floor of the building, along with many of the tools he used for his research, including kitchen utensils, dressing areas for his plays, various god masks, a wooden door, and, of course, many paintings.
A room in the Nikolai Roerich Art Gallery
The painting of the Tripura Sundari Temple, which is located in the same town of Naggar, very close to the Art Gallery, is one of the works on the ground floor. The most important room in the museum contains only brightly coloured paintings with natural backgrounds such as the Himalayan mountains. In addition to this room, there is one with a wall dedicated to his wife. Besides the different paintings in the museum, there are also various sketches. Also in the lower part, there is a typical car from the 30s in good condition.
On the way out, just above the Art Gallery, are the Kullu Rajah memorial stones, which are part of India’s ancient history. In this beautiful but at the same time quiet and cosy town, I would also recommend visiting the Tripura Sundari Temple (one of the oldest Hindu temples in this part of the country) and Naggar Castle, a mediaeval castle where the kings of India stayed for centuries.