Rishikesh enchants travellers. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the holy town in North India has been a magnet for spiritual seekers. Two suspension bridges, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, have been the mainstay of this holy city, as tourists throng to Rishikesh for pilgrimage, yoga, ashrams and adventure activities like rafting or kayaking on the Ganges. I have come to Rishikesh before to join few of my friends in a rafting adventure. However, today, I am not here for any sort of pilgrimage or adventure, but to find the Beatles Ashram. In February 1968, the Beatles ventured to this remote corner of India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, its founder.
But the Rishikesh retreat of the Beatles did not last for long. Ringo left after about 10 days, unsettled by the spicy food. Paul soon followed. Two months later, George and John too left. But they left with a lot of memories and wrote few of their most beloved songs. The so-called White Album included songs that were inspired by the teachings of the Maharishi or incidents at the ashram. They returned to London ready to record songs like Revolution, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Blackbird.
After being abandoned for some years, the ashram saw rise in ecotourism, as the property inside Rajaji National Park was reopened to visitors. A small café was added, and a gallery to showcase photography of the Beatles’ 1968 visit. Maharishi Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh sits on a 150 feet high cliff of Manikoot, overlooking the Ganges river. Comprising of 14 acres of land surrounded by the forest, the ashram was known for the teachings of its yogi, Maharishi Mahesh. It is believed that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi leased the site from the state forestry department of Uttar Pradesh in 1961.
Yoga centre at the Beatles ashram
“The Beatles’ decision to study Transcendental Meditation in India brought international renown to the ashram and to Rishikesh”
The ashram consisted of medication cells, a lecture hall and a great number of purpose-built bungalows. It was a quaint escape for people who were on a look out for the deeper meaning of life. The Beatles’ decision to study Transcendental Meditation in India brought international fame to the ashram and to Rishikesh. The band and their entourage travelled there in two separate groups, followed by a retinue of reporters and photographers, who were mostly kept out of the fenced and gated compound. Maharishi had made all arrangements in the bungalow to make sure that the Beatles had everything in their room, from mirrors and wall hangings to mattresses and bedsheets.
Scottish songwriter Donovan arrived soon after the Beatles. Mia Farrow, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and jazz flautist Paul Horn were among the dozens of other meditators who visited the ashram, all of them Europeans or Americans.
COVERED IN ART
As we entered the ashram, we walked upwards a gentle slope bordered with wall art, leading into the premises of the ashram. After walking for some time on a stone clad path over mud we reached the gates. On the front side after the entrance was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, however, where the Beatles stayed was the back side of the ashram. Wherever we looked we saw graffiti. We continued walking further and sighted the tiny huts known as meditation chambers, which had dwarf-sized doors that were hard to get into but what really caught our attention was the phenomenal works of paints and brush.
The ashram houses a total of 84 meditation chambers. Made of rocks, the ashrams are now equipped with all modern facilities like electricity, water and proper western toilets. One thing that I was attracted to the most was how beautifully the Beatles lyrics were everywhere in acts off vandalism, which gave this place a rebel vibe. Other types of art that we could see around were in Indian, western and even contemporary modern art style.Graffiti on the wall in the Beatles ashram
Then we headed to the Beatles Cathedral Gallery. We could imagine the footsteps of the maestros themselves, with the rustling of the leaves outside. We took a minute and just sat there in awe, staring at the art. It was an introspective session, a fitting end to our day diving into a past long gone, in a place long abandoned.
How to Reach
The ashram is located due east of the Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh, and on the opposite bank of the river. In the late 1960s, access to the cliff-top facility was possible via the Lakshman Jhula footbridge, five kms north east of the centre of Rishikesh, at the village of Tapovan, followed by a 3.5 km walk back downriver and a steep climb up the rocky path to Manikoot.