Exploring the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh
Being a big Beatles fan, I was eager to visit the old ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, where the Beatles famously spent time there back in 1968. Seeking a break from the crowds and attention, they enrolled in a Transcendental Meditation course and used their free time for songwriting. Many of the songs written then were included in the famous White Album, released later that year. Their time spent in Rishikesh wasn’t all happy though. Creative differences caused disagreements and Ringo Starr and his wife left after only two weeks. Paul McCartney lasted a month, while George Harrison and John Lennon stayed for six weeks until having a falling out with the Maharishi and leaving immediately after.
The ashram is now in disarray and hasn’t been occupied for many years. Plants and weeds have grown over the grounds and graffiti and murals line the walls. To get there from Rishikesh, I had to follow the Ganges River south of the area of Swarg Ashram. The Indian government has chosen to raise prices for foreigners recently. Instead of costing 100 rupees, the price has been raised for 600 rupees. Now if someone was interested, I’ve *heard* that if you walk far enough along the Ganges River and pass two abandoned houses, there will be a set of stairs that leads up to the back of the abandoned ashram.
Armed with my iPod and a substantial collection of Beatles songs, I slowly made my way through the abandoned grounds. In this case, pictures really are worth a thousand words, and I’ve decided to include quite a few in this post to hopefully share the essence of the experience.
The first buildings I came across were the meditation caves. Strange rounded structures, nothing was left inside them except for an Indian-style toilet (hole in the ground). These unusual buildings seemed almost extraterrestrial-like.
I next made my way through the living quarters. These two buildings had about five floors each. Numerous writings and pictures lined the walls, a few were crass, but most were creative, spinning tributes to the Beatles. On the roof of each building were two egg-shaped structures, each adorned with detailed paintings. Even though I was wandering around nothing more than abandoned structures, I felt a powerful stirring as I wandered through the rooms on each of the floors. It was easy to picture the Beatles wandering these very halls 50 years ago, in their quest for finding the “something more” in life. I came across very few other people during the couple hours I was at the ashram, which added to the experience. With the Beatles music playing in my ears, it was a chance to reflect and immerse myself in my thoughts.
I next wandered through the Meditation Chambers. There were 84 in all in the building, all tiny rooms with small stones covering the ceiling and walls. They reminded me a bit of jail cells, and being slightly claustrophobic, I would not want to have to spend a lot of time there, even if it would be in a meditative state.
The most impressive graffiti was found in the building now referred to as “The Beatles Cathedral”. A single room with high arching ceilings, the paintings here were very detailed and intricate. One of my favorite was a painting of all four of them-John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Several song lyrics also dotted the walls.
After a couple of hours of wandering the grounds, I was satisfied and deeply moved from the experience. I truly believe I was able to feel the spirit of some of the Beatles by walking through the same grounds where they received the inspiration from so many songs. It was a good break from the heavily tourist packed main areas of Rishikesh and a must see for any Beatles lovers whom may find themselves in India.