The Beatles Ashram
Located in the heart of spiritual North India on the outskirts of Rishikesh is the Ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, famously visited by the Beatles in the 1960’s. The site now lies abandoned and is a pilgrimage location for Beatles fans all over the world. But what is it really like to visit? Trust us, a trip to the so-called Beatles Ashram is not what you’d expect.
he Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was an Indian yoga guru known for developing and popularising Transcendental Meditation. His real name was Mahesh Prasad Varma and in his early life he studied physics at Allahabad University, earning a degree in 1942. Ironically, some sources report that he actually worked in a gun carriage factory for some time. Later on, he became known as ‘Maharishi’ meaning ‘great seer’ and was revered as ‘His Holiness’ by his many devotees and followers. The Maharishi credits Swami Brahmananda Sarawati (also known as Guru Dev) with inspiring his teachings, which in 1955 he began to introduce to the world, his first world tour then began in 1958.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was an Indian yoga guru known for developing and popularising Transcendental Meditation. His real name was Mahesh Prasad Varma and in his early life he studied physics at Allahabad University, earning a degree in 1942. Ironically, some sources report that he actually worked in a gun carriage factory for some time. Later on, he became known as ‘Maharishi’ meaning ‘great seer’ and was revered as ‘His Holiness’ by his many devotees and followers. The Maharishi credits Swami Brahmananda Sarawati (also known as Guru Dev) with inspiring his teachings, which in 1955 he began to introduce to the world, his first world tour then began in 1958.
The Maharishi is reported to have trained more than 40 000 teachers in Transcendental Meditation, taught over 5 million people and made numerous television appearances in which he giggled a lot, earning him the nickname ‘the giggling guru.’ Initiatives of the Maharishi include schools and university campuses in several countries including the US, United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland and in the 1960’s and 1970’s he achieved fame as guru to the Beatles, Beach Boys and other celebrities. In 2000, he created the ‘Global Country of World Peace’, a non-profit organization, and appointed its leaders. In 2008 he retired from all activities and went into silence and passed away three weeks later.
The Maharishi leased the site of his famous ashram in 1961 from the state forestry department of Uttarakhand. It sits on a 150 foot high cliff overlooking Rishikesh and the Ganges River on a hill known as Manikoot and is surrounded by jungle. The facility was built in 1963 thanks to a gift from an American heiress and was referred to locally as Chaurasi Kutia Ashram. The ashram was named ‘International Academy of Meditation’ by the Maharishi and was one of the many ashrams in the Rishikesh area, India’s meditation Mecca.
The ashram’s training centre was designed for westerners and was alternately described as both luxurious and ‘seedy’. The ashram was originally built to house several dozen people in stone bungalows containing five rooms each. The ashram was reported to be ‘constantly under construction’ but one devotee who attended in 1970 and in addition to the stone huts, vast accommodation blocks were built. The residence of the Maharishi himself was a long modern bungalow located away from the rest of the compound. Other buildings at the ashram show less traditional design aspects, such as a four-story building in the shape of stepped pyramid, multifoil arches above doorways and on the roof massive white structures shaped like ostrich eggs.
The Beatles Ashram was surrounded by a fence protecting it from the animals lurking in the impenetrable jungle beyond. Inside the fence the gardens of the ashram were filled with flower beds and red hibiscus trees. The Maharishi addressed his students from a two-story lecture hall, which had high ceilings and long windows, that provided a habitat for birds and monkeys.
In 1967 the Beatles met the Maharishi after a lecture on Transcendental Meditation in London. The Maharishi then invited the Beatles to travel with him to Bangor, in North Wales, to attend more lectures. They accepted his invitation. The Beatles decided to study Transcendental Meditation which brought international renown and fame to the Rishikesh Ashram. In 1968 the band travelled to Rishikesh to study at what would become the Beatles Ashram in 1968. They flew to Delhi and then endured a 6-hour taxi ride to the ashram. The bungalows allocated to the Beatles were equipped with electric heaters, wall to wall carpeting, running water, toilets and English-style furniture. Ringo likened their accommodations to ‘a kind of spiritual Butlins’, or low cost British holiday camp.
George Harrison commandeered one of the bungalows as a music room. After ordering several Indian instruments from Delhi, he invited the students to participate in musical get togethers which took place on the roof of the building. The stay at the Beatles Ashram in general turned out to be one of the bands most creative periods for song wiring. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were especially productive during the retreat. Songs written during this time comprised the bulk of the Beatles double album, ‘the White Album’. George Harrison also wrote ‘Across the Universe’ while at the ashram.
Lennon and Harrison were the last members to depart the ashram amid an atmosphere of incrimination towards the Maharishi that he had acted inappropriately towards female students. The two band members also had misgivings that he was taking far too much advantage of the Beatles fame. Despite the Beatles subsequent rejection of the Maharishi, he was asked if he forgave them for the slight on his reputation following an apology from Harrison in 1991. The Maharishi replied, ‘I could never be upset with angels.’
Visiting the Beatles Ashram
Visiting the Beatles Ashram now, is almost as difficult as visiting it in the 1960’s. The closest town with a train station is Dehradun, from which you will need to endure a two to four our taxi ride (traffic dependent) to Rishikesh. Once in the meditation capital of the world, you will need to cross the Ganges River via public boat or use of the suspension bridge, walk through the market and follow the road around until you come to what appears to be a dried out riverbed. Walk up along the deserted riverbed until you come to the entrance to the ashram. Despite its deserted appearance, it still costs around 600 rupees to get in, if you can attract someone’s attention.
On entering the Beatles Ashram, the first thing you will notice is you’re alone or at least one of very few visitors. If you had thought the place would be swarming with tourists and die-hard Beatles fans, with everyone sitting around holding hands and singing ‘Let it be’, think again. This place is eerily silent and swarming with the ghosts of the past and stuck in a time that perhaps saw the best of humanity. It is a place to sit and listen to the echo of the flower generation when everyone was all about world peace and loving their fellow man. The place also is obscure and hard to get to, meaning you are likely to have it all to yourself.
As you walk up the hill to the main buildings you will see the meditation domes, which you can explore and which are covered in psychedelic graffiti, as most of the ashram is. The ashram has not been maintained and you could be forgiven for thinking a dinosaur might come charging out of the jungle in attack mode full lost world style. You can explore the entire ashram at will, there are no off-limits places and no one around to prevent you from doing anything. At the top of the ashram near the old gate and overlooking the Ganges is the old lecture theatre, there are some benches set up where you can just sit and listen to the river, it is one of the most peaceful places in the world.
For more information on the Beatles Ashram or enquires on any of our trips, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +61 (2) 7299 1926.
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