“The Beatles did everything first, and they did it the best.” – Taylor Momsen
Rishikesh, India: the world’s yoga capital was placed in the sightlines of the Western hemisphere when the Beatles came here to stay and study Transcendental Meditation at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in the Spring of 1968. For nearly five decades, people have followed the path of the iconic rock band to this little town nestled at the base of the Himalayas looking for truth and enlightenment.
The ashram has become a pilgrimage destination for fans of the band as well as tourists. Wikipedia defines the term pilgrimage as this:
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.
I can’t say whether my desire to see the ashram held any moral or spiritual significance; however, upon arriving at the ashram gates, the seemingly hallowed grounds beckoned to be explored.
Recently, the Indian government announced its intentions to renovate the ashram and resurrect it as a tourist attraction. If you want to see the ashram in its natural decaying state, you may want to visit Rishikesh sooner than later.
The ashram is a leisurely 15 minute walk from the eastern side of Ram Jhula bridge. There’s a road that leads away from the bridge along the Ganges River towards the ashram, however there are no signs to indicate this, so just ask locals for the “Beatles Ashram” and they will point you in the right direction. If you’ve walked more than 15 minutes, you’ve gone too far (like I did). Look for two signs: one green sign with Hindi writing and a white sign with “Parmarth” on it. Just past the signs, the road will have a dirt road angling off to the right which will lead you to the ashram. After about another 5-10 minute walk you will see the gates of the ashram through a thick of trees at the end of the dirt path.
Technically, the ashram is closed to visitors but there’s an old man who acts as a “guard” and will charge you 100 Rupees ($2 CAD) to enter. Other tourists have told me they bargained the price down to 50 rupees but I had no desire to chisel this guy for literally another dollar. I was told that there would be touts loitering outside to act as tour guides, but there were none when I arrived. I probably would have paid for a guide in this instance since much of the 18 acre sprawling estate has been swallowed back into the forest. I’d also suggest wearing pants to deal with the forest’s heavy undergrowth throughout the estate.
The first oddity that can be seen walking in the ashram are the string of two storey Chaurasi Kutia huts that dot the side of inclined pathway into the ashram grounds. Resembling something born out of a fantasy novel, 121 of these beehive meditation capsules are sprinkled throughout the grounds.
Sitting on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges River), the ashram is an idyllic location for quiet contemplation.
With the air of a ghost town, it’s hard to imagine that this commune was once a fully self-sufficient community complete with it’s own bank, hospital, post office and two hotel style residential living facilities. I wasn’t aware until after the fact, but it’s said that wild animals such as tigers and elephants inhabit the ashram grounds. Despite seeing elephant dung throughout the grounds, I luckily had no encounters with any animals.
The dilapidated Satsang Hall was where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once shared his wisdom to the Beatles and his followers. The hall has now become a shrine to Beatles fans with it’s walls adorned with graffiti art and song lyrics. While there, a few fans brought a guitar and paid homage to the band singing Beatles songs. Today the hall is now referred to as the “Beatles Cathedral”.
The building across the way from the Beatles Cathedral is referred to as the levitation hall. Venturing down to the lower levels of the building reveals a series of standing meditation rooms which hauntingly resembles a catacomb.
In the middle of the ashram grounds are clusters of the meditation capsules. It’s believed that capsules numbered 9 and 10 were home to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for portions of their stay.
Romantic Beatles fans theorize that capsule number 9 may have been the inspiration to the song: Revolution 9. It’s believed the Beatles penned about 48 songs during their time here which included much of the “White Album”. The Beatles love for Rishikesh can be felt in their song: “The Happy Rishikesh Song”.
Some of the capsules still had it’s original artwork on its ceilings still in tact.
While exploring the ashram, I came across the song title, “I am the Walrus” inscribed into the wall.
I’ve always liked this song but never understood the lyrics; resembling gibberish at best. The song was simply fun to listen to. I never knew who or what the Eggman or Walrus was. Caught in a flash rainstorm while at the ashram, I Google searched on my smartphone the meaning of the song and found no consensus as to what the true meaning of the song is. The best answer that I could find was from John Lennon himself:
The words didn’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions, and it’s ridiculous. I’ve had tongue in cheek all along–all of them had tongue in cheek. Just because other people see depths of whatever in it…What does it really mean, ‘I am the Eggman?’ It could have been ‘The pudding Basin’ for all I care. It’s not that serious.
My life parallel’s the song. The thoughts of my overworked brain are basically fruitless noise most of the time. In life as with the song, sometimes there’s just no deeper meaning; you should just enjoy the music.
“The only truth is music.” – Jack Kerouac
Have you ever visited the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India? If so, I’d love to hear your experience.