Beatles Ashram Rishikesh – A Photoessay

Posted on: November 25, 2017 Posted by: Kunal Comments: 0

Beatles Ashram Rishikesh – A Photoessay

If the credit to put Rishikesh on the top of the backpacking map of India should go to someone, it would indisputably be The Beatles. Since mid 1960s the hippies had been traversing the Hippie Trail, i.e. the overland route emanating from Istanbul and culminating almost certainly in Goa or Kathmandu, but when in 1968, at the peak of their fandom, The Beatles came to Rishikesh at the Ashram of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation training, the quaint little town at the foothills of the Himalayas became a must-stop for all the hippies in the day, and still is for backpackers today.
The Ashram, originally called Chaurasi Kutiya Ashram, shut down decades ago and what now lie there are its ruins. The dilapidated buildings are visited only by fans from across the planet, who contribute in their own way by beautifying it with graffiti, quotes and murals. After being a disputed site for many years, the Ashram is now under the forest department and the charges to get in are Rs. 150 for Indians and Rs. 600 for foreigners.

The Beatles are still remembered in Rishikesh, with such street art dotting the walls of town.

On my recent trip to Rishikesh, I spent half a day exploring the Ashram thoroughly since as a long-time Beatles’ music fan I was stoked to walk the same grounds as this legendary band did all these years ago. The dilapidated structures in the middle of the forest espouse an unique eeriness, full of ghosts of a time that once was, when the place was bustling with actitvity. Here are some pictures from that day:

The entrance to the Beatles Ashram, located on the banks of the Ganges.

As one enters, there’s an uphill pathway that leads to the main Ashram complex, dotted with the trademark meditation pods on the right.

I went inside one such meditation pod and was surprised to find that they seemed to be an elaborate residential structure with two floors. The ground floor looked like the place to stay, with electrical fittings and a bathroom with the door opening to the lush greenery, while the upper floor, under the dome, looked to be the spot for meditation.

A unique point about some of these pods is that they contain some artwork inside them, mostly inspired by Beatles lyrics or quotes.
An example of the artwork in one of the pods.
As one gets in further, one sees many such independent tenements replete with a backyard, probably serving as the residential quarters of the influential guests.
The kitchen in one such tenement.
The staircase leading to the rooftop.

In some of the tenements which were locked, I glanced through the windows and let’s say, I captured some interesting scribblings:

At the center of the complex, lies this building. This seemed to be the most well maintained one, and some of the rooms on the ground floor were locked.

There are quite a few other buildings designed like a hostel which are falling apart and seem like to be the residential quarters, as the below ones:

Exploring the rooms, a strange eeriness started to creep upon me, as I saw the ruins and imagined them populated back in the day.

The view of the lush forest outside, common from all the rooms.
An interesting balcony.
They even had bathtubs in the Ashram. Retreat in luxury.

Almost all the walls in these buildings are covered in art, graffiti or scribblings by the visitors, which apart from the Beatles lyrics include some very positive and optimistic messages, and that made me feel good. 🙂

Also on the rooftops of of some these buildings were the giant domes in the same design as the meditation pods.

While some other rooftops wore a rundown look, though they offered a view of the Ganges below and the town beyond.

This is a rooftop. Yes. Look at the overgrowth.

The Ganges and the town beyond from one of the rooftops.

The best part about the Ashram is the hall called The Beatles Cathedral Gallery. It is the central hall of the Ashram with some amazing murals all around. Conceived by a Canadian artist Pan Trinity Das, it is a community art project which involved artists from across the planet to give this place a rejuvenation and bring to it the attention it deserves. Started in 2012, he got busted by the authorities, he came back in 2013, and again in 2016 to finish the project, and the outcome is there for you to see. Pan Trinity Das, Rishikesh owes you one big time.

The entrance to The Beatles Cathedral Gallery.

If it’s called Cathedral, would this be the Altar?
Some of Pan Trinity Das’ murals.

Travelers trying out some innovative Yoga poses in the Yoga capital of the world.

These murals are not limited to the Cathedral but are scattered around the complex.

This was the residence of the Maharshi Mahesh Yogi himself.

The Rajaji Tiger Reserve, of which the Ashram complex is a part, from one of the buildings.
Nature reclaiming what was its in the first place. There’s overgrowth everywhere in the complex. The forest is creeping in where it was before.

The Beatles eventually had a bad fallout with the Maharshi with there being allegations of sexual impropriety by him towards Mia Farrow who had accompanied them, monetary disputes as he wanted a significant portion of the profit from The Beatles’ upcoming album etc. Honestly I’m not surprised, many a Indian godmen have been accused of such allegations, and I have no reason to believe that the Maharshi was any different.
Nevertheless, this place deserves, and to some extent, has achieved a significant spot in history. The time spent there turned out to be most productive for the band. They wrote 48 songs while there which went into the White Album and Abbey Road. This place because of the band opened up the town of Rishikesh to the world and put it right on the top of the backpacker map. Tourism boomed and benefited the locals immensely. And to be true, if it wasn’t for The Beatles, Rishikesh would have been just another religious town by the Ganges and wouldn’t have been on my go-to list. Probably it wouldn’t be that appealing as it is now as one of my favorite hill towns in the Himalayas. All thanks to The Beatles.

On directions to the Ashram, how to get to Rishikesh and the places of backpackers’ interest, check out my previous post: Backpacker’s Guide to Rishikesh

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