Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Ellen
Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India; a place known worldwide as a center of yoga, meditation, spirituality, cleansing, and rebirth.
Fittingly, the city is on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges), revered by Hindus as the most holy of rivers — a personification of the Goddess Ganga, a mother of humanity.
In fact, one could hardly imagine a place with more ceremonial ghats, ashrams, yoga retreats and schools, spas, Ayurvedic clinics, etc.
One thing which helped put Rishikesh on the international ‘meditation and alternative medicine’ map occurred in February of 1968.
That is when British music stars The Beatles came to this place to escape their ‘western lives’, quit drugs, and explore transcendental meditation as a way to connect with God in the foothills of the Himalayas, under the tutelage of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The ashram where the group – and their wives, girlfriends, entourage, media, and a few other celebrities – stayed is now abandoned ruins. Still, it remains one of the top tourist attractions in the area. Of course, since we are here for a month, the Earth Vagabonds had to check the place out.
Beatles ashram in Rishikesh
The Chaurasi Kutiya ashram, where the retreat was held, has been unoccupied since the mid 1990s. The place had been leased from the forestry service and reverted to their control in 2003. It is now part of a 1000+ square kilometer (631+ mile) nature preserve known as the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Today, exterior signage makes no mention of “The Beatles ashram.”
The 14-acre grounds is easy enough to reach. A short walk over the ‘Janki Bridge’ near the center of Rishikesh (pedestrians and motorcycles only) brings one to the east side of the Ganges. Another five minute stroll on a largely deserted stretch of footpath and rough road along the river brings you to the main entrance gate.
The park is open every day 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Foreigners are charged 600 rupees admission ($7.50) – Indian nationals only 150 rupees. Although the place is mostly crumbling ruins, things are neat and clean and mostly all accessible to visitors. Soothing traditional meditation music is piped through discreet speakers placed throughout the grounds. Further, there are just enough signs and explanations (in English and Hindi) to know what you are looking at.
After the band’s visit, the Beatles ashram in Rishikesh grew in popularity and size. Many new buildings were constructed. Photos of the place often feature the river-stone, ‘beehive shaped’, meditation ‘caves’ that were all built between 1976 and 1978. There are at least 120 of these bizarre structures. All of them open to exploration and photography. Obviously, The Beatles never saw these constructs.
Additionally, two huge 4-story hotel buildings were constructed with hundreds of rooms and accompanying meeting, dining, and other facilities. These too are in ruins, covered in graffiti, and wide open to the public. The Beatles had nothing to do with them either.
Below is a slide show of some of the messages and art found inside the various abandoned Beatles ashram buildings; wisdom, expressions of love, graffiti, vulgarity – it’s all there.
Slideshow: Messages in The Beatles ashram
We wandered around all these ‘post-Beatles’ buildings for about 90 minutes before finally coming to the parts of the ashram that DID exist when the band was there.
In some ways, the ‘newer’ ruins are bigger and more captivating than the more modest buildings that were constructed in the early 1960s. Many of the earlier buildings are marked as “unsafe / entry prohibited.” Concrete slabs are sagging. Walls have collapsed. Rusty rebar is exposed. Windows and doors are in shambles.
Where The Beatles stayed
The building where The Beatles actually stayed during their visit is located at the furthest corner of the grounds from the current entry gate. It’s a wreck, but in comparatively good structural condition. Visitors are permitted to enter all the rooms. I went up on the roof. The graffiti inside is less and more tasteful.
Like most of the dilapidated structures, the Beatles building is marked with a simple sign. The building itself a C-shaped, single story, concrete structure with a flat roof. There seemed to be eight individual rooms each with a private bathroom (2 bathtubs remain – no commodes) plus some common shared areas and courtyards.
The other structural remnants of The Beatles time include, the Yogi’s residence, ashram halls, a kitchen and eating facility, a post office, and various other small residential buildings for guests.
My wife, Ellen, said she could feel ‘an energy’ at the place. It did feel a little spooky to me – a little sad, but also peaceful, natural, proper. Personally, I’m glad nobody has decided to undertake a restoration and turn it into a theme park or museum.
The only semblance of modern tourism – aside from the admission fee – was a small photo gallery featuring photos taken by Beatles photographer Paul Saltzman.
On display, pictures of the Beatles and their friends and guests taken during their time at the very buildings you are visiting. We stood on the same spots, touched the same doorways, walked the same paths. Pretty neat. There is also a gallery of info about transcendental meditation and the Rajaji Tiger Reserve.
Creativity at Beatles ashram in Rishikesh
It is said that the period the group spent at the ashram was perhaps their most creative ever. Dozens of songs were reportedly penned during the weeks they spent along the Ganges River. Many appeared on the double album The Beatles – often called The White Album. Other songs appeared on Abbey Road and various solo albums.
Some of the most well-known songs written in Rishikesh include: Back in the U.S.S.R., Revolution, Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da, Dear Prudence, Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?.
Less often mentioned is that Scottish folk rock artist Donovan – a friend of the Beatles – was in attendance at Rishikesh. With help from George Harrison, he composed one of my personal favorite 60s songs — the trippy ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’.
The details of The Beatles experience at Rishikesh are have been widely reported — sometimes scandalously. Those stories can easily be found on the internet. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were in their mid-20s at the time — and were the most popular celebrities on the planet. It was a different time.
For us today, it was a different and interesting kind of experience. For better or worse, although mom Diane was with us, she decided she wasn’t interested in seeing where The Beatles were. Mom says she didn’t know or follow The Beatles in their heyday — so it didn’t mean anything to to her. Fair enough. Mom took a walk and went to a cafe. We met later for supper. Still, for those with even a passing knowledge or interest in The Beatles or India, we recommend a few hours spent at the Beatles ashram in Rishikesh.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!