What Happened to the Beatles Ashram?
Updated: Jan 27, 2019
A step back in time. A place for revelations, inspiration, and connection with one of the greatest bands of the 20th century.
After we begrudgingly shelled out the steep 600 rupee per person entry fee (~$9 -- not cheap for India), we quickly forgot the transaction as the wonders of this place became clear to us. Sitting on 14 acres of land, this ashram-turned-ruins is a playground for any history/spirituality/musical/nature/wall muralist buff’s senses.
This is where Maharishi Mahesh Yogi set up shop to train his disciples in his sensational new form of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, known as TM.
It gained international attention in 1968, when all four members of The Beatles came to Rishikesh to dive further into the world of TM. Apparently they even denounced drugs in favor of TM. According to many different sources accumulated by the wonderful people of Wikipedia, “The stay at the ashram turned out to be the Beatles' most creative period for songwriting. Many of their new songs were inspired by nature and reflected the simplicity of their surroundings... the songs later comprised the bulk of the band's 1968 double album The Beatles, also known as the "White Album"".
Fast forward 51 years, and you'll find a magnificent shrine of a ruin. Decrepit buildings, crumbling egg-shaped meditation caves, corroded lotus ponds. It’s lovely, and made more lovely still as talented muralists add their mark to the place in the form of Beatles-themed and mystical murals.
Were this place located in the developed world, you can bet the buildings would be roped off for safety reasons, and there would be a predetermined path for your little tourist feet to follow. However, as a relatively new tourist destination--and being in India--this place is pretty much unbound by restrictions.
You can spend the day here and let your imagination run wild—pretend to wake up in the actual bungalow where the Beatles stayed, join the ghosts of your band mates as you jam for a bit and then walk down to the communal kitchen. After your scrumptious 70’s era Indian breakfast, take your pick of a meditation egg for some sojourn with the universe before heading over to your Guru’s bungalow for a private lecture. Afterwards, take the back nature-trail to the yoga hall for a quick hatha practice. Man it’s great to be on of The Beatles.
It’s all possible, because it’s India. And as of yet, none of the decrepit buildings have collapsed and injured a visitor in the process (as far as we know), so until that time, you have free reign! No locked doors, no strict paths, no Keep Out signs.
If you feel no affinity to the musical side of this place, come for the confluence of good vibes that occurred here. Tucked away from the city and on the edge of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, it has a fantastically peaceful energy. One cannot even fathom the number of hours devotees spent in peaceful meditation here--energy that is bound to reverberate through the decades. It has a lot of good juju. Apparently there was some bad juju as well, (see “Harrison and Lennon... left on 12 April amid an atmosphere of recrimination towards the Maharishi, based on rumours of his alleged impropriety with some of the female students”) but luckily that’s all been cleansed away by the nearby flowing Ganga (Ganges) River.
So what happened to this place? As someone with a serious love for intentional communities, it pains me that nobody snatched it up for their Ecotopian dream community.
The limited sources online (i.e. I’m a lazy researcher) lead me to believe that Indian bureaucracy had a big hand to play. “The future of the site became a topic of political debate at the state and national levels.”
Apparently the Maharishi left in 1970 but the Ashram wasn’t taken back by the government until 1991–that’s 21 years! And a few different plans for the future of the ashram were submitted over the years — one woman wanted to turn it into an orphanage… but it was finally decided to turn the place into a tourist attraction. Not good for orphaned children, but great for us travelers.
Whatever the case, shell out the money for a visit, it’s well worth it!