Beatles Ashram The Hidden Gem Of Rishikesh

The rock band has been instrumental in putting Rishikesh on the global map of nirvana seekers
Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, Photo Credit saiko3p/Shutterstock
Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, Photo Credit saiko3p/Shutterstock

Rishikesh is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganga tumbles down from the mountains onto the plains, flowing fresh and really fast. This location has attracted a steady stream of pilgrims for centuries, and as a result the town is dotted with innumerable ashrams, each offering its own customised version of spirituality. But not many talk about Chaurasi Kutia (meaning 84 huts), the expansive, 15-hectare meditation centre of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This is somewhat ironic since the now-abandoned ash&shyram, perched on a lonely cliff overlooking the river, was once the cynosure of all eyes &mdash especially in the late 1960s when it hosted 'The Beatles,' the veritable gods of rock who descended on the scene with their iconic long mane and marigold necklaces. And the world followed.

Beatles in Rishikesh

The Fab Four were looking to take a break from their tumul&shytuous flower-powered career, and the ashram with its serene, soul-stirring surroundings and its earthen pathways winding through ancient trees, fragrant bushes, flowering vines and quaint meditation huts, provided just the right retreat. The group&rsquos tenure at the ashram in Rishikesh turned out to be a watershed event in their career, for it was here that they prac&shytised TM (Transcendental Meditation) and wrote the songs that would fill such masterpieces as The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

The rock band has been instrumental in putting Rishikesh on the global map of nirvana seekers.There are clusters of igloo-shaped medita&shytion huts, the exteriors lined with perfectly arranged, shining and smooth stones taken from the riverbed. It is easy to imagine the place in its original avatar during the earlier happy hippie times &mdash a well-built and self-contained little township re&shyplete with every western comfort, including air-conditioned meditation halls (quite something for an India of the 1960s) and its very own helipad.

&ldquoSee this building&rdquo The guide points to a hut with the number &lsquo9&rsquo inscribed just above the door entrance and states that this was John Lennon&rsquos room. Hearing him, I am reminded of the chanted words &ldquonumber nine, number nine, number nine&hellip&rdquo at the beginning of the avant-garde sound collage of &lsquoRevolution No. 9&rsquo of The White Album. I wonder if the story is true.

Meditation hall

We come to the expansive meditation hall, meticulously stripped of all accesso&shyries, even door-frames. The roof had caved in at places and it is clear in a few years, the space will be completely reclaimed by the forest. &lsquoStill my guitar gently weeps&rsquo, says a spray-painted graffiti on one of the walls. &lsquoBlack Bird Fly&rsquo, reads another against a bright red backdrop. We clear some space amidst the cobwebs, and, facing the direction of the river, summon our loudest and longest OMs. Soon the sound rever&shyberates off the walls and a succession of vibrations shakes our bodies, slowly seeping into our combined consciousness.

With time, many things in Rishikesh have undergone a sea change. But some, like the sadhus seated on the river bank chanting sonorous rhymes, sacred cows strolling on the streets and the faithful braving the icy waters in a bid to attain instant salva&shytion, are still very much the same.

As I watched the sun set over the shimmering waters of the Ganga, it was clear that while The Beatles may have departed from the scene long ago, the essence of Indian spirituality that brought them here can still be experienced everywhere in Rishikesh.

Getting there
From the Ram Jhula bridge (on the Parmarth Niketan side), walk along the river bank in the direction of the flow for about ten minutes till you reach the ashram entrance.

Outlook Traveller