Beatles Ashram

The strange little spiritually-overcharged pilgrim town of Rishikesh is famous throughout India for its association with the holy river Ganges. To Westerners, it is remembered for a very different reason, completely unknown to most Indians. It is the location of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, where the Beatles studied Transcendental Meditation and wrote most of the “White Album” in 1968.

Bizarrely, what could have been the ultimate pilgrim destination for ’60s musics fans, the Indian version of Graceland is now abandoned and falling into disrepair. Ex-hippie travelers who visit the site should be prepared to feel a shocking sense of age as the site seems more like lost Mayan ruins than a old hippie commune. Despite the neglect, the site is a fascinating, if somewhat complicated place, to visit.

The first challenge is finding the site, which isn’t easy considering that most Indians have never heard of the Beatles. Asking for “the ashram” won’t work in a town with ashrams on every corner. And the only sign we saw was located a hundred yards from the entrance – in other words, we were already there. Once located, visitors must then bribe their way into the crumbling site. The baksheesh bargaining process can feel rather aggressive with the greedy caretaker, but, somewhat surprisingly, it is actually worth the effort.

I have to admit at this point that I had low expectations for the ashram, but, honestly, I loved it. The entire compound, which is quickly disappearing into the jungle, oozes a funky sixties communal vibe. Dozens of bizarre, pod-like dwellings recall another era of counter-culture idealism. Moving through the forest, the pods give way to odd pyramidal apartment buildings topped with freaky tiled egg constructions. Interestingly, the evolution in architecture from simpler pods to elaborate apartments seems to hint at the reasons for the decline of the ashram itself.

Accounts of the time reveal that the ashram’s focus shifted from mental discipline and self-realization to celebrity-studded self promotion and cavorting with the hippie ladies. Apparently, the Beatles felt used and abused and voiced their concerns sending the ashram into a tailspin. I’ll have to listen to the “White Album” again to see if I can find any references to their disillusionment.

6 responses to “Beatles Ashram”

  1. avatar greeneyes says:

    I loved this article.
    Any more photo’s of the dwellings?

  2. avatar ebvigmo says:

    I was at this location in June.

    I want to clarify some of the comments made about the Beatles and their relationship to Maharishi (who died earlier this year). I’ll first state that I have been meditating (TM) for 30 years.

    The Beatles left the ashram rather quickly it is true and the rumor for years was based on a story their business manager made up (confirmed) about Maharishi (a lifetime celibate) and some lady at the course.

    George Harrison was always a follower, Ringo still meditates. Near the end of his life George went to see Maharishi with Deepak Chopra and apologized to him for all the rumors over the years. I have also met with a very famous artist who George took to meet Maharishi.

    I wish the truth would be more apparent …

  3. avatar Beverly says:

    Does it get many visitors anymore?

  4. avatar armin says:

    can you help me for visit there????

  5. avatar Thomas says:

    Hi Armin,

    I’m not sure how we can help you visit the Ashram… You need to go to Lakshman Jhula, the pilgrim center north of Rishikesh. From there, you have to walk south along the Ganges until you find a sign that points you to the Beatles Ashram.

    It’s been almost three years since we visited the ashram. I have no idea if it’s still the same. If you do go there, please write us a note how your visit went. I was wondering if visitors still have to bribe the guards to get in?!

  6. avatar Radisha says:

    You have to go to Rishkesh then cross the Gangis, than strait up hill 15 min. walk
    Ask about Maharishis Ashram – there are some sings
    Also in the same direction is Tat Vala Gufa ( cave ) very holly place

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