I was never a huge Beatles fan. I have nothing against them, I was just born about 5 minutes past the mania. But the “Beatles’ Ashram”? I fell in love with that.
Somewhere south of the center of Rishikesh, India, the ashram can be found. For us it was across the Ganges on a boat then a walk through a crowded, paved street that becomes a dirt road with next to no one, that becomes something that resembles a path sometimes taken, past the Last Chance Cafe, over a bridge with no railing and then left. Just past that last turn a trio of rock encrusted domes begins to emerge. Technically known as the Chaurasi Kutiya Ashram, this is the place where George and his fab three friends landed in front of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 60s.
Empty and abandoned for over 30 years now, it is little more than ruins. And to me, that makes it all the more interesting. And a bit of a shame. The property is vast. Buildings of varying architecture, used for different purposes, spring up throughout the rambling hills. Meandering pathways lead from one structure to the next with a central ‘boulevard’ that bisects the grounds.
A cluster of small, 2 story, round structures with pointy roofs looks like the perfect movie set for Gnomes or faeries. They are in fact ‘cottages’. The downstairs used for living quarters, the upstairs for meditation. One is clearly marked “The Beatles Cave,” a more recent signpost it would seem.
Then there are the caves. Built with just a fraction of their full height above ground level, the caves were used primarily for meditation. Dark and windowless, they would have remained relatively cool in the warmer weather. An opening without a door, no wider than 30 inches, allowed the only light and entry into the tiny spaces. Stepping down into the darkened hallways of the caves it would have been easy to turn around and dismiss whatever was beyond the mysterious rooms. But the hint of light coming from somewhere ahead was enough encouragement to keep going.
The Chaurasi Kutiya itself, a great hall in tremendous disrepair that once held hundreds of yogis – among them the Beatles and the Maharishi himself – was our reward. The roof is missing except for its rusted skeleton, the glass from any windows is long gone. The stone and brick walls are crumbling, or rather the plaster on them is, and the wood that once held window glass would turn to dust if touched.
We met one such artist whose card had only a logo that simply proclaimed 100% LOVE guaranteed. This offered no real clue to his identity, but clarity on his philosophy. I don’t believe these artists are paid, but I do believe they have permission and seem to be welcomed, maybe even invited. The art was possibly the most palpable thing breathing life into the ruins.
This is the type of place that whispers to you which direction you should go next, how long you should linger and what you should skip or avoid. If you listen. Perhaps it was my years of yoga experience that endeared me to its history, but while exploring, my appreciation for the mop tops and the important role they played in bringing popularity to the philosophy I love so much to the west, grew tremendously.
It would be easy to get melancholy about the loss of such a place. ‘Someone should do something,’ you may be thinking. And, in fact, our group was full of ideas – most of them really good – to resurrect this once vibrant village. Make it grand again. “Do you know how much foreign revenue this could bring in?” a common refrain.