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That February in Rishikesh

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: March 03, 2016 17:30 IST
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Forty seven years ago, four men -- one of whom controversially declared they were more famous than Jesus Christ -- arrived in Rishikesh to savour Indian spiritualism.
The ashram where they stayed is now a museum dedicated to the Fab Four.
Archana Masih/Rediff.com stopped by recently to discover that in this corner of India, the Beatles are still rocking.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

"Do you know where the Beatles Museum is?" I ask a foreigner as I stand at the end of the road, overlooking a shamshan ghat in Rishikesh.

"Left and about 100 metres," says the kurta-clad New Yorker, the only person on the quiet stretch behind me, where the eatery is presciently called the Last Chance Cafe.

"Oh," I say, "I thought this was a dead end."

"Much like life, isn't it?" he replies in a very New Yorkerish way. "You think you've hit a dead end, but there's a way at the end of the road."

He goes his way, one of the many foreigners one encounters in the town of the Ganga and Yoga, leaving me with something to ponder as I make my way to meet the Beatles.

The Beatles in Rishikesh 

The Fab Four -- John, Paul, George and Ringo -- spent a few weeks in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in 1968 and are known to have written 40 songs here. Lines from their songs can be found on many of the walls. The Beatles had first met the Maharishi in England.

The Beatles in Rishikesh 

Huts shaped like eggs that must have doubled as mediation-cum-living spaces line the path. Time has been unkind to the huts, but they are mostly intact and have a lost world kind of beauty.

The exterior is dotted with stones from the river; inside is a small room-with an attached bathroom. A short spiral staircase leads to a dome shaped room, with a cute open terrace. Some say 'Number 9' was John's hut (the maverick songwriter and the man credited with the infamous Jesus quote was born on October 9) but that claim is unconfirmed.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

The ashram, that was abandoned for nearly 30 years, was established in 1961 by the Maharishi about whom the Beatles wrote a rather sardonic song Sexy Sadie after they fell out with the yogi.

The ashram was converted into a Beatles museum by the Uttarakhand forest department, which had leased it to the Maharishi. It opened to the public last December.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

The Beatles' cathedral gallery of graffiti is the the main focus of the sprawling ashram.

Over the years, fans dropped by to paint graffiti in what must have been a yoga/lecture hall. Natural light streams in through the windows that have no frames, but the riot of colours and the messages inside the quiet hall are uplifting.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

Lennon's celebrated song and other Beatles numbers adorn the walls and the floor -- you can look at them for hours and absorb in the moment.

Here Comes The Sun, Penny Lane, Life Flows On Within You And Without You... A couple that drops in say they have never heard a Beatles song, but have come nevertheless to take a look.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

The songs share space with 'Free Palestine', 'Free Tibet' slogans and 'My love Anjali Dayal'and suchlike love offerings. Graffiti can be seen on the walls of the abandoned living quarters that are spread over 7.5 hectares of the forest.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

John Lennon and his missus-before-Yoko-Ono Cynthia, George Harrison and Pattie Boyd (later Eric Clapton's wife too), Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney along with actress Mia Farrow (soon after her marriage to Ol' Blue Eyes Frank Sinantra ended), Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love came to the ashram in February 1968.

Paul and Ringo cut short their trip, but John and George stayed on for nearly two months (Picture the context: Two of the mightiest names in music based in India for that long; can you imagine Bono or Beyonce or Rihanna doing that now?).

The Beatles in Rishikesh

Tickets are priced at Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 600 for foreigners. On the way out, I meet a group of giggling school girls who have come to see the museum. Students can enter with a discounted ticket priced at Rs 40.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

The ashram was a full-fledged yoga and meditation centre with a well-laid out township, the forest guard at the entrance tells me. It also had its own helipad.

The Maharishi -- who is credited with creating Transcendental Meditation -- left India in the 1970s and spent time at his ashrams in Switzerland and The Netherlands. He passed away in 2008 in Vlodrop, The Netherlands.

The Beatles in Rishikesh 

George's most famous song My Guitar Gently Weeps is painted on what must have been a stage in a lecture hall. Some of the songs the Beatles wrote in Rishikesh appeared on The White Album and Abbey Road.

The Beatles in Rishikesh 

On the other side of the ashram is the Beatles Cafe run by three friends. A popular hangout with tourists, it pays tribute to the Beatles and the music of the '60s. Its menu has drinks named after the Beatles. From its terrace flies the Indian flag while the serene Ganga flows below.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

The Sunday afternoon I was there, only a handful of people can be spotted at the museum. One person at the gate tells me the tickets are highly priced, for both Indians and foreigners. Fans may think otherwise.

The Beatles in Rishikesh

Before they broke up in 1970, the Beatles dominated popular music in a way no group has done since. With their prolific array of songs, they changed the way music was seen, heard, played, felt.

It is good to know that in a corner of India the Beatles are still rocking. John and George, now playing their ballads in Heaven, will be pleased.

Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

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