Ganges

The Long and Winding Road to Rishikesh

Fifty years ago, the Beatles visited an ancient ashram in India. Today, plans are underway to remake it as a tourist destination.

The Beatles infamous trip to India in 1968 may have put Rishikesh on the map for fans of the Fab Four and yoga enthusiasts alike, but the little town on the Ganges has been a spiritual destination and ancient pilgrimage site for far longer.

RoadtoparagraphoneElenaMirageNestled in the Himalayan foothills, Rishikesh ― the self-designated “Yoga Capital of the World” ― boasts a population of just over 100,000. But that number might grow if local leaders’ plans come to fruition and if a famous, derelict ashram there is renovated and reopened to tourists.

Ashrams like the one the Beatles visited in Rishikesh, pictured here, have long played a key role in Hindu spirituality. A type of monastery or retreat, an ashram is traditionally surrounded by nature and situated far from other human habitation, creating an optimal environment for meditation. STR/AFP/Getty Images Ashrams like the one the Beatles visited in Rishikesh, pictured here, have long played a key role in Hindu spirituality. A type of monastery or retreat, an ashram is traditionally surrounded by nature and situated far from other human habitation, creating an optimal environment for meditation. Ashrams are generally closed communities with strict rules in place to help residents achieve ultimate enlightenment. Alcohol is not permitted inside most, and non-vegetarian foods are typically prohibited. Charles O. Cecil Ashrams are generally closed communities with strict rules in place to help residents achieve ultimate enlightenment. Alcohol is not permitted inside most, and non-vegetarian foods are typically prohibited. During their 1968 trip, the Beatles stayed in the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — the Chaurasi Kutia Ashram. (Today, it’s widely known, at least in the West, as “the Beatles’ Ashram.”) There, they spent most of their time practicing yoga, meditating, and attending the Maharishi's talks, held in the hall pictured here. Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images During their 1968 trip, the Beatles stayed in the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — the Chaurasi Kutia Ashram. (Today, it’s widely known, at least in the West, as “the Beatles’ Ashram.”) There, they spent most of their time practicing yoga, meditating, and attending the Maharishi's talks, held in the hall pictured here. This ashram has roots far deeper and more significant than serving as inspiration for much of the band’s 1968 eponymous LP, popularly known as “The White Album.” Hindu sages and saints regard it as a holy place, and have been meditating on this spot, and nearby, since ancient times. Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images This ashram has roots far deeper and more significant than serving as inspiration for much of the band’s 1968 eponymous LP, popularly known as “The White Album.” Hindu sages and saints regard it as a holy place, and have been meditating on this spot, and nearby, since ancient times. Prior to the Beatles’ visit, the ashram — featuring dome-shaped huts and bungalows — was a quiet place devoted to spiritual enlightenment, and after the Beatles' trip it continued to operate in a fairly traditional manner for several decades until it was eventually abandoned and fell into despair. In 2003, the Indian government’s forestry department assumed control of the property, but did not do much in the way of maintaining the site. Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images Prior to the Beatles’ visit, the ashram — featuring dome-shaped huts and bungalows — was a quiet place devoted to spiritual enlightenment, and after the Beatles' trip it continued to operate in a fairly traditional manner for several decades until it was eventually abandoned and fell into despair. In 2003, the Indian government’s forestry department assumed control of the property, but did not do much in the way of maintaining the site. Many of the ashram’s original bungalows were destroyed or collapsed through disuse over the years, and the few that remain are in a derelict state — covered in moss, crumbling, and largely swallowed by the surrounding forest. Steven Greaves Many of the ashram’s original bungalows were destroyed or collapsed through disuse over the years, and the few that remain are in a derelict state — covered in moss, crumbling, and largely swallowed by the surrounding forest. In 2015, the long-neglected ashram was once again opened to the public, and for a small entrance fee tourists are permitted to walk through the dilapidated site where the Beatles once sought enlightenment. Steven Greaves In 2015, the long-neglected ashram was once again opened to the public, and for a small entrance fee tourists are permitted to walk through the dilapidated site where the Beatles once sought enlightenment. In the years leading up to the ashram’s 2015 reopening, fans of the Fab Four snuck on to the site by scaling the walls or bribing gatekeepers. Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images In the years leading up to the ashram’s 2015 reopening, fans of the Fab Four snuck on to the site by scaling the walls or bribing gatekeepers. These uninvited guests used the property as the backdrop for an unofficial communal art project, of sorts, covering the walls with graffiti tributes to the Beatles, like those pictured here. Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images These uninvited guests used the property as the backdrop for an unofficial communal art project, of sorts, covering the walls with graffiti tributes to the Beatles, like those pictured here.
Abandoned Hindu Monastery Transformed By Graffiti Art

Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Abandoned Hindu Monastery Transformed By Graffiti Art

Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Spiritually inspired artwork, song lyrics, and inspirational quotes adorn the walls of the so-called “Beatles Cathedral Gallery,” which until recently was only accessible to gatecrashers — and wild animals from a nearby sanctuary.

In an effort to attract more tourism to Rishikesh — already a popular destination for yoga and meditation practitioners from around the world — Uttarakhand’s tourist department has begun work to revive the ashram, renovating lodgings and other buildings while harboring hope of creating a Beatles museum on the grounds. The department <a href="https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/national/beatles-fans-all-set-to-celebrate-50-years-of-the-bands-visit-to-rishikesh" target="_blank">reportedly plans to unveil the new ashram</a> in the coming months. Kashfi Halford/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images In an effort to attract more tourism to Rishikesh — already a popular destination for yoga and meditation practitioners from around the world — Uttarakhand’s tourist department has begun work to revive the ashram, renovating lodgings and other buildings while harboring hope of creating a Beatles museum on the grounds. The department reportedly plans to unveil the new ashram in the coming months.