We couldn’t help ourselves from indulging in some western pop culture while half way around the world in India. So Chaurasi Kutia or more commonly known as the Beatles Ashram, was definitely on our to-do list. We took the 20 minute stroll from Laxman Jhula down to Ram Jhula, wandering the back roads, stopping to say hi to some animal friends along the way.
Rishikesh was relatively unknown up until 1968 when the Beatles arrived here seeking peace and spirtuality in the height of their popularity. They wrote over 40 songs, some of which were later featured on the “The White Album” and “Abbey Road”. The guru they came to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was famously known for Transcendental Meditation. John Lennon would later write “Sexy Sadie”, a song exposing Maharishi for trying to get with one of the bands lady friends (allegedly).
Maharishi started building a massive ashram in 1961 focusing on this type of meditation practice. It operated until 1980 when he left to continue spreading his teachings around the world, at which point the Indian government took back the land. It has since been part of Rajaji National Park and left to be consumed by the forest surrounding it.
Still a popular tourist spot, up until recently people would sneak in through the unguarded fence, wander around the many vacant buildings and sit in some of the 84 meditation chambers that still stand today.
Beautiful graffiti style art is painted inside and out of the partially crumbled structures, especially in the Satsang Hall where you can see murals of the famous band and their memorable lyrics written on the walls.
The rumours were confirmed when we arrived. Sneaking into this place is no longer possible or necessary. The Indian government has recently started to clean up the grounds, cutting brush, posting signs and making paths. Realizing the popularity of this unofficial tourist attraction, they are now charging guests to get in. We were disappointed it was no longer free. They charge 600 rupees for foreigners (150 for locals), equal to our daily food budget while visiting India. Maybe it was the luck of Buddha, or our Canadian charm, but as things would have it we met a group of very friendly American tourists when arriving at the gates. Before we could decide whether or not the experience would be worth the rupees, one of them had paid our way. Feeling very grateful we joined their tour and exchanged contact info before they left. We snapped some pics of their group and plan to send them as a thank you.
We then spent the next couple hours alone exploring the living quarters, the yoga hall, the meditation chambers and the roof tops, imagining what this place was like in its prime.
We think the decision to revitalize this place is a good one, it sounds like they have big plans for it. Its a little hard on the wallet in comparison to other local costs, especially for a couple cheap backpackers. But the experience is great, there is so much to take in, and you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to appreciate this place… but who isn’t?
The tour guide explained Rishikesh is very lucky to have been visited by the Beatles. It has put the town on the map and made it the tourist destination it is today. But it is not only the band to thank, it would not have been possible without the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man they came here for.
Our day wrapped up by taking part in the Ganga Aarti Lighting Ceremony at the banks of Ram Jhula (another great experience we want to write about), and of course stopping again to visit some smaller animals on the walk home.
Britt and Jeff 🙂