On one of my wandering days I happened upon what seemed at first to be a little shanty town but after the turn of a corner I found a sign directing me to the Beatles ashram. [bxA]
It is closed to the public so I paid a 50 rupee bribe to the guard to get in. It’s spread over sprawling acres on the side of a mountain overlooking the Ganges and has all these big creepy abandoned buildings. Pretty spectacular – and you can imagine famous people flocking there in pursuit of enlightenment...because it has potential to be a fabulous spa.
There's a winding path that goes on probably a mile and overgrown trails to little, big and gigantic buildings you can creep into.
Two massive yoga halls are sprayed with graffiti honoring the Beatles.
There are a few massive buildings that provide housing for possibly hundreds of guest...then these funky little stone beehive-looking meditation huts.
I was alone and only spotted three other visitors when I was wandering the brush. Thought I might be in danger creeping through the dark abandoned buildings...then the security guard showed up looking for me. I was glad he was there to protect me until he started hitting on me - "are you maddied? i am bachelor" then tried to lead me into the nearly pitch black meditation caves. He told me there was some danger - wild animals attack and tigers mate but only in December and a couple months in the spring. Elephants too. Glad he came to protect me. He turned out to be harmless but I decided not to go back to his, um, room/shack place for tea. On my way back to town I ran into three friends from the yoga retreat and went back to the Beatles ashram with them, so I was there for hours.
All the tourists I talked to in Rishikesh wonder why the magnificent ashram is closed, but there doesn’t seem to be an explanation anywhere. The military guard dude told me the ashram was closed in the 90s by the government because the 100 year lease was up. I asked Kathy about it later, but all her guidebook said was not to go alone because there have been assaults. Oops. Kathy also heard something about there being a scandal with the Beatles' guru and Mia Farrow claiming harassment or something. I emailed John Richardson because he interviewed Mia a few years ago and she mentioned her time in India. Kathy found the hut number nine where John Lennon stayed and she heard they used to jam in the giant yoga hall with the meditation caves. I eventually found on the internet this great site with amazing photographs.
Someone posted an entry on that site with this explanation of the ashram’s history:
The ashram was abandoned in 1984 because the supreme court of India turned the whole place into a national park called the Shahaji National park. The Maharishi did not own this place and had it on lease. Once the ruling was passed, there was little the Maharishi could do but abandon the land. Just weeks before the place had to be abandoned, the local forest authorities told the ashram workers that they could take with them all that they could before the deadline and because of this there are no switchboards, taps, furniture and metal parts left in the ashram. Everything was ransacked and sold off in the local market.
The meditation halls were air conditioned… In the 1960’s n that too in an Indian forest! There was a helipad, a post office and a bank inside the ashram. All this made the place pretty remarkable.
A lot of private companies are interested in acquiring this property and turning it into a meditation resort but the Indian forest act does not allow this. Only government bodies are allowed to touch the place and Indian government being corrupt and lethargic, you can expect this place to rot and crumple one day for sure.
There is only one guard looking after the place. By law, no one is allowed to enter, but the guards are lenient and let people inside if you just hand them some money.
You can look at my photos on Picasa, but the site I linked above has way better photos.