The Ashram: Following in the Beatles’ Footsteps

Graffiti Hall

One of the places we were eager to see on our recent trip to Rishikesh, in northern India, was the so-called “Beatles Ashram.”  The former ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on the left bank of the Ganges overlooking Rishikesh, is where the Beatles went in 1968 to learn about Transcendental Meditation.   They wrote a few songs while they were there, and soon after released the White Album.  The ashram was abandoned in 1996 and the Maharishi passed away in 2008.  The site is returning to nature and is officially off limits and under the control of the local forestry department.  However, the front “gate” is manned by a “guard” who will let you in for 100 rupees.

Entrance
The odd front gate to the place, where the “guard” collects his fee. About 100 meters to the left you can get in through a hole in the surrounding wall, but given the stern warning of a 5000 rupee fine seen on this photo, we didn’t want to tempt fate.

It’s a strange arrangement and we were far from the only visitors among a number of photographers and graffiti artists, and groupie types just hanging around.  One of the buildings is a large hall, most likely where the Maharishi gave his lectures.  When we were there, probably 7 or 8 other folks were hanging around, either taking pictures, or painting on the graffiti-covered walls, or talking to an old Indian saddhu who appeared to be enjoying the attention.

Groupies

Posing with Beatles
There is a set of apartments at the beginning that set the mood, and then you continue up a bath with a cluster of domelike structures that supposedly housed the Beatles, Mia Farrow, and other guests back in the day.

Going for a Closer Look

Dome Roofs

Dome number 9, shown below, is rumored to be where Lennon stayed (hence the song, “Revolution No. 9”) but there’s nothing really out there to corroborate that. The result of that rumor is that this dome has the most interior graffiti.  They’ve all got a small bathroom as you enter on the right, and then there is a living space about the size of a 6-person tent, and another smaller space upstairs.  And then the upstairs parts of the domes are all linked with a platform/pathway.

Number 9

Dome Entrance

Farther up in the compound are a variety of different conventional-looking buildings, along with what appears to be a kitchen with an outdoor eating area where everyone is said to have taken their meals together.  And even higher up is a strange, 4-story apartment building with odd white domes on top that can be seen from the town.  All of the surfaces on the roof and much of the outside are covered with mosaic-like tile chips.  It all makes for interesting photography, even when a stranger pops up out of nowhere.

Oops Sorry

Rooftop

It’s an interesting place to spend the day and snoop around. On the one hand, it’s a shame the place was just allowed to go into decline – but on the other hand, it would be a lot less interesting had it been maintained. Abandoned places are always fun photography destinations.

If you’d like to go through all of the photos I took there, mostly on a 1950 Kodak Retina 1a, you can check out this album.

If you’re interested in a couple of other abandoned spaces I’ve blogged about and photographed (in Namibia), you can check out this Flickr album from abandoned structures on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast or this blog post about a ghost town in southern Namibia.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this picture of the mailbox near the entrance.  I wonder if any letters have been forgotten inside?

Mailbox

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