The pictures taken by photographer Paul Saltzman of The Beatles in Rishikesh, while they spent three months at the Maharishi Yogi Ashram in 1968, are some of my favourite photographs of the fab four. I've always found the easy languor and freedom of spirit portrayed in those pictures very attractive. I particularly like a picture of Lennon and McCartney dressed in kurtas and chappals, composing together sitting on a doorstep. I had always wanted to stand on the same spot where the band once stood and gave transcendental meditation a shot. I wanted to visit the ashram where they wrote many of the songs that appeared on the band's later albums, especially the White Album. Maybe I'd spot a stray piece of paper with some lyrics scribbled on it that had miraculously survived the ravages of time, just as their music has.
The Beatles Ashram, as it is better known, is hard to find these days. It is tucked away inside the Rajaji National Park in Rishikesh, Uttrakhand. During a recent visit, I was determined to trace it down and pay my respects. You have to cross the Ganga and walk about 4 km past various ashrams and cowsheds, till you come across a signboard that points to the Beatles Ashram. Soon you reach a shady alcove, besides which the river flows peacefully, its waters glistening in the sun.
The ashram itself is in a state of ruin. There is only one guard who keeps watch from one of the balconies on the first floor. The architecture of the ashram is simple and elegant, and reminds me of a haveli. The peeling arches, the broken stairs and the crumbling jaali doors seem frozen in time. I stand there transfixed, turning back time as I walk into musty rooms that smell of decay, wondering whose private enclosure I am trespassing.
It's unfortunate that this musical monument has not been restored by anyone and is falling apart every day. I'd recommend every visitor to Rishikesh to go to the ashram. If you are a Beatle maniac, then put this right on top of your must-visit list!