On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ visit to India to spread world peace, have lots of sex, bring about a spiritual revolution, write some famous songs and study transcendental meditation, I almost killed a yogi with a golf club. It wasn’t premeditated.
The Ananda in the Himalayas is a resort that overlooks the city of Rishikesh and the Ganges in Uttarakhand, about a 2-hour flight-and-drive from Delhi via Dehradun Airport, depending on the state of the roads, smog, and your karma.
Ananda (Hindi for “absolute bliss, fullness of life, rapture, joy and gladness”) is one of India’s most luxurious and expensive spa resorts. After a $5-million makeover, it’s ready to help rebalance your circadian rhythms with jasmine salt scrubs, Tibetan kneading and the highest-quality Choornaswedan treatment involving therapeutic sweating.
The former viceregal palace has a 6-hole par 3 golf course with plastic greens. On the first hole, I thinned a 9-iron and saw it headed straight toward a holy man sitting cross-legged on his Vedanta prayer mat, clearly preoccupied with a higher plane. He was communing with some form of godhead. My clubhead had other ideas.
I shouted a 4-letter word which wasn’t “Fore!” and muttered something more like “OMG!” than “om”. Blissfully unaware of the danger and intent on mortifying his ego and annihilating the self, transforming unilateral passion to cosmic adoration, the gentleman swami in the white loose cotton kurta pyjamas remained in his closed-eye trance and continued to beautify his mind and commune with the rules of the universe as my golf ball sped with great velocity within an inch of his left temple, burying itself in a japonica bush and disturbing a family of langur monkeys enjoying some quality grooming time.
the yoga capital of India. Now it’s a centre for adventure tourism. You can zip-wire over and bungee down close to the surface of jade green waters of the holy river running through the Valley of the Saints. Of course, there is a Beatles Café.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s 14‑acre Chaurasi Kutia Ashram is still there — or bits of it. It’s a bumpy helter-skelter 90-min one-way drive from Ananda and an hour from town over the Jhula Bridge and into the Jalila National Park. Entrance is £1 for Indians and £6 for non-nationals.
It was built in 1963 with money donated by American tobacco heiress, socialite, philanthropist, art collector and Eastern philosopher Doris Duke. The Beatles lived in luxury compared to most of the Marashi’s followers.
The Fab Four met him for the first time in the London Hilton on Park Lane in 1967, then in Bangor in northern Wales. But their studies were interrupted by the death of manager Brian Epstein. They were also working on the Magical Mystery Tour film and soundtrack.
They arrived in India in February 1968. Paul was with girlfriend Jane Asher. George accompanied by Pattie Boyd, Ringo with Maureen, and John with Cynthia (although he allegedly regularly sneaked out of the complex to contact Yoko). Harrison celebrated his 25th birthday there. In 2001, his ashes were scattered in the Ganges.
There were journalists, film crews and hangers-on as well as other musicians like Donovan and Mike Love of The Beach Boys. It was a very productive and creative period. Many songs were written in the complex 50m above the Ganges, appearing on The Beatles or The White Album (November 1968), Abbey Road (1969) and on later solo albums. In Rishikesh, Ringo wrote his first solo song, “Don’t Pass Me By”.
The Starrs lasted 10 days, Macca a month, and John and George six weeks. John fell out with Maharishi (nicknamed “The Big M”), although George played a benefit concert in 1992 for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party.
The International Academy of Meditation I visit is crumbled-down, overgrown with bushes, and filthy. The old 5-room beehive stone caves where The Beatles lived now stink of urine and retain the aura of other methods of self-expression more recent than the Sixties. The message seems to be “Please, Please Do”. You have to “Let It Be”.
In the Satsang yoga hall of the now uninhabitable Sidpha Puri accommodation block, the stage and dias on which the Maharishi addressed his blissed-out, bonged-up devotees are still there, but the roof has gone. It’s grotty. Graffiti covers the walls. Dated signatures cover John’s forehead, George’s throat, Paul’s eyes and Ringo’s eyes. Modern pop artists have turned into the “ Beatles Cathedral gallery”.
There are peace signs everywhere, as well as “Love is what is”, “All You Need is Love” and “Feel Love”. But, conspicuously absent is “Help”. There are plenty of “Jai Guru Deva” (Victory to the Great Teacher Forever) scrawled around the training centre. Before leaving for India, The Beatles recorded the instrumentals tracks for “Across the Universe”. Its refrain was the standard greeting used by members of the Marashi’s Spiritual Regeneration Movement.
Born Mahesh Prasad Varma, the Maharishi died in the Netherlands in 2008. There were plans to turn the site into a meditation centre and home for street children, but no government money is being put into it for maintenance. Jerry Hall was rumoured to be planning something. Half a centenary after The Beatles lived there and the last time they travelled abroad together, the Rishikesh Ashram still awaits a new evolution.
No marigold garlands are being given out.
Ringo had described it as “a kind of spiritual Butlins”. Macca said he had had a “joyful” time there. John said he wrote some of his best and most miserable songs there.
The place that inspired over 30 songs including classics like “Back in the USSR”, “Blackbird”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Ob La Di Ob La Da” and “Revolution” is a wreck, a public toilet and an eyesore.
But it remains relatively peaceful, mainly because there is no music now. And no golf course. John said he had had “a nice holiday there”. The gentleman in the front of the first green of the next generation of meditation retreats in Rishikesh had no awareness how close he was to having a very bad holiday.
If he had moved an inch to his left, he had would have been moved to a different realm and found true peace and rest. And needn’t have to worry about the bill.