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All you need is "Om"

Just a few kilometres from Rishikesh, a charming town famous for being the capital of Yoga, in the north of India, at the foot of the Himalayas, where the Ganges has its source, the ashram where the Beatles stayed in 1968 staggers but does not give up.


A few kilometres from Rishikesh, a charming town famous for being the capital of Yoga, in the north of India, at the foot of the Himalayas, where the Ganges has its source, staggers but does not give up the ashram where the Beatles stayed in 1968. The history of this place, now left to total abandonment and engulfed by jungle, is incredible. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the technique known as transcendental meditation, began to gain popularity at the end of the 1960s, especially among the stars of the time, Mick Jagger above all, thanks to the guru's numerous tours in the West. It was at an event in Wales that Maharishi met the Beatles, who fell in love with the guru, declaring that they were tired of taking psychedelic drugs and - Yes, well, it's great to be famous, it's great to be rich, but what's the point? - In the midst of an existential crisis, they accept the guru's invitation and arrive at the ashram with their respective spouses.

That period was crucial for the compositional and instrumental growth of the four. Their time was spent between meditation/yoga and a lot of creativity and they left with more than 30 songs, many of which were released on The Beatles, Abbey Road and Let It Be albums. Also due to the lack of electricity they were forced to use acoustic guitars, refining their instrumental skills and learning new ones with Indian instruments.

Nowadays, walking through the ashram along the paths bordering the gardens, entering the building that used to be the post office, the one dedicated to their living quarters, the huge structure where they listened to the guru's prophecies, and poking around the various stone domes that used to be used for meditation definitely makes an impression, more like anger. How is it possible that such a place is completely abandoned? It is the first question that crosses the mind of anyone who sets foot there, then after a second the answer arises.

Indians are a bit like that, let's call it recklessness, and if westerners were to get their hands on it, it would lose that undeniable charm that still reigns supreme. Even if everything is collapsing, even if it has been despoiled of every piece of furniture, even if it is full of graffiti with the Beatles' faces made after their stay, it remains an enchanting place to visit if you pass by, remembering these 5 curiosities:

  1. Other celebrities including Mia Farrow and Mike Love of the Beach Boys were at the ashram at the same time.
  2. Ringo Starr compared the ashram to a holiday resort. He didn't appreciate the food and his wife couldn't stand the insects.
  3. McCartney told an ashram student "I am a new man".
  4. Despite being in the company of his wife, John Lennon sent a letter to Yoko Ono "Look up to the sky, and when you see a cloud think of me".
  5. The departure of the four was turbulent and sudden. It is said that doubts began to creep up on them that they were being manipulated by the guru, too much publicity hung over their shoulders and Lennon was certain that Maharishi had made advances on Mia Farrow.

It is a fact that their leap to India helped introduce the Indian philosopher to yoga and meditation throughout the world, while Maharishi, hounded by tax issues, took refuge in the West without any more VIP friends.



Pictures by Claudia Riva