The Beatles’ White Album Was Made Here

John, Paul, George, Ringo & the Maharishi

Rishikesh was a sleepy hamlet in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas before the Beatles and their partners descended on the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram in 1968.

An abandoned temple Dagoba in the Beatles Ashram
An abandoned temple Dagoba in the Beatles Ashram

For a couple of months, the Fab 4 (minus Ringo, who left shortly after arriving) studied Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi, relaxed, meditated, wrote music and recorded much of what would become The White Album.

. . .

Abandonment and Nature’s Interaction With Humanity

Abandoned since 1997, the Beatles Ashram is filled with scores of buildings slowly being overtaken by time and nature. Crumbling roofs give way to vines, branches and trees while old hallways provide shelter for animals of all sizes.

Anything worth salvaging from the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram has long since been claimed, leaving only a shell of porous walls, shattered toilets, broken shelves and glassless windows.

Walking around wearing only a thin pair of flip flops, I was one misstep away from a nail in the foot and a tetanus shot, but that didn’t stop me from exploring every nook and cranny.

. . .

I swear these stairs in the large dormitory of the Beatles Ashram look like an MC Escher picture
I swear these stairs in the large dormitory of the Beatles Ashram look like an MC Escher picture
An abandoned hallway in one of the dormitories at the Beatles Ashram
An abandoned hallway in one of the dormitories at the Beatles Ashram
An abandoned meditation hall in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram
An abandoned meditation hall in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram
A view of Rishikesh and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram (Beatles Ashram) meditation pods
A view of Rishikesh and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram (Beatles Ashram) meditation pods

The lower entrance to one of the famous meditation dome of the Beatles Ashram
The lower entrance to one of the famous meditation dome of the Beatles Ashram

I Am the Eggman
Coo Coo Cachoo

The Domes of the Beatles Ashram

Perhaps the most famous architectural features of the Beatles Ashram are the large white meditation domes located on top of the dormitories. With a hollow bottom half that can easily be walked through, countless tourists have followed in John, Paul, George and Ringo’s footsteps and sat in the dome’s base for a jam session.

Fun fact: The song “I Am the Eggman” is written about these white domes.

The best acoustics, however, are found in the water tower occupying the top half of the dome. Accessible only during the dry season, we had to climb up a curved ladder to the top of the “Eggman” and down another wobbly ladder into the inner chamber.

 


Channeling My Inner Fab 4 in the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram

It was there in the water chamber that Carrie, Lauren, Tara and I had Fab Four-minute long “om session.” Summoning our best and longest oms, the sound reverberated off the walls and the vibrations shook our bodies and the entire room.

Music followed us throughout the Beatles Ashram, as we later sat down to enjoy a jam session in the large yoga/meditation hall/auditorium. Also in that same hall, a few friends of ours from Rishikesh have recently started a paint-by-numbers public mural project.

Though we never got a chance to check it out, the Beatles Cathedral Gallery does have a great Facebook page.

 


Doors leading into doors leading past abandonment at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh
Doors leading into doors leading past abandonment at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Disillusionment at the Beatles Ashram

So why did the Beatles finally leave the Ashram? Rumor has it that the Maharishi’s demands for money and his behavior towards female disciples disillusioned them all.

Fun Fact: In the song Sexy Sadie, John Lennon’s sings “you made a fool of everyone.”  The “you” referred to is the Maharishi.

Further research reveals: Paul McCartney left due to other commitments, while John Lennon and George Harrison left abruptly following financial disagreements and rumours of inappropriate behaviour by the Maharishi, accusations which were made public.

Harrison later apologized for the way he and Lennon had treated the Maharishi, and in 1992, he gave a benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party.

 


Inspiring The White Album…and Other Famous Songs

While in Rishikesh, I came across a list of songs written or recorded by the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram …or inspired by their stay there.

  • Back in the USSR
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • Why Don’t We Do it in the Road – (inspired by monkeys having sex in the roads of Rishikesh and across India)
  • Cry Baby Cry
Steps leading up to abandonment in a residential dome in the lower part of the Ashram
Steps leading up to abandonment in a residential dome in the lower part of the Ashram
  • Dear Prudence – (named after Prudence Farrow – Mia Farrow’s sister, – who would not “come out and play.”)
  • Don’t Pass Me By – (written by Ringo Starr)
  • Mother Nature’s Son – (inspired by a lecture given by the Maharishi)
  • Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
  • Sexy Sadie – (originally named Maharishi, but changed to avoid a lawsuit)
  • I Will
  • Julia
  • Rocky Raccoon – (co-written with Donovan and inspired by Bob Dylan’s new album John Wesley Harding, which they heard for the first time at the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram)
  • The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill – (inspired by the son of an American student who went tiger hunting)
  • Wild Honey Pie
  • Mean Mr. Mustard
  • Child of Nature – (released as Jealous Guy on John Lennon’s Imagine)
  • Look at Me – (released on the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)
  • Dehradun – (written by George Harrison but never released)
  • The Rishikesh Song – (also called the Happy Rishikesh Song, though it was never released)
  • Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love – (recorded on tape in Rishikesh)

 

Looking Through a Window in the Dorms of the Beatles Ashram
Looking Through a Window in the Dorms of the Beatles Ashram

That’s it for the story, but there are still some more photographs from the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India.

A fisheye photo of the main yoga/meditation hall at the Beatles Ashram
A fisheye photo of the main yoga/meditation hall at the Beatles Ashram
A living dormitory at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh
A living dormitory at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh
The walls of the Beatles Ashram are covered in art, graffiti and so and so loves so and so
The walls of the Beatles Ashram are covered in art, graffiti and so and so loves so and so
An abandoned bathroom in a dorm way back in the Beatles Ashram
An abandoned bathroom in a dorm way back in the Beatles Ashram
Everything that could be salvaged already has been taken from the Beatles Ashram
Everything that could be salvaged already has been taken from the Beatles Ashram
Face in the Wall with Cracks, Branches and Wires
Face in the Wall with Cracks, Branches and Wires
The ladder leading up the meditation dome, which we climbed to do our Om session
The ladder leading up the meditation dome, which we climbed to do our Om session

. . .

For more photography, check out my Rishikesh Gallery.

Share the Journey

  • http://www.theworldofdeej.com D.J. – The World of Deej

    Huge Beatles fan, and never knew the origin of “Eggman” in I Am The Walrus. Totally makes sense seeing the pics. Great stuff!

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks for visiting and for your comments. I had no idea of the origin of the Eggman either until visiting the ashram. Or about the monkeys doing it in the road. Or any of the rest of the treasure trove of Beatles trivia I learned while in Rishikesh. Man, now I want to go back! :)

  • Nancy

    Wonderful pictures and great stories, Greg. What a shame it has all been left to disintegrate. Thanks!

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks Nancy! It really was one of the more amazing places and experiences from all of my travels. Yes it is a shame that it’s been left to disintegrate, but at the same time that balance between nature, humanity and decay is a big part of what makes it so beautiful and the exploration that it is today.

  • nell

    Fascinating…..every day we learn something new. Wish I were there with you. Best to Carrie. I am thinking of you both as you continue on your magical journey… Nell

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks Nell! Great to hear from you. We’re thinking of you as well! Hope life is grand back in NYC and can’t wait to catch up in person when(ever) we get home!

  • http://www.manversusworld.com/ Simon

    Wicked photos and a very interesting blog post! On a day trip to Liverpool I stumbled across a Beatles cover band at a dingy pub by the docks – it was one of the cheesiest and funnest experiences I’ve ever had!

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Ha, it’s amazing how great a cover band can be…especially when there is no way to see the real thing live anymore. Next stop, Elvis in Vegas!

  • http://www.thisworldrocks.com/ Alissa @This World Rocks

    Wow, really interesting, and great shots! They should restore the building and open a guesthouse, you could really cash in on Beatles fans :)

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Could you imagine? Though, I must say that would completely ruin the place. One of the best parts of the Ashram is how abandoned and isolated it feels. I think we saw one other group of people the whole time we were there.

      Thanks so much for your comment :)

  • http://www.thisworldrocks.com/ Dan @ ThisWorldRocks.

    Absolutely fantastic. I had thought about going here and doing a similar post, but you nailed it. Best travel article I’ve read all year!

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Wow, that’s quite the compliment. Thanks so much Dan… and I highly recommend a trip to the Ashram. It’s one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited.