In India, the Beatles Ashram rebirth to tourism
Hard to imagine that these austere decrepit lodges housed John, Paul, Ringo and George. But it is a chance to visit again the Indian ashram where the Beatles experienced one of their most fertile periods 50 years ago.
It is here, in what was the retreat of the brilliant guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, now colonized by the jungle, that the majority of the White Album, one of the masterpieces of the most famous British group of the 20th century, was composed.
« People used to sneak in, which could be dangerous, » recalls journalist Raju Gusain, who played a major role in the very partial rehabilitation of the Rishikesh site, a green city watered by the Ganges at the foot of the Himalayas (north).
« You could see leopard tracks and elephant dung, » he continues. « We have erected a fence to keep animals from the nearby tiger reserve away. »
It was in February 1968 that the Beatles came to this remote corner. A few months earlier, they had lost their emblematic manager Brian Epstein, who had died of a barbiturate overdose, and tensions were palpable within the Fab Four.
After having followed an initiation to transcendental meditation in Wales in the summer of 1967, the four were convinced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1917-2008) to follow him with their companions and others in his Rishikesh retreat.
Mating two monkeys
Far from England and the accelerated life from which these planetary stars cannot escape, the Beatles manage in Indian serenity to pick up the pieces, during one of the most creative phases of their artistic history.
Almost 50 songs were composed, including « I’m So Tired » and « The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill ».
The band is accompanied by musician Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, actress Mia Farrow and her younger sister, the recluse Prudence.
Rishikesh’s wildlife would also have inspired John to « Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey », which would also feature heroin and Yoko Ono.
By seeing two monkeys mate in nature, Paul had the idea of the very effective « Why Don’t We Do It in the Road » while the presence of Mike Love contributes to the birth of « Back in the USSR », pastiche of « California Girls » of Beach Boys.
With the exception of Ringo Starr, whose stomach has little taste of local cuisine and only 10 days left, each member of the group enjoys this welcome Indian break and meditation sessions.
« Like a feather floating »
« I felt like a feather floating over a hot air pipe, » McCartney later recounted. « I had told Maharishi, who had replied, « Yes, it’s good! « »».
However, the mood became tense after some time, due in part to rumours of Maharishi’s sexual advances made to Mia Farrow and her obvious desire to make money on the backs of her eminent students.
Paul left after five weeks, George and John after two months. When asked about Maharishi’s reasons for leaving, Lennon would have replied: « You must know if you are so cosmic. »