beatles ashram rishikesh

The Beatles’ Ashram, Rishikesh

I am in an episode of Scooby Doo.

It is evening. I am stood knee-deep in undergrowth, peering through chained railings. The gates that block my way are covered with rusty Keep Out signs. I am looking for a creepy gatekeeper to let me into a complex of dangerously dilapidated abandoned buildings deep in the Indian jungle. The fact that these buildings make up the Ashram where The Beatles chilled with their Maharishi and wrote one of the best albums ever – The White Album – only heightens the sense of adventure.

Stomach-upsets have left me skinny and gaunt, my lack of trust in Indian barbers has resulted in an ever-mushrooming mop of hair, the stubble on my chin has grown to a bog brush of unwholesome bristles: I am Shaggy. I give the gate a cursory rattle like only Shaggy could.

From the jungle, a dishevelled wide-eyed yogi emerges, carrying a giant log on his shoulder. He states in broken but matter-of-fact English that there are wild elephants in the jungle, that I will get lost and almost certainly die. He offers to be my guide. I shake my head until he leaves. Thelma and the others will show up any second. Things will be okay.

A final and more vigorous rattle of the railings forces a hunched figure out of hiding and onto the roof of a building just within the compound. I wave and he slowly heads down the stairs and limps towards me. He opens the gate, muttering all the while. I give him the money he asks for and he points up to a path that leads into thick undergrowth. ‘I have two hours, maximum,’ he tells me.

beatles ashram rishikesh

I am about to embark on the ultimate music nerd boy-in-a-man’s-body adventure.

Jungle – tick.

Monkeys – tick.

Rampaging elephants – tick.

Creepy abandoned buildings – tick.

The inspiration for The Beatles’ White Album – tick.

Filled with a fluttering barely-caged sense of anticipation, I take the path into the jungle, following a right fork. Out of nowhere, the yogi appears suddenly in front of me. My heart stops and then restarts, pounding double-time. He is carrying a different log and smoking a beedi.

I watch mesmerised as the smoke curls up from his cigarette. The sun emerges from behind a cloud and as quickly as he appeared, he is gone. Vanished into thin air. “Scraaaa-pppeee?” I warble into the gaping nothingness, already running on the spot.

The buildings are deserted shells, graffitied, and crumbling; each permeated with an unsettling stillness. Some extend underground, stretching out in long dark subterranean corridors. There is broken glass, collapsed ceilings, twisted metal, obscene drawings and graffiti everywhere. I can’t help but think of Charles Manson as I navigate amongst the dilapidation, taking in the unsettling scrawls. These buildings are decomposing – the huge sprawling Ashram is being swallowed by the jungle, reclaimed.

It is impossible to know if the muggy fear that I feel as I explore is because I sense a presence or am uneasy from the total lack of a presence, of other people. I watch bewitched as a leaf twirls on a thread of a spider’s web.

leaf on spiders webabandoned building beatles ashram











I climb over trees, through bushes, and then squeeze through teeth of gnarled metal and fractured concrete into another dark unknown. I watch monkeys watch me. I head towards the Ganges and explore the concrete pods that emerge from the foliage like giant dragon eggs.

meditation pods rishikesh beatles ashram

I climb up into one of these meditation capsules, hoping that the stairs take my weight. They do. At the top, I sit down, cross-legged of course, and attempt to put pen to page. I want to write an epic pop masterpiece, but, if truth be told, would be happy with a psychedelic limerick. Instead, all I do is wonder if Prudence Farrow was attractive and try to remember the name of the blonde jock from Scooby Doo. My creativity, like the Ashram, has been claimed by a wilder force.

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Tom Spooner

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