Beatles' Indian retreat opened to public

BBC News/December 9, 2015

An abandoned spiritual retreat in the Indian town of Rishikesh where The Beatles learned to meditate has been opened to the public.

The Beatles spent time at the 18-acre ashram, meditating and writing songs in 1968. Many of the songs made it onto the band's iconic White Album.

The ashram was run by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a flamboyant self-styled Indian guru, who died in 2008.

It was abandoned by the guru and his followers in the 1970s.

But the retreat, which was taken over by the local forestry department in 2003, remained a big draw with Beatles fans from all over the world. They would usually sneak in by climbing the walls or paying a small bribe to a gatekeeper.

The derelict ashram is located on the fringes of a tiger reserve. A meditation hall with colourful graffiti on the walls is the main attraction.

'Rustic look'

Authorities opened the ashram to visitors on Tuesday, and are charging Indian and foreign tourists 150 ($2.24; £1.49) and 700 rupees ($10.49; £7) respectively.

"We have cleaned up the place and lined the pathways with flowers. We are making some gardens and putting some benches for visitors," senior forestry official Rajendra Nautiyal told the BBC.

"We are introducing a nature trail and bird walk. We also plan to set up a cafeteria and a souvenir shop at some point. We want to retain the place's rustic look."

However visitors will not be allowed to draw on the walls on the ashram without permission from the authorities, he said.

The Beatles had planned a three-month retreat at the estate in 1968, but, according to some accounts, it descended into farce.

Ringo Starr went home after 10 days complaining about the spicy food.

Paul McCartney stayed for a month, while John Lennon and George Harrison left abruptly after six weeks.

Paul Saltzman, author of The Beatles in Rishikesh, says the band wrote some 48 songs during their stay.

The retreat itself - leased to the guru by the government in 1957 - was gradually reclaimed by nature after being abandoned.

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