In 1968 The Beatles went to India to study at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh. While there, the Beatles wrote much of the White Album: 'Dear Prudence' was written to coax Prudence Farrow out of her meditative seclusion; 'Bungalow Bill' was apparently inspired by the son of an American visitor who went tiger-hunting; 'Mother Nature's Son' (and the unreleased 'Child of Nature') were based on a lecture by the Maharishi; and 'Why Don't We Do it In the Road' was written by Paul McCartney, inspired by the carefree mating of some monkeys in the ashram.
Lennon and Harrison stayed for a couple of months, leaving after a disagreement with the Maharishi, probably arising from accusations of sexual impropriety. The falling-out is referred to in the song 'Sexy Sadie'. It was originally titled 'Maharishi' but changed either to avoid libel or at Harrison's request. There is apparently a vicious outtake full of obscenities aimed at the Maharishi.
The ashram's land was rented from the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. The site is 14 acres and features a couple of large buildings, various smaller structures and dozens of egg-shaped two storey stone huts. Starr later compared the ashram to "a kind of spiritual Butlins". In 1997 the site was returned to the Forest Department and left to grow wild. The buildings are slowly falling into ruin. There is some footage of the site in its prime on an old Pathe newsreel.
Officially the grounds are out-of-bounds and signs on the gates read 'No Entry'. But it's fairly common knowledge that a 50 rupee payment to the guards will get you access. There are also guided tours available but I didn't manage to organise one in the time available.
While there are no traces of the Beatles themselves, the ashram has an amazing atmosphere. I love ruins and this site is incredibly atmospheric, with lots of stairways and long, dark corridors. I have an over-active imagination and would probably have had a heart attack if anyone had jumped out at me. I waited until returning with my friends Emily and Caspar before exploring some sections.
As you can see from Johnny Vagabond's photos, the old yoga center shown below is regularly repainted.
All around the site were small two-storey huts. In one was writter the words 'John Lennon was here', but I suspect that graffiti was not original. The huts were small but cosy, and I'm surprised no-one has tried to turn the site into a hotel.
There were two large buildings with egg-like structures on the top. These were the most interesting part of the trip with the roof reached by some spooky stairways (to see the graffiti better click on the photo to load a larger version):
I loved visiting this place. On my second visit with Emily and Caspar there were more tourists around, and many of them were hanging out on the roof. It was a fantastic atmosphere.