In early 1968, four guys in a band called The Beatles came to India.
They visited a city built around the ancient Hindu sacred place where the Ganges River leaves the Himalayan mountains; glacier and snowmelt water flowing from the highest peaks in the world to cross the land.
The Beats spent most of their time at an ashram a little way downstream from there, at a jungle-surrounded retreat belonging to a man by the name of Marishi Mahesh. There, in grassy, flowered gardens and reaching meditation halls, the Yogi taught them the means and the ideas of transcendental meditation.
At that point in their career, George, John, Ringo and Paul had reached unbelievable heights of fame and influence, and beneath the stresses of that, were each doing a bit of soul searching. They sought to better know their inner selves, and to find peace with their place in the universe. I don’t know if the enlightenment they’d searched for was discovered, but they did find the inspiration to write some 48 songs, and we got the white album out of it.
The Beatles left after a few weeks with plans for the new record, and a renewed message of peace and love to transmit around the world. Also, it’s when John left his wife for Yoko, but let’s not focus on that.
The ashram’s all dilapidated and overgrown now - reclaimed by the state, and with rumours of leopard and elephant occupation, the grounds are officially shut down by police. The guy who guards the entrance will let you in for 50 rupees though.
Walking around that deserted compound was downright one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. As I toured the stone cottages nested in little overgrown bunches, I imagined The Beatles running to one another’s living rooms to share new riffs and melodies; revolutionary stuff like Paul’s (practically metal) Helter Skelter, or the deceptively simple Blackbird. On quiet paths to the grassy cliffside that overlooks the Ganges, I thought about them meditating there, looking within and coming out with words like “mother superior jumped the gun”.
The place is covered in peace-calling graffiti, and the main hall is it’s piece de resistance. Apparently, some backpackers crashed there a while ago and have declared it The Beatles Cathedral Gallery; filling the huge room with quotes and portraits of familiar faces. It’s the hall where the band sat as students, expanding their understanding of themselves in both mind and body. When the echoes of this quiet act reached the western world, they introduced the new audience to fresh ideas of meditative peace that have rung true with generations of dreamers since.