Still My Guitar Gently Weeps

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/07/25/rishikesh/

kevollier.com Rishikesh. The Beatles

Rishikesh before the arrival of The Beatles in 1968 was pretty much unknown to Westerners but there is no doubting that it was indeed this visit by the Fab Four that put Rishikesh, Meditation and Yoga onto the current mainstream map.

The Beatles, simply put, is why Rishikesh is what it is today – the yoga capital of the world – and the number 1 spiritual backpacking destination on the planet – but – you wouldn’t know this when there. There are no shops selling Beatles memorabilia, and their songs from the White Album, which was mostly written in this town along with other of their tunes, are not blaring from every shop and coffee stop. There is a Beatles Cafe hidden away in an underground blaze of buildings outside of he main tourist zone but that’s it.

The greatest monument to The Beatles is not the Cavern Club in Liverpool nor is it the National Trust owned childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and neither is it Penny Lane or the zebra crossing in Abbey Road. It is the crumbling ashram that The Beatles briefly lived in with the Maharishi in Rishikesh. That’s the spot where the Beatles opened their hearts and minds and in the case of Harrison and Lennon, were never closed again. It is the must visit antiquity for any fan of the Beatles but it has to be done soon because in 5 years it will be likely be gone as the jungle is taking it over – and fast.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles became interested in Indian culture after using drugs in an effort to expand their consciousness and in 1966 Harrison visited India for 6 weeks and took sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar.
The band’s visit was one of the their most productive periods. Their interest in the Maharishi changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation to the rest of the world. They first met the Maharishi in London in August 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor Wales. They had planned to attend the entire 10-day session, but their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and made arrangements to spend time with him at his teaching center located in Rishikesh.

Along with their wives, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters, the Beatles arrived in India in February 1968, and joined the group of 60 people who were training to be TM teachers including musicians Donovan and Mike Love of The Beach Boys.

So today was an exciting day for me. We were going to find the ashram. Brought up on The Beatles – my mother tells me when I was born, and subsequently taken back to the ward, the first song I ever heard was ‘She Loves You’ as that was playing on the hospital ‘wireless’. I was even born on September 19th, the same day as Brian Epstein (and Twiggy as it happens but that has no relevance) and I have known every word of every song, verbatim, since I was 7.

We had to ask where the ashram was, as it isn’t signed or mentioned anywhere yet every resident knows where it is. It is a mile down from the Swarg Ashram village, within Rishikesh, beyond where the path ends and forays into the edge of the jungle, or actually where the jungle forays towards town. Even 100 yards away, we had to ask some westerners where it was..

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The Ashram entrance

We were met at the gate by a local guide who was recommended by a departing scouse Indian couple. Then there was an entrance fee, of 5op each. The guide was invaluable. The first thing we learnt was that there were 121 two storey meditation pods circumnavigating the huge ashram where people were left to lose their minds. The Beatles had, wait for it….pod number 9 (explains a lot doesn’t it?)

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Number 9

We were taken to the levitation hall which looks like it was made from Chesil Beach and our guide assured us that levitation was a regular occurrence

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Taken on to the roof of a mediation room

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and into the collapsing and fascinating Yoga Hall which has been left to the graffiti artists and apparently the odd visiting Tiger…

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The weird thing was that if anywhere had a lingering spirit or ghost of the past then this was the place. The whole atmosphere of the ashram was haunting, a crumbling statue in time of the minds of people who were desperately  trying to get out of them and although I debated why it was that the local tourist trade were missing a trick by not opening this up and publicising, what is, such a culturally historic place, the part of the Earth where the Beatles went in search of God/Love/ Self, I also got the beautiful impermanence of it all, the earth itself grabbing back what is its from the footsteps of the greatest celebrities to have ever walked its soil.

Then going to the accommodation building which was that of the Beatles, and of course Prudence who simply wouldn’t come out to play, added a spine shiver. I swear if you were still enough, you could get back and be there, maybe, to where you once belonged

if you look carefully, you might see Lennon peeping out
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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

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Rishikesh! Yoga capital of the world

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/07/02/beggars/

yoga rishikesh

The bus from hell pulled in at Dehra Dun at 5 in the morning and still being 10 miles from Rishikesh allowed taxi drivers to take advantage, or try to at least. They should understand that after the last 14 hours my inner yogi had gone awry and I was left with a strong case of the fuck it attitude. The greedy smiles of the drivers saying that ‘there is no other choice than to take our taxi as the first bus is 5 hours away’  found my yogi free body waving a finger at my face and saying ‘do I look bothered ?’ which was lost on them as I can’t imagine they knew who Vicky Pollard was. In fact, nobody we asked, and we asked a few after the shock of the first blank face, had ever even heard of Madonna, so Vicky had no chance.
Standing our ground the fare halved when all the other passengers had gone on their way and soon we arrived at our hotel in Rishikesh, waking the receptionist asleep on the floor behind the counter who, bless him, rounded up some sleepy staff and got our rooms ready.

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A few hours later we were up and out and immediately the senses were assaulted by more yoga posters than you could ever imagine. I confidently think that you could stay in Rishikesh a whole year going to a different yoga class each day without repeating one. The yoga posters though had stiff competition from the meditation posters. And it is a honey pot for westerners – most on month long courses and nearly all on a long term world hippy travel adventure – and of all ages – in fact the over 50’s were as abundant as the under 30’s.

We wandered down the narrow alleys to the first cafe – a chilled cushion seated affair called the Happy Buddha Cafe which afforded the first views of the Ganges. It maybe only a river in the same way the Himalayas are only a mountain range but breath is stripped from your body just the same.

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I struck up a conversation with an English threesome who were at the back end of a Sivananda yoga course, one I’ve never tried but their recommendation to do so will be acted upon. They told us of a circular walk that takes in all of Rishikesh so that’s what we decided to do. Heading off we soon came to the defining Lakshman Jhula pedestrian suspension bridge but spotting, what truly has to be, one of the best sited people watching cafes in the world, the Devraj Coffee Corner and Bookshop hovering above it, we decided to have another rest – this time a Honey Lemon Ginger tea was the order of the moment to watch the constant drama unfold below.

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To say this is a pedestrian bridge is pushing it to say the least. The only thing not allowed on it, and only because it isn’t wide enough, are cars and trucks.  Motorbikes and scooters cross it and it seems as long as you ‘peep’ it’s ok to kill a pedestrian. I assume a death resulting from no peeping results in prosecution.  But ‘peep’ doesn’t adequately describe the murder inducing sound that is emitted. Along with the motorbikes and scooters, also jostling to cross are cows, buffalos, dogs, the odd donkey and every sort of human alive, and constantly, the very naughty monkeys, who, looking all cute at first glance, are jumping down on to the bridge and then literally stalking and then grabbing and ripping any bags not held against a chest. There is no movie worth watching that is as enthralling and dramatic as the live action of Lakshman Jhula bridge.

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Once one runs the gauntlet of this crossing you come into the area that is itself Lakshman Jhula. To picture this imagine the Green Fields’ cafes of Glastonbury Festival crossed with the High Street of Glastonbury town with a splattering of ashrams to a backdrop of Himalayan foothills and a turbulent Ganges running through it all, accompanied by scents of Patchouli, Sandalwood and Hashish with yoga and meditation being the main stay of business.
One word.
Go!

 

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more posts on Rishikesh to follow…..

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/