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Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh attracts more Indian than foreign tourists

Raju Gusain | New Delhi |

The erstwhile 'Ashram' (camp) of the Beatles Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in Rishikesh completed one year of its reopening on Thursday. The by-gone one year saw more Indian tourists than foreign visitors touring the spiritual camp where the boys of Liverpool composed over 50 songs during their stay in 1968. The trend is surprising, as the forest department never expected such a response from Indians- willing to pay for watching ruins and wall paintings in the 'Ashram'.
Now the Beatles 'Ashram', as the place is popularly known as, is under the control of Uttarakhand forest department's Rajaji Tiger Reserve . After remaining in complete neglect for over one decade, the Maharish Mahesh Yogi Ashram, famous as Chaurasi Kutiya (84 huts), had reopened for tourists on 8 December last year.
In these 12 months, 8,634 Indian and a mere 1,348 foreign tourists visited the giggling Guru's former ashram in Rishikesh. By opening the retreat for the tourists, the forest department earned a revenue of Rs 19.80 Lakh in one year.
Rajaji Tiger Reserve's forest ranger Raju Nautiyal says, When we reopened the Ashram last year, we were expecting only the foreign tourists. But, the response of Indian tourists have surprised us. Large number of Indian youths come here daily. The response is mind-boggling”
The Rajaji Tiger Reserve now charges entry fee from each tourist for their visit to the 'Ashram'. Each foreign tourist is charged Rs 600 and Indian visitors Rs 150 as entry fee. The big number of Indians touring the place- were the Fab Four composed songs of their iconic albums Abbey Road, Let it Be and The White Album- has taken the forest department by surprise.
In 1968, members of the Beatles musical group landed in Rishikesh to create worldwide media hype. Ringo Starr stayed in Rishikesh for 10 days, Paul McCartney for five weeks- while John Lennon and George Harrison lived in the holy township, located on the banks of river Ganga, for eight weeks each- learning meditation.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi took the 15 acer land on lease from the forest department in 1961. The lease was for 20 years and despite repeated efforts, the Ashram administration failed to get the lease renewed after its expiry in 1981.
In 2000, the Supreme Court of India passed an order asking the forest department to remove all the illegal occupants from reserve area throughout the county.
The last batch of Mahesh Yogi 'Ashram' staff evacuated the campus in 2003- making it completely deserted. Miscreants vandalized the buildings and took away all the valuable items- including bathroom fittings. After falling into neglect for over a decade the spiritual retreat was swollen by jungle. Now the forest department is maintaining the campus- by trimming the bushes and conducting clean up exercise at regular intervals.
Among all, the bungalow of Hindu spiritual leader Mahesh Yogi remains one of the major attractions for visitors. This is possibly the only surviving buildings of the 1960 era in the campus.
As two time Emmy award winning Canadian film-maker Paul Saltzman- who had stayed in the Ashram when the Beatles were there, recalls, None of the other bungalows remains there of the 1968 time. The Beatles used to visit the Maharishi's house many times and had private instruction on the roof with their Guru.”
Besides the Mahesh Yogi house, the graffiti painted on vandalized buildings woo the visitors in the Ashram. Tourists take selfie with the murals on the Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other floral patterns- painted illegally by visitors in the Mahesh Yogi Ashram.