Most travellers to the North Indian religious town of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand state, will not remember the Chaurasi Kutia ashram for its guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or for the special form of mantra meditation he taught. They will, however, remember the lyrics to Ob-la-di Ob-la-da and Back in the USSR by the Beatles, as they walk through the now-dilapidated structures that the surrounding forest has been trying to integrate with itself.
Following a series of altercations among the members of the group, the Beatles travelled to India for a three-month stay at the 18-acre ashram (retreat) in 1968 for an advanced course in transcendental meditation; and to hopefully gain fresh inspiration for their songs.
The Beatles Ashram, as it has come to be called, was abandoned in the 70s and then taken over by the local forestry department in 2003. While it has been closed to visitors all these years, it continued to remain a big draw for Beatles fans around the world. Many scaled the walls or bribed the guard to allow them to spend time walking the same grounds as their musical heroes.
On 8 December, the 35th death anniversary of John Lennon, authorities reopened the retreat as a tourist attraction. Neena Grewal, director RTR, who took the initiative to spruce up the ashram, told The Times of India: "The ashram has been visited by Beatles fans ever since the band came here way back in 1968. We will revive the Beatles' association with the ashram and also restore their huts. New brochures and maps will soon be made available. The ruins will be maintained as heritage structures."
During their stay here, the band penned more than 40 songs, a number of which are featured on The White Album, including Dear Prudence, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Back in the USSR, and I'm So Tired.
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, and Sexy Sadie were written in reference to their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was rumoured to have groped a female guest, actress Mia Farrow, during her stay at the retreat.
Most of the buildings on the premises are in a sorry state but fans come more for the colourful graffiti, especially those in one of the meditation halls now called the "Beatles Cathedral Gallery". In 2012, Canadian artist Pan Trinity Das along with a group of travelling artists, painted black-and-white portraits of the Beatles alongside those of spiritual teachers, including Yogi and the Dalai Lama here. Another wall has the lyrics of the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun and Let It Be painted across.
Aside from being a pilgrimage site for Beatles fans, the Uttarakhand tourism board will also conduct meditation classes, bird walks and nature trails on the ashram premises.