Friday, March 11, 2011
The Sober Psychedelic Experience at the Maharishi Ashram
In 1968, The Beatles, their partners, and Faye Dunaway, made a famous trip to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. George Harrison had been dabbling in eastern Thought and religious practices for years and he encouraged the other three open-minded Beatles to join him. They all stayed for a few months, save Ringo who, sick of bringing in his own food and not interested much in mediation, left after a couple weeks. During their stay, they wrote most of the White Album and expanded their consciousnesses. Eventually the rest left after an alleged molestation of a female tenant by the Maharishi and learning of the Maharishi's profit driven business practices.
With a few years, the Maharishi moved his Ashram to the United States where he gained further notoriety, starting a controversial religious community someplace in rural Iowa. His Rishikesh ashram is now in disreapair, but I wasn't sure of the state when I made a plan to visit.
I was considering a visit before my arrival in Rishikesh, but my plan didn't reach fruition until I bumped into my friend Himalaya. Funded by my last trek, Himalay embarked on nearly the same tour as mine, combining travel with networking for his company. I bumped into him a few times on my trip, but we'd not really traveled together. In Varanasi, he was randomly chilling out at my Guest house restaurant a few minutes before my train to Agra; he'd been in town for the same amount of time as me. We later saw each other again at the Bhang Shop in Jaisalmer and made plans to meet in Amritasar at the Golden Temple. I traveled too fast to see him there, but he arrived in Rishikesh, sharing an autorickshaw with my friends
He had already walked to the Beatles Ashram, as it was popularly called, the day earlier, but the groundskeeper, who had no authority to do so was charging fifty rupees per head to enter. Apparently a backway existed, through an inconspicuous trail through the jungle.
The six of us got direction from a 40-year old British hippie who had snuck in before. “You have to go!” he said as we left in spacey British accent fueled by excessive drug use, “The Beatles were there man!”
We walked in the unexpected heat of the first sunny day in weeks. All of us stripping down from the morning chill, out coats, jackets, thermals, dangling from every chunk strap free in our stuffed day packs. Himalay asked every sardu, lounging stoned in their crude dwellings in the jungle, how to get to “Beatle Ashram”. After nearly a month total of hearing him speak only Nepali and English, I noticed the slight differences in the cadence and words of Hindi. The sardus all seemed to have different answers as to the best route, but it was clear that it lied to the right, through the dense forest. Finally, we settled on a trail that led us to the spooky grounds.
The buildings were overgrown with vines, trees, and other flora. The toilets were smashed. Beer bottles from parties and graffiti were everywhere. It was amazing how quickly a human endeavor Could be degraded by the elements in less than 40 short years. Despite the disrepair, the grounds still had a power, the fading of lost human presence that amplified the unwelcoming air of the place.
There were littered with compounds of dark basement cells, most likely meditation rooms. The sunnier upper floors were dedicated to the also tight, institutional lodgings. We passed through a trashed yoga hall and fought our way through the bush into the main buildings, two multi-floored dormitories with strange, white, egg-shaped structures on the room. We sat in the sun under the eggs and soaked in the feeling . Each egg had a ladder on the outside o, leading to an open hole on the top. The top third of the eggs were a small echo compartment, ideal for “Om shanti” chanting. Daan, Mark, Himaly and I crawled in and sang Beatles songs in the surreal acoustics. The chambers were cool and pleasant in the midday sun, The Beatles tunes helping us connect with the lost energy of the powerful creative presence that composed one of the greatest albums of all time. We descended back to the roof and lounged with Beatles classics. The energy of the place stirred in us an odd mood, best captured by a short video by Nam. She panned around, showing Maartje sunbathing, Daan and Mark composing photos with the egg, Himalay starring out over the trees at the holy Ganga, smoking a beedie, and me, shaking a strange orb on a spring, atop a column, as if putting my whole energy inside, all to the distant sound of “Here Comes the Sun.” Without realizing it, we were celebrating the first day of spring. An outsider seeing the video would question our sobriety, but the energy of the place put us all in a strange, semi-psychadelic mood. While reenacting our favorite Beatles posters for photographs, the groundskeeper found us and asked us politely to leave the restricted area. We all came down and quietly left the way we came, avoiding the inevitable fee.